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Bond is back for another adventure and Spectre has big shoes to fill following the success of Skyfall, making over $1 billion at the box office and was met with near universal critical praise. Despite this tough task, not helped by Daniel Craig’s complaining about the series, Spectre succeeds, being both a classic and modern Bond and tying up the pervious Craig Bond movies.
James Bond (Craig) goes rogue to assassinate a man in Mexico City, causing streets worth of damage and an international incident, forcing M (Ralph Fiennes) to suspend the 00 Agent. This does not stop Bond from his mission to investigate a secretive organization that it turns out he has had dealings with previously, with a personal connection to his past. In the background, MI6 is going through a restructuring, led by Max Denbigh (Andrew Scott), code-named C, a civil servant who is spearheading an inter-connected international intelligence network of surveillance and drone strikes, seeing the 00 section as obsolete.
Since the start of Daniel Craig’s tenure as MI6’s best, the series has slowly been reintroducing classic elements and tropes familiar to fans. Now with Spectre, the series has come full circle and this entry feels very much like a Bond film of old. It starts with the classic gun barrel sequence and continues with a pre-title sequence that could have easily have started a pre-Craig Bond movie. It was a grand spectacle with Bond walking in the midst of the Day of the Dead festival and when Bond saves the day, the famous theme bellows out.
Spectre continues in many ways with its reintroduction of classic tropes, having Bond flirt with Moneypenny, Bond playing around in Q’s workshop when he is being shown his new gadgets, having a huge silent henchman in the vein of Oddjob and Jaws who can give Bond a serious beating and has Bond going to a villain’s secret lair. Craig’s Bond has evolved on screen, from the brash, reckless agent in Casino Royale to being physically and emotional damaged in Skyfall and now he is the cool, suave agent we all know and love, being much more humorous. Sam Mendes and his team bring a slightly lighter touch to the Craig era. Spectre does have moments that echo Casino Royale and other Bond movies like On Her Majesty’s Secret Service and The World Is Not Enough are visually referenced.
Although Spectre is a bit more joke filled than the previous Craig entries, it is still on the serious side of the Bond spectrum. It’s not Moonraker. The stakes are still high and like Skyfall, Spectre delves deeper into Bond’s past and psyche, having to deal with a villain, Franz Oberhauser (Christoph Waltz) who has a personal connection with our hero. Bond still has to deal with the events of the previous movies, such as the death of Vesper and the consequences of Raoul Silva’s actions in Skyfall. Spectre still has dark moments, from Mr. Hinx (Dave Bautista) giving a very convincing presentation on why he deserves a promotion to another character having a similar fate to real life former Russian agent Alexander Litvinenko.
One of the greatest tricks Spectre pulls is how it brings together all the previous Craig movies. Fans of the series already predicted that Spectre evolved from Quantum in Quantum of Solace and brings up the pain of losing Vesper, so that is not much of a surprise. The screenwriters were able to turn Skyfall from excellent stand-alone movie about Silva wanting revenge and brings his scheme into the wider picture, both as a way to hurt Bond and being a part of Spectre’s plot. It retroactively make one of the best Bond movies even better. But Spectre requires good knowledge of the previous Bond movies for its plot to be fully understood.
One of the biggest criticisms of the Bond series is it being seen as a right wing fantasy; The Bourne Supremacy and The Bourne Ultimatum director Paul Greengrass famously called Bond “an Imperialist right-wing fuckface”. Spectre rails against this accusation by bringing Bond into the post-Snowden world where people in power want to expand in surveillance, having little to no oversight regarding the use of their powers and using drones to attack threats from a distance. It makes Bond and the 00 section a defender of democracy, civil liberties and our way of life and shows that Bond is not the sociopathic murderer that the detractors make him out to be. The basics of the plot involving unchecked powers for the intelligence services and having a climax involving a ticking clock bares similarities to last year’s Captain America: The Winter Soldier and this summer’s hit Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation while also having elements of the Bourne series. It is great to see Bond’s comrades getting in on the action and not being in the background.
If we have to play the comparison game you cannot help but notice that this is the third time Rome has been used as a setting for a spy action movie, the previous one being Spy and The Man From U.N.C.L.E.
All good Bond movies needs a good villain and Christoph Waltz had a tough task following Javier Bardem who has joined the pantheon of great Bond villains. Waltz is a fantastic actor and his character does have similarities to his Hans Landa character in Inglourious Basterds, a villain who is cold, calculated, a man who revels in his sadism yet is weirdly charming. Waltz’s Oberhauser was someone who was always in control and he was at his best when taunting Bond. But Waltz’s big reveal will match Bendict Cumberbatch’s in Star Trek Into Darkness.
Léa Seydoux was also a strong presence in her role as Madeline Swann, a woman who can handle herself in a fight, having already shown her action chops Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol. She has good rapport with Craig as their relationship grows and her role was what Camille Montes from Quantum of Solace should have been like. Dave Bautista also does his job, being a hulk of a man. But people hoping that Monica Bellucci would have a prominent role will be disappointed.
Spectre also delivers on the action front, starting with a three minute long continuous shot which went from the streets of Mexico City to a hotel room to the exterior of the building, a great moment for new cinematographer Hoyte van Hoytema to show off, taking over from the Oscar-nominated Roger Deakins. It continues with the rest of the pre-title sequences, a car chase in Rome, being the best in the series since Licence to Kill (unless you count the tank chase in Goldeneye), a chase in the Austrian Alps and a fight in a train that is a call back to fights in From Russia With Love and The Spy Who Loved Me. It is strong stuff from the series, particularly because Bond has had some very strong competition in the form of Kingsman: The Secret Service and Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation.
Spectre delivers as a sequel to Skyfall, linking together the previous Daniel Craig films and brings back some humor and classic tropes to the series. If this is Craig’s last outing as 007 it is good send off for him.