Spectre is the twenty-fourth James Bond film and Daniel Craig’s fourth (and quite possibly, final) outing as Ian Fleming’s 007. Once again directed by Sam Mendes (returning after the huge success of Skyfall), the plot features the global criminal organisation Spectre – their first appearance in an Eon Productions film, due to years of legal wrangling, since Diamonds Are Forever in 1971. When a cryptic message from beyond the grave sets Bond into unsanctioned action, a chain reaction is triggered that will propel him around the world and eventually bring him face to face with the author of all his pain…
The dead are alive.
Following an ominous epigraph, sparse white text on a screen of black, Spectre opens in Mexico City with a spectacular pre-credits sequence set during the Day of the Dead. It’s a beautifully orchestrated introduction, with Sam Mendes expertly filming Bond as he glides through the festival goers dressed as a skeleton, leading a beautiful local woman by the hand. It’s unmistakably 007 – his eyes peer out, scanning the crowd, piercing steel-blue behind a mask of death.
The music by Thomas Newman – Los Muertos Vivos Estan (featuring Tambuco) – mixes the flavour of the occasion with the unmistakable theme tune of Her Majesty’s finest secret agent, the percussion section building to a crescendo as Bond enters a nearby building, takes an elevator ride to the top floor, enters a hotel room… then exits via the window, losing the costume to reveal his immaculate blue suit underneath, much to the bemusement of his latest conquest.
A short rooftop walk and quick moment of tie-straightening later, he’s aiming a gun at two terrorists through a nearby building window. Shots are fired, the building explodes and Bond gives chase through the busy streets after one of the surviving men (the assassin Sciarra), before ending up in a hand-to-hand scrap in a barrel rolling helicopter. It’s a thrilling return to the modern world of 007 and there’s an even bigger surprise coming as the title sequence kicks in – Sam Smith’s Writing’s On The Wall, questionable at best when first listened to out of context, actually works rather well here. As familiar faces from past films crop up amidst an endless supply of inky tentacles, it immediately becomes apparent that the opening epigraph was very apt indeed.
Back in London, M (Ralph Fiennes) is furious that 007 has taken matters into his own hands yet again (despite not having any solid evidence), fearing that he could have sparked an international incident. MI5 and MI6 have recently been merged, the ’00’ section is on the brink of being retired and C (Andrew Scott), the head of the newly christened Joint Intelligence Service, wants to instigate the “Nine Eyes” program in its place – an intelligence co-operation agreement between nine countries that will make agents like Bond obsolete. 007 is indefinitely taken off field duty.
Of course, a film consisting of James Bond lazing around the house in his pyjamas wouldn’t be particularly thrilling – although we do get to see where he lives (minor spoiler – it’s sparse and unlived in), as he looks through some personal effects recovered from Skyfall in his dressing gown. Against M’s orders, he steals a kitted out Aston Martin BD10 intended for use by the never seen 009 from Q’s workshop (once again played to wonderful effect by an ultra-geeky Ben Whishaw) and heads to Rome to attend Sciarra’s funeral.
From there, the film follows a breadcrumb trail that will take 007 around the world (Austria, Morocco, the Sahara Desert) in pursuit of a shadowy organisation known as Spectre, lead by the mysterious Franz Oberhauser (Christoph Waltz). He’s an understated yet intimidating villain and Waltz plays him perfectly. It’s Dave Bautista as Mr. Hinx that provides the muscle, fuelling a beautifully choreographed car chase through the streets of Rome and later on practically destroying a series of train carriages as he battles Bond, in a nod to the iconic Connery fight in From Russia With Love. He’s one of the best evil henchmen the series has ever seen.
Dutch-Swedish cinematographer Hoyte van Hoytema does an incredible job of making the film look beautiful whilst always keeping the action easy to follow, with the music of Thomas Newman continually dialling the excitement up to 11. Sadly, Naomie Harris as Eve Moneypenny isn’t given much to do and neither is Monica Bellucci as Lucia Sciarra, but Léa Seydoux gives a strong performance as Dr. Madeleine Swann – even if she does fall in love with Bond a little bit too quick.
At 148 minutes this is the longest Bond film to date, but it never drags – which is surprising, as it has a somewhat languid pace at times. The film is never in a rush to reveal its secrets, content to let 007 contemplate the events unfolding around him as he plans his next move. The story is simple in many ways, with the only small misstep occurring when the script tries to tie all of the previous films together. It isn’t that it can’t be done, but a few throwaway lines of dialogue make the explanation fall slightly flat. Thankfully, being strapped to a chair with a drill moving towards Bond’s head helps such minor annoyances remain that way…
There has been somewhat of a backlash against Spectre from critics since its release in the UK, but that’s to be expected after the incredible financial and critical success of Skyfall. It’s far too easy to forget just how bad some of the previous Bond films actually were – especially the latter Pierce Brosnan instalments. Spectre isn’t a perfect film – there are plot holes inherent in any James Bond film, as they are all essentially fantasies – but it’s an action-packed adventure that puts an exclamation mark on the fact that Daniel Craig could very well be the best actor to have undertaken the role of 007 to date. If this proves to be his last outing, he’ll be leaving behind a body of work that will be tough to follow. James Bond will return – let’s just hope Daniel Craig does too. Never say never again…
10 OUT OF 10