Bond, James Bond is back. Three years on from the tremendous critical and commercial success of Skyfall, Daniel Craig and director Sam Mendes team up again. Slight worries started to materialise with the release of Sam Smith’s forgettable theme song, but it was always going to be a daunting task to follow the most successful British film ever made.
Bond is an incomparable franchise that boasts a lush history and expectation. Skyfall acknowledged Bond conventions but was brave enough to be original and surprising like the low key Straw Dogs-esque finale. Skyfall introduced a new generation of classic supporting characters; Ralph Fiennes as M, Naomie Harris as Moneypenny and Ben Whishaw as Q. So a more familiar and conventional Bond film was bound to follow and that film is Spectre.
The eponymous Spectre is a shadowy organisation, that Bond has to go rogue to uncover, as the architect of all worldwide terrorist activity. Meanwhile M is being threatened with the loss of the 00 programme by surveillance-happy bureaucrats. From an early scene complete with a sarcastic Bond being chastised by M in his luxurious wooden office you know where you stand. The ludicrous globe-trotting plot, complete with inexplicably on hand tuxedos and wardrobe changes rattles along akin to the Bond films you grew up watching with your parents. This is no Skyfall but it is far from the mess that was Quantum of Solace.
Mendes, in confident form, opens the movie with a superb seemingly continuous 4 minute shot, within Mexico City’s Day of the Dead parade. It is then a shame that the impressive opening is followed by a title sequence as forgettable as the song. Both Moneypenny and Q feature early with wonderful character moments. Q even makes a foray into the field where his youthful cynicism is a highlight, but these characters are too easily dismissed later in the film.
A stand out scene is the introduction of Christoph Waltz‘s menacing supervillain. He commands silence by entering a room and triggers actions by a simple nod. However Waltz struggles with his allotted screen time to convey his character as more than a Bond convention. The retconing is rushed and the link he holds to Bond’s past makes him seem petty and adds nothing to the plot.
Waltz and Mendes just about avoid the cliché of the monologuing supervillain by using the moment to psychologically torture the female lead, resulting in a well-executed intimate moment between Bond and her. So now to the Bond women. Monica Bellucci‘s widow briefly services the plot and Bond, then is gone. Lea Seydoux as Madeleine Swan has much more screen time but her emotional arc still feels rushed. As the film retcons, to link all previous Craig Bond films, this inevitably provokes memories of Casino Royale‘s Vesper Lynd (Eva Green) reminding you of how good a Bond girl can be.
Dave Bautista‘s secondary villain Mr. Hinx features in a lack-lustre Rome car chase but redeems himself with a brutal train brawl with obvious winks to previous Bond films. Andrew Scott‘s cocky new intelligence service man is a plot device with a highly predictable arc once he is introduced unshaven with a posh accent and noted to be a school friend of the Home Secretary. He does though provide M with the film’s best comic line .
Spectre is a highly enjoyable romp with moments of class. It features an impressive performance from Craig more at ease with the lighter and humorous notes. This modern update of the conventional Bond film is unfortunately shackled by the legacy and shadow of Skyfall.