Director: Sam Mendes
Writers: John Logan, Neal Purvis, Robert Wade, Jez Butterworth (Screenplay)
James Bond: Daniel Craig
Madelaine Swann: Lea Seudoux
M: Ralph Fiennes
Q: Ben Whishaw
Moneypenny: Naomie Harris
Lucia: Monica Bellucci
Walther PPK: Walther PPK
Aston Martin DB10: As Itself
Aston Martin DB5: As Itself
Oberhauser/Blofeld: Christoph Waltz
C: Andrew Scott
Mr. White: Jesper Cremona
Mr. Hinx: Dave Bautista
The opening theme and gun barrel perspective are back, and before he turns and shoots the audience, Bond walks fast, with purpose. In a sense, that’s the tone of the movie, relatively fast-moving and businesslike. Daniel Craig has made it plain this will be his last Bond film, and it’s a reasonably, if not spectacularly, fitting swan song.
As always, Bond carries his iconic Walther PPK, a compact and sexy, but decidedly anemic handgun. At least the “smart gun” version of the weapon from Skyfall is gone. I exposed the utter silliness of that lame plot device here. In general, the weapon handling in the film is fairly accurate and up to date, with the exception of Bond chambering a round in his Walther on several occasions after drawing it. Obviously, Director Mendes thought this a visual cue of Bond preparing to use his 00 license to kill. In reality, no professional would leave his weapon unchambered. There is no safety reason to do it, and having to chamber a round when danger looms could make Bond seriously dead. Amazingly, Bond even shoots down a helicopter with a single .380 bullet. Here’s what I wrote in my Skyfall review:
Yes, I know it’s the iconic Bond handgun. Yes, I know it looks sleek and sexy. Yes, I know it makes sense, considering the plot…you’ll see. But James Bond is a man who uses what works. Why would he carry a handgun with a wretched trigger pull, tiny, hard to see sights, limited accuracy, minimal magazine capacity—he works alone in places where .380 ammunition isn’t readily available in the local corner gun shop at all hours of the day and night—and speaking of the .380…good grief, it’s a minimally effective cartridge. Does MI6 want Bond dead? There are a wide variety of handguns currently available in 9mm that outstrip the PPK in every respect, and that look appropriately sexy too. The Walther P99 favored by Pierce Brosnan is a prime example. Oh well. Mrs. Manor notices such details, but to a lesser degree than do I, and I suspect this is an issue of little or no importance to most Bond audiences.
The strident song overpowering the opening credits does sound vaguely Bondish, but has been almost universally critically panned. It took awhile, but I finally figured it out. The piece is laden with endless references to suffocation. It’s a stereotypically whiney expression of metrosexual confusion and anxiety poorly done in the style of classic Bond music. Someone, perhaps the writers or director, obviously thought it foreshadows the internal conflicts portrayed with only mediocre success in the movie, but it succeeds mostly in being annoying. Bond is no pajama boy.
The opening scene places Bond in the middle of the Day Of The Dead celebration in Mexico City where Bond is hunting an assassin about to commit mass murder. Bond kills the bad guy’s accomplices and in so doing, blows up the entire building they are in. Exactly how this happens is unclear, but Bond shoots, and the building blows up. It’s not the last time things blowing up on a huge scale for no obvious reason happens in the movie.
The bad guy and Bond miraculously survive the destruction of most of a city block, which leads to a foot chase though huge crowds and ends up in a stomach-roiling fight scene in a wildly gyrating helicopter–including barrel rolls and loops–over millions of Mexicans. Bond, of course, triumphs and flies calmly away. It’s not the last time that happens either.
The central external conflict is what appears to be a standard, one-each bureaucrat is working to eliminate the 00 program in favor of a huge, multinational surveillance organization, technical intelligence gathering rather than human intelligence gathering, an argument currently ongoing. Bond, M, Q, Moneypenny, etc. must race against time to save the 00s, and to discover the connection between C and the evil villain.
Bond attends the funeral of the assassin he killed early on, and of course, he has a beautiful widow, who Bond saves from two other assassins, and so they almost immediately have sex. I have been to many funerals and this has never happened to me. I suppose that’s why I’m not James Bond.
Using information from the grieving widow, Bond infiltrates a meeting of a, evil secret society–Spectre–but is discovered and flees, leading to a lengthy car chase with Bond driving an Aston Martin DB10. It’s stylishly executed and leads to a bit of humor.
Earlier Bond films, particularly those of Roger Moore, were actually cartoonish in their use of humor, but the laughs are fewer and far subtler in the Craig films, and this is no exception.
As viewers quickly learn, this movie is about Bond’s past, and everything, and everyone, is connected. Discovering those personal and external connections is the key to saving not only the 00 program, but to catching the bad guys, though Spectre lives.
The main Bond girl in this film is Lea Seydoux as Madelaine Swann. Seydoux, a lovely, slinkly blonde, may be most familiar to moviegoers as the female assassin in Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol. She acts well, and her chemistry with Craig works.
Ralph Fiennes fleshes out M’s personality, as does Ben Whishaw as Q. Unfortunately, Naomi Harris as Moneypenny is mostly wasted, and no character development is in evidence. She’s a gofer for Bond, nothing more. Dave Bautista as the main heavy is a truly menacing presence, though he is ultimately dispatched by Bond with Madelaine’s help.
Christoph Waltz as Oberhauser, and ultimately, Blofeld, is an appropriately evil, leering Bond villain, made all the more so by his intimate connection to Bond. You’ll have to see the movie–or read someone else’s review–to discover it. He has an appropriate Bond villain lair in a meteor crater in the middle of a trackless desert, which is fully visible to all passing surveillance satellites, but it’s no less fanciful than many other elements of the movie.
Much of the movie is shot in semi-darkness or if in daylight, in a sort of brown haze, which is occasionally annoying. Otherwise, the production values are professional, if unremarkable. Costumes, makeup, sets, sound, props are all up to contemporary standards, and there are, on first viewing, no striking continuity errors.
Spectre has all of the elements Bond fans have come to expect: exotic locales, car chases, stunning action sequences involving various aircraft, even a bit of time in a speedboat of sorts. There are beautiful women at every turn, and substantial action. And as always, Bond saves the day, the world, gets the girl, and keeps a stiff British upper lip.
Oh yes: the final scene features Bond’s iconic Aston Martin DB5.
There is much speculation about whether the Bond franchise has run its course. Nonsense. The best Bond movies speak to us because they touch on archetypal imagery and ideas that resonate deeply with human beings. The quest, the struggle, the hero and good triumphing over evil will never fail to engage us. Audiences will flock to the next Bond movie if for no reason other than seeing if the new Bond–whoever he is–lives up to expectations. Who knows, the way things are going, the new Bond may end up a Lesbian, or perhaps a trans something or other, and the plot may revolve around evil conservatives trying to keep bathrooms clearly male and female.
Spectre is worth seeing on the big screen, though one will not be horribly deprived watching it on DVD. Some may think the plot and subplots, and various themes, contemporary and deeply relevant to today’s political climate. They are, however, nothing new, and little is done with them. Bond reminds us–particularly men–what we would like to be, or at least allow ourselves to think we could do given the chance, and good triumphs over evil.
These days, that’s enough.