It’s melodramatic, predictable, cliché and over-the-top but boy is it fun! James Bond is back, Daniel Craig is back, Sam Mendes is back and, despite every narratively interesting detail being ruined by the trailer (a growing trend), they have managed to equal their Skyfall (2012) triumph and arguably surpass what they started.
It feels for the entirety of Craig’s Bond era, we’ve been watching the origin story for 007. But, with the notable exception of Quantum of Solace (Marc Forster, 2008) which was one of the many casualties during the writer’s strike, each film has moved Bond’s character forward toward re-establishing the tropes that audiences love whilst grounding or destroying the more gimmicky ones (hopefully) never to be seen again.
Spectre opens with a much talked about and extended single tracking shot à la Birdman (Alejandro G. Iñárritu, 2014). We follow Bond in Mexico City’s Day of the Dead and fall right into his no nonsense attitude with a touch of humour. Visually and stylistically, it’s fantastic; colourful and dynamic (inevitably with such a shot) and it climaxes into Sam Smith’s Writing’s On the Wall. In the context of the film and with the gorgeous titles images by Daniel Kleinman, it’s a much better song than it might seem as a standalone.
Bond receives a message from his past which sends him on a typically globe-trotting adventure eventually leading him and Léa Seydoux hard-headed Madeleine Swann to the unveiling of Spectre. It’s difficult not to see the heavily foreshadowed plot twists but it feels like the writing team, of which there are four, know there’s no hiding certain elements when you call the film Spectre. Instead, this is about the thrill of getting Bond doing what we want him doing (I’m sure I don’t need to list the Bond tropes by film number 24!). Spectre has all of these elements, it has fun with them but it never feels cheap or unnecessary like Die Another Day (Lee Tamahori, 2002).
I will not be the only one who is increasingly frustrated with the amount of tasteless adverts either starring actors from the film or directly inspired by the film. However, as the Guardian points out, it’s a great trade-off because it means Spectre can flow smoothly without stopping for Bond to take a breather with a Heineken or study his mediocre Sony mobile phone. Product placement is a necessary part of huge blockbusters of 2015 and this film is no different but what remains is only a few quick glimpses or mentions which would not feel out of place even in a Connery or Moore Bond.
Highlights include Craig and Christoph Waltz who are great as usual with the latter playing another synonymously talkative character with a playful villainy that fits neatly into Bond canon. If there was one criticism of Waltz’s role it would be he is perhaps a little too playful and not villainous enough – sure he’s bad but I want maniacal.
Disappointments here would include the Aston Martin sequence across Rome which is frankly just boring exposition disguised as a car chase. It looks nice, as everything does thanks to cinematographer Hoyte Van Hoytema of Interstellar (Christopher Nolan, 2014) and Her (Spike Jonze, 2014) fame but nothing really happens in the chase itself. It does lead to a brilliant sequence between Bond and his pursuer a few scenes later (I’m being deliberately vague but it’s an excellent and fierce scene).
Audiences may remember Skyfall as the best Bond yet and for the most part I cannot argue. However, watch it again and it has its fair share of flaws which I do remember taking me out of the experience. I know there are faults with Spectre too but I never remember being jolted out in the same way and the 148 minutes flew by! Mendes also manages to repeat his homage stance as before: some are subtle hints, others crammed down our throats somewhat but it’s a nice balance overall. If this is Craig’s last, and presumably then Mendes’ too, they will have gone out on a high but I sincerely hope we get one last hurrah before they move on.