Should I Watch..? 'Spectre'
What's the big deal?
Spectre is an action spy thriller released in 2015 and is the twenty-fourth film in the James Bond series. The film sees Daniel Craig return for a fourth time as 007 as well as the director of the previous Bond film Skyfall Sam Mendes, who returns to direct this picture. The cast also includes Christoph Waltz, Léa Seydoux, Monica Bellucci and Dave Bautista and sees Bond square off against an enemy that not only knows too much already but also seems to have a personal connection to Bond himself. With a budget estimated at $245 million, it is the most expensive Bond film ever made and one of the most expensive films in history. The film set opening day records at the UK box office and received generally favourable reviews from the press, going on to earn more than $880 million worldwide - the second-highest amount for a Bond film behind Skyfall.
What's it about?
On an unofficial mission in Mexico City on behalf of the previous M, Bond seeks out Marco Sciarra who is planning to blow up a stadium nearby. After causing a building to explode, Bond pursues Sciarra in the midst of a vast Day Of The Dead celebration and ultimately ends up in a helicopter flying above the crowds. Bond is able to fight off both Sciarra (acquiring a ring with a black octopus logo on it) and the pilot before flying away safely. Back in London, M suspends Bond indefinitely as a result of the media coverage of the chaos portraying MI6 in a bad light. M is presently in a power struggle with C, the head of the Joint Intelligence Service, who wishes to sign the UK up to the Nine Eyes project to share intelligence with other nations and ultimately shut down the 00-section permanently.
Bond, however, disobeys M's orders and heads to Rome where Sciarra's funeral takes place. Learning from Sciarra's widow that her late husband's employer is holding a meeting nearby, Bond immediately sets off to uncover the mysteries that lay behind recent, seemingly unconnected terrorist activity. But what he uncovers is more terrifying - a global organisation operating from the shadows manipulating world events for their own gain. And its shadowy leader, one who shares a past with Bond, is all too eager to take the fight straight to 007...
Dr Madeleine Swann
Max Denbigh, C
John Logan, Neal Purvis, Robert Wade & Jex Butterworth *
Release Date (UK)
26th October, 2015
Action, Spy, Thriller
Best Original Song ("Writing's On The Wall")
What's to like?
Those viewers who have become accustomed to Bond's more modern and contemporary feel are in for a shock from the very first seconds of the film. The traditional gun-barrel opening is back where it belongs and throws us head-first into the traditional show-stopping action sequence that heralds each Bond adventure. Spectre surprisingly reverts back to well-worn Bond clichés like the humorous dialogue between Q and Bond, yet another Aston Martin for Bond to crash (which always brings a lump to my throat - it seems like such a waste) and even the return of a character long forgotten by all except the Bond faithful. Thankfully, Mendes doesn't get too sentimental about the olden days. The film retains the smash-grab style of action or recent efforts like Skyfall (obviously) and does a fine job of keeping Bond fresh and believable.
Craig's performance has evolved since his blue-eyed debut in 2006's Casino Royale and he has matured nicely into the part. Seydoux and Bellucci are reminiscent of the Bond girls of yore while Bautista provides Craig with a physically imposing man-mountain to scrap with. I particularly enjoyed their fight on a train, once again reminding me of that terrific sequence in From Russia With Love. The story also works well, linking all of Craig's Bond outings so far into one cohesive whole but particularly Skyfall - the impact of M's death and the ruined shell of the MI6 building in London serving to remind viewers that Bond is no longer a cardboard cut-out hero, a comic-strip fantasy that saves the world time and again with nary a scratch before setting off on another adventure. Craig's Bond has scars, physical and mental, after his years of service and his performance makes this all too plain to see.
- The two cars used in the chase sequence in Rome are an Aston Martin DB10 and a Jaguar C-X75. The DB10 is a limited edition celebrating the companies 50-year association with Bond while the Jaguar was an abandoned hybrid prototype.
- Monica Bellucci becomes the oldest woman to play a Bond girl at the age of fifty. She takes the record from Honor Blackman who was 38 when she appeared in Goldfinger in 1964 - coincidentally the year Bellucci was born.
- The safe-house used by M has a sign on the door saying "Hildebrand & Company - Rarities and Antiquities". "The Hildebrand Rarity" was a short story included in Ian Fleming's 1960 anthology "For Your Eyes Only" and is one of only four titles unused for film adaptations.
What's not to like?
As much as I enjoyed Spectre, it's worth pointing out that this is not quite the same level as Skyfall though there is little shame in that. Firstly, the script doesn't do a good enough job of hiding certain things from the audience - it is pretty blatant who the baddies are, what they are up to and even the identity of the shadowy Oberhauser character. There are also some pretty large jumps in logic that undermine the film's grasp on reality. Yes, I know that this is a Bond film but even a fan such as myself questioned whether a plane with two broken wings could still catch up with a couple of speeding Land Rovers. It also leaves unanswered questions as to the fate of certain characters, clearly leaving the door open for some of them to return in the next Bond flick.
Product placement felt a little too obvious this time around (and is also a traditional Bond problem) and I'm not sold on the theme tune either, Sam Smith's "Writing's On The Wall", despite it being the only Bond theme to top the UK charts so far. And as much as I enjoy Mendes' efficient and assured direction, I got the sense of artistic intentions over entertaining one - take the scene of Sciarra's funeral, for example, with its symmetry of set design and unnatural levels of lighting. Am I being picky? Perhaps - Bond is an institution of cinema and his fans can be quite demanding, as the uproar caused by Bond drinking a Heineken in the last movie demonstrated. Care and attention is required and I sometimes felt that Spectre lost its own chain of thought and wondered how exactly to proceed from where it was.
Should I watch it?
While not exactly matching the giddy heights of Skyfall or Casino Royale, Spectre does enough to suggest that there's plenty of life in the old dog for now. It maintains a delicate balancing act between the old and new Bond films, giving Craig plenty of action to muscle his way through but straining to reintroduce old ideas and concepts into the current Bond style. It's ambitious and a decent action thriller that fans will enjoy but part of me wonders if Mendes was trying to accomplish too much with the film.
Great For: Bond fans new and old, MI6 recruitment, sales of Aston Martins
Not So Great For: Bellucci's admirers (she only manages about ten minutes of screen time), screenwriting analysers, people who hate product placement
What else should I watch?
Craig's best Bond outing remains Skyfall which had a little of the old Bond magic flowing between the reels. However, Casino Royale is also well worth a look as it reinvigorates the entire series as well as giving female moviegoers the chance to ogle eye-candy for once. Quantum Of Solace now looks even more out of place as Craig's least attractive Bond film and especially since it's been side-lined to some extent by events in this movie.
Of course, everyone will have their favourite Bond actors and their favourite films from the character's long list of cinematic adventures. Connery's fans will often cite Goldfinger or From Russia With Love, Moore's best films were The Spy Who Loved Me and For Your Eyes Only and Brosnan's supporters will sing the praises of GoldenEye as they rightly should. Hell, even George Lazenby's On Her Majesty's Secret Service isn't that bad.
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© 2015 Benjamin Cox