After twenty-four entries in the long-standing series, settling in for a Bond film by this point feels much like cosying in for the evening with your favourite pair of slippers; familiar, comfortable, and much loved. The films might not all be great – a franchise which has featured an iceberg submarine, a preposterous space battle, and Die Another Day can’t claim to always be perfect – but more often that not, there’s a lot to like.
The Daniel Craig era of Bond movies (barring Quantum of Solace) have perhaps been the greatest run of films the series has had since its inception, and Spectre not only continues the high levels that have been set since Casino Royale (2006), but also the modern Bond era trend of paying homage to the series’ past, and rewriting its history. Craig’s fourth round as the perrenial British staple character is a success on the vast majority of its fronts – exciting, rewarding to long term fans, and full of nostalgia – though not quite able to match up to the heady heights that the series hit with Skyfall. It does come close though, hitting the expected fan favourite notes, whilst providing one or two surprises all of its own.
At face value, Spectre takes a pretty straight forward approach to the traditional Bond movie tale. A shady organisation known as Spectre, run by a villainous mischief maker with ties to Bond’s past is wreaking havoc on the world, leaving Bond with the task of unraveling its web of crimes and taking down its leader (Oberhauser, Christoph Waltz). As if to drive the point home as to just how shady Oberhauser and his organisation is, he’s quite literally shot in shadow for the majority of his introduction. It’s not the most subtle of visual cues, but it is effective nonetheless. He’s a mysterious man, with a mysterious past. Following up Skyfall’s instant classic villain Silva (Javier Bardem) was never going to be an easy job, but Waltz is his usuall chilling self, without reaching the intensity levels of his impeccable performance in Inglourious Basterds (2009).
Naturally, being a Bond movie, there is a Bond girl, with Léa Seydoux filling the role with aplomb as Madeleine. As with Oberhauser, she has ties to Bond’s past, but unlike the villain of the piece, rather than wanting kill Bond she does of course fall in love with him. But she’s far more than just the doting pretty face. She’s intelligent (much more so than Bond), can handle herself in a fight, and isn’t too quick to succumb to Bond’s charms. With Judi Dench’s M out of the picture it’s a relief to see that Spectre isn’t entirely devoid of strong female characters to keep Bond’s testosterone levels in check.
In stark contrast to Seydoux’s Madeleine however we have Monica Bellucci’s Lucia, who is very much the damsel in distress, showing that whilst the franchise has made many steps to modernise itself, it still falls on bad habits frequently. Bellucci is under-utilised here, her screen time brief, with little conclusion, and very much seems to have been included only to bump up the sex scene quota. Bellucci’s not the only missed opportunity though, as Dave Bautista’s henchman to Oberhauser, Mr. Hinx, is relegated to glaring through the windscreen of a car through a lengthy (and pretty great) chase sequence, and a solitary scuffle with Bond. His introduction is strong, but Bautista doesn’t get much time to make a lasting impression, not helped by his character’s near silence.
Besides a car chase and scuffle with Mr. Hink, Daniel Craig is afforded plenty of chances to flex is action muscles, and is convincing as ever as the rarely shaken secret agent. An opening jaunt through Mexico City’s Day of the Dead acts as the perfect distillation of all you’ll ever need to know about James Bond; with Craig playing it all to perfection. Showcasing his charm, wit, and ability to overcome the most ludicrous of odds, Bond goes from falling through the roof of a collapsing building to swinging wildly through the air in an out of control helicopter in minutes, and frankly it’s all quite exhilarating.
If this is to be Daniel Craig’s final appearance as James Bond, it will have been a fitting conclusion to this particular chapter of the franchise. The reset button was hit for Casino Royale, and over the course of four films the foundations have been laid for future, through respectful homage and surprising reinvention. One of those reinventions in particular seen in Spectre is likely to create much discussion, but it’s the confidence with which it’s all done that helps to lend credibility to changes made to classical elements of the series, and that makes me feel positive that James Bond is in safe hands. If Daniel Craig is to leave the franchise, it will continue as it always does, with Spectre having wrapped up his moment in the spotlight nicely. Perhaps more important than his return is securing that of director of both Spectre and Skyfall, Sam Mendes. There’s no doubting the impact he’s had on the franchise, and the powers that be would do well to keep him around.
Thrilling action, twists and turns in combination with all of the ingredients that make James Bond, James Bond ensure that Spectre can hold its head high alongside its franchise siblings.
Rating (out of 5):