Movie Review: Spectre
This weekend, Director Sam Mendes looked to put some life back into a dismal box office while ending the Daniel Craig era of 007 films on a high note. While his ticket earnings fell just short of Skyfall‘s phenomenal earnings, Spectre was a big success financially, eclipsing Casino Royale and Quantum of Solace. As a final film in the Craig/Bond series, Spectre is a wonderful success, retroactively tying all four movies together into one large story with a fittingly explosive climax. As much as I loved Skyfall and Casino Royale, I actually think this latest film is the best of the bunch, blending the best parts of each into a satisfying conclusion.
The first three films have led to a mature and capable Bond. He may be a bit too capable, as the loss of the original M has caused him to become a bit of a lone-wolf within MI-6. We find him in Mexico during a Day of the Dead festival. He engages a group of terrorists, discovering an imprinted ring on their leader that suggests that they are connected to a much larger organization. It turns out that Bond has not been authorized to engage this terror cell, and he is benched as soon as he returns to London. Going behind M’s back, Bond enlists Q and Moneypenny to decipher to meaning behind the ring, which in turn leads James on a global manhunt for a dead man from his past who stands behind the shadowy criminal cabal known as Spectre.
Putting the Franchise Through Its Paces
This film seems to consciously set itself the task of perfecting the archetypal Bond film. Rather than play with the conventions, Mendes and crew have made a Bond film by the numbers, to great effect. Nearly every element is handled deftly and with great style. It feels as if the four Craig films have been building to a moment where his Bond becomes undeniably THE James Bond. By including so many expected elements, you get the sense that Craig and Mendes intend to own them, and set the bar extremely high for anyone else trying to re-use the tried and true formula.
The opening sequence is full of swagger and strong visuals, and features a good foot-chase that almost rivals the opening of Casino Royale. The opening song is not my favorite, but gorgeously choreographed. Bond is at the top of his game, and surrounded by an engaging and competent support team. The villain is very strong (thought it is hard to follow Javier Bardem’s scene stealing baddie from Skyfall!) and has one of the best henchmen since Oddjob.
The female leads are great, with Lea Seydoux turning in one of the most confident and badass “Bond Girls” to ever appear in the series. The action sequences are uniformly thrilling and pretty much nail every element of great 007 moments, from a gripping car chase, a terrific shoot-out, an absolutely wonderful hand-to-hand fight, and even an almost comedic chase down a snowy mountainside. Mendes is just going down the list and checking off everything you ever loved about a Bond movie. There’s even a boat chase, in case Thunderball was your favorite iteration in the franchise!
Everything You Love…Something You Don’t.
There was really only one part of the film that I disliked, and it was another common element of the series: the bad guy talking to Bond instead of pressing his advantage. It’s such a notorious aspect of the films, having James at the mercy of some Batman-esque torture machine and yet escaping, that it really has gone from an in-joke to incredulous and annoying. In a film where Bond has been constantly pressed to his limits, to have the tension sucked out of the story by the previously omnipotent bad guy making a colossal unforced error is cheap. Stop doing it!
Tying it All Together
My favorite aspect of Spectre is how it serves as a lynchpin for the whole franchise. By starting at Casino Royale, we meet a green and careless Bond who is completely out of his element. As the series progresses, we see him come into his own, despite experiencing many set-backs. In Spectre, we finally have the 007 we recognize from all of the Connery/Moore films: a super spy, supported by his government, facing a well-organized opposition from a collection of dastardly villains. This film unifies and gives more significance to the Craig/Bond films (even making a re-watching of Quantum of Solace enjoyable) and brings this iteration of Bond “current” with the rest of the cannon. From here, we could see new takes on classic Bond films, or see James head in a new direction completely separate from those events. It feels so satisfying, I could even accept this being the final James Bond film. It bridges the gap, and really feels like a strong finale. As its own beast, it is an engaging and tense spy-thriller. As part of the bigger picture, it is the ultimate Bond experience.