Fresh from the success of the critically acclaimed Skyfall, the rejuvenated Bond series continues with its 24th official installment, it’s fourth with Daniel Craig in the tux.
In the aftermath of a failed terrorist plot in Mexico City, James Bond (Daniel Craig) uncovers the existence of the eponymous criminal organisation which has a startling connection to his past, particularly in the form of its leader, Franz Oberhauser (Christoph Waltz). Meanwhile, M (Ralph Fiennes) faces mounting pressure as the fate of MI6 hangs in the balance.
Remember how the ending of Skyfall left you feeling energized, as if the possibilities for subsequent Bond installments were unlimited and that the franchise could go on for another 50 years? Spectre, though a largely solid, entertaining entry to the Bond canon, does not replicate this feeling.
At times, Spectre feels like a more engrossing and polished version of the oft-derided Quantum of Solace. Both are direct sequels to superior Daniel Craig outings and both feature shadowy, global, criminal organisations. And whereas Skyfall was an innovative fusion of Daniel Craig-era grit and Sean Connery-era glamour, Spectre firmly belongs in the latter category. Finally, audiences are able to see what a 60’s style Bond film done with Daniel Craig looks like. With that comes the ridiculous, but entertaining Ken Adams-style supervillain lairs, a lighter touch, and more references to the previous Bond films. For the most part, these work rather well with a brutal, destructive fist fight aboard a train evoking similar sequences in From Russia With Love and The Spy Who Loved Me. Bond even does that thing where he dangles off the ground and kicks a bad guy with both legs at the same time.
Where the film falters is its depiction of Spectre and its leader, the enigmatic Franz Oberhauser. This is a shame as the set-up, when Bond comes face to face with them for the first time at a sinister meeting in Rome, is superb. The boardroom, with its high-vaulted ceiling and dark, sharply attired figures is incredibly eerie and subtly lit by the brilliant cinematographer Hoyte van Hoytema. The tension as Oberhauser silently arrives, face cloaked in shadow while his subordinates quiver in fear, is nigh on unbearable. But never again is the organisation presented as being quite so dangerous. As Oberhauser, Waltz does what he can but he is fatally hamstrung with vague, rather ridiculous motives, a lack of screen time, and a general lack of menace. An attempt to connect most of the events of the recent films to him also falls flat. We only get a sense that the organisation is so dangerous because characters keep referring to it as such, we never really get to see the consequences of their nefarious deeds. Also underdeveloped is the romance between Bond and Dr. Madeleine Swann (Léa Seydoux). That the character is compelling and likeable is thanks to the actress, who must depict a woman who’s fallen in love with a man she’s only known for a few days.
What saves Spectre is its sense of humour, one of the advantages of the film clinging to its Sean Connery-era roots. Q (Ben Whishaw) is back to dispense gadgets (but not to Roger Moore-era levels of ridiculousness) and trades quips with Bond, making their scenes some of the highlights of the movie. Bond’s fumbling attempts to work out which buttons activate which gadgets on his stolen Aston Martin DB10 also help to enliven an otherwise by-the-numbers car chase along the Tiber River. Although the bulk of the action scenes are largely uninspired, the bravura opening in Mexico City complete with a shot that tracks Bond as he tracks his target at the Day of the Dead festival and culminates in a violent fist fight aboard a helicopter surely ranks as one of the best pre-credit Bond scenes in the franchise’s history.
But more than anything, the glue that holds Spectre together is Daniel Craig. The finest Bond actor since Sean Connery, Craig doesn’t quite explore the depths of his character’s tortured psyche as he did previously, but this suits the more playful tone of Spectre. Like Harrison Ford in the very first Star Wars movie, Craig’s ability to see through the inherent ridiculous of the plot lends his portrayal a wryness and self-awareness that is a joy to watch. A brief scene where a slightly drunk Bond playfully brandishes a pistol at a mouse works far, far better than it had any right to.
Although heavily flawed, Spectre is a loving tribute to the classic Bond movies of yore. If this is indeed to be Craig’s swansong as Bond, it can be said that he’s had a far better hit rate than many of his predecessors in the role with two bona-fide classics under his belt. At least Spectre is no Die Another Day.
By Johnson Hii
Director: Sam Mendes
Writer(s): John Logan, Neal Purvis, Robert Wade, Jez Butterworth
Starring: Daniel Craig, Christoph Waltz, Léa Seydoux, Ben Whishaw, Ralph Fiennes
Runtime: 148 minutes
Release date(s): Australia: November 12 2015