With Skyfall and Casino Royale, it is a tough road to top those two James Bond films. They were exquisitely executed, almost flawless films. A rarity for any film, really. Quantum of Solace was unfairly maligned by critics but I found it to be a brutal and relentless Bond picture and loved every moment of it, although I would agree that it was the weakest of the Daniel Craig led Bond films. SPECTRE arrives three years after Skyfall and the wait was worth it.
Much has been said about Craig and whether or not this is his last Bond film. He is contractually obligated for one more and I think he will return for one last hurrah. As for director Sam Mendes, that might be a different story. Mendes has stated that he was satisfied with his conclusion of SPECTRE and that the storylines had been sufficiently tied together. Well at least, Craig will be back….hopefully.
SPECTRE cost over 300 million dollars to make and it shows. This is an extravagantly staged, beautifully shot film with all of the elements of what makes 007 such an iconic figure in cinema. After years of legal wrangling for use of the term SPECTRE in any Bond pictures, the parties ironed out their differences, finally. While this is not as good as Skyfall and Casino Royale, SPECTRE is epic in its story with the nefarious organization. They don’t just want to keep an eye on MI6. They want to run it.
As SPECTRE opens, Bond is in Mexico at the Day of the Dead festival tracking another lowlife bent on death and destruction. Bond has tracked him there while still trying to bring all of Vesper’s killers down. Tying up loose ends, if you will. There is an much talked about fight on a helicopter which is pretty impressive and Craig shows why he is such a terrific Bond. His physical prowess in the character of Bond is simply amazing. At 47. he is in top shape and he sells the action better than just about anyone.
Back in England, C (Andrew Scott) has been put in charge to shut down the double ‘O’ branch, but who is he? M (Ralph Fiennes) and C are at odds and Bond is ordered to cease and desist in his actions. Bond will not be deterred. His mission takes him from Mexico to a visit with Mr. White (Jesper Christensen) in Austria where a startling revelation is admitted to by Mr. White. Bond is then off to Morocco, Italy and back to England for the film’s climax.
Mendes makes great use of the locales and the cinematography by Hoyte Van Hoytema is simply stunning. Long, panoramic shots of the land and surroundings give SPECTRE the exotic feel we have come to expect in the Bond films. Mendes is a master storyteller and you can tell he loves what he is doing because SPECTRE is teaming with fresh energy. Nothing in this film seems tired or old. Fifty-three years later, and Bond is still as fun as ever. You can credit the John Logan, Neal Purvis, Robert Wade and Jez Butterworth for a script that is smart, cleverly witty and gives Craig’s Bond a little more depth. We actually get a brief glimpse of Bond’s apartment, too, which was neat to see.
The introduction to Blofeld (Christoph Waltz) and especially Blofeld’s main goon, Mr. Hinx (David Bautista) is dark and mysterious as the SPECTRE members gather to discuss their evil enterprises. Bautista has one word of dialogue through the whole film but his presence is felt. He is a monstrosity of a human being; a violent killing machine whose introduction is a memorable one. Waltz is terrific as Blofeld, but he does not have a lot of screen time, sadly. That is one of the flaws of SPECTRE. I would have liked to have seen more interaction between Bond and Blofeld. Maybe for upcoming films, there will be some more depth given to their relationships. Since this Bond film deals with Bond and his first run-in with the organization, I suspect that the film makers are saving some material for the future films in the franchise.
Craig shines as Bond. This is a role he was born to play and each time he knocks it out of the park. Craig is a physical Bond, but he is smart, observant and honest. He calls things like he sees them. But there is also a compassionate side to him as well. In SPECTRE he gets a few more one liners that people have come to expect from a Bond picture.
Lea Seydoux is positively ravishing as Madeline Swan, Bond’s new Vesper, of sorts. She is gorgeous, iron willed, smart and figures out what kind of man Bond in quick time. The returning cast of Moneypenny (Naomie Harris), Q (Ben Whishaw) and M’s Ralph Fiennes are all standout players. They are well written characters that we have come to love over the years. It would not be a Bond film without them and Thomas Newman returns to score his second Bond film and he proves why he is the master of his craft. However, the Bond theme, Writing’s On The Wall performed by Sam Smith, is decent but a far cry from the emotional powerhouse that Adele’s theme was for Skyfall. It serves its purpose for the title sequence in SPECTRE, but that is about all. There is an instrumental version on the score album and it works much better in that venue.
Monica Belluci has a small role that I would have liked to have seen more of. But like Blofeld, she does not have that much screen time. At 50, Belluci is one of the older Bond ladies, but she is radiant and makes the most out of a very underwritten character. Aside from these flaws, SPECTRE is a terrific film and I had a blast. It is exciting, fun and epic in its scope and story. The action is terrific and there is hardly a dull moment. Beautifully shot, the lush locales and action jump off of the screen to make SPECTRE a real treat. It may not be as good as Skyfall or Casino Royale, but it comes close.
SPECTRE- **** out of 5
SPECTRE- Rated PG-13 for violence, sexual situations and language
SPECTRE- Run Time is 140 minutes
SPECTRE is out in theaters now. Check you local listings.