Not too long ago I got a “catch-up” email of sorts from a friend that I hadn’t heard from in a good 5 years or so, among the many topics in the email James Bond was mentioned, both in that he was excited to see SPECTRE, and also how just recently, he gave Casino Royale another viewing for the first time in years or so, and how, from start to finish, it inspired both a sense of nostalgia and appreciation for a film that has aged incredibly gracefully and has stood the test of time. As a Bond fan of 18 years I couldn’t help but nod my head in agreement. I saw the film in its original theatrical release and almost everything about the night I saw it still feels like yesterday, despite being 9 years ago. This is also a testament to how well the Daniel Craig era of 007 is going to hold up; his era, in addition to being the most accessible Bond era yet, is the era most likely to hold up well in years to come, and perhaps the latest addition to the franchise, SPECTRE, is the film that will ultimately be the film that helps support that claim.
Looking back on the film’s rather tumultuous production history, perhaps it’s a wonder the film ended up being as great as it is. Its script was leaked as part of the 2014 Sony hacks, and scenes were being rewritten on set almost constantly to the point where it became a miserable experience for Daniel Craig. Despite all these setbacks the film still manages to serve as an absolutely wonderful love letter to the 007 fans; the film blends in classic elements with plot elements seen in Skyfall and Quantum of Solace. Except rather than outright be a glorified circle jerk over the past, SPECTRE comes off as a wonderfully cohesive celebration of both the franchise’s roots, and where the series is as of now. If Daniel Craig’s rather upbeat comments about how he’d “rather slit his wrists” than play Bond again are any indication SPECTRE is most likely going to be the end of the Daniel Craig era, and that makes me sad, because both Skyfall and this film made me excited to see more from the power quad of Craig, Fiennes, Harris and Whishaw, but at the same time, if this is indeed the end, I don’t think there could be a more wonderful sendoff for Craig, who to me may be the best 007 the series has had.
Warning: Potential spoilers ahead
SPECTRE begins like any other Bond film, Bond’s getting in shit somewhere in a foreign land, and M ain’t happy about it. During a “much needed holiday” in Mexico City during Day of the Dead celebrations, Bond goes after a few baddies which ends up destroying nearly a whole apartment block, and he is swiftly landed in hot water upon his subsequent de-briefing with M. As a result he is grounded from all field activity, but even that doesn’t stop him- in fact, an artifact he collected from one of the baddies- a ring that bears an ominous looking octopus insignia, and leftover documents found in Bond’s Skyfall home fire lead him to an encounter with the wife of one of the baddies he offed in Mexico (played by Monica Belluci). Said baddie was a member of a secret organization who holds meetings in a mansion in Rome, not totally unlike Eyes Wide Shut.
Bond attends one of the meetings and is recognized by a shadowy figure who just so happens to be the head of this creepy organization. He bears resemblance to Franz Oberhauser, a man thought to have died several years ago in an avalanche. This leads him on another worldwide journey, meeting Madeline Swann, a doctor, along the way who informs Bond that this organization is named SPECTRE- and said organization included the villians from the previous three 007 movies. Unfortunately, things aren’t much better back home in London, either- the newly appointed M is running on fumes and is struggling to keep MI6 going, and things aren’t better when Max Denbigh (Andrew Scott), the head of a surveillance corporation, announces to M that his plans to install surveillance worldwide is going forward. This also means rendering the 00 program obsolete… and all this while Bond is out trying to figure out what SPECTRE is up to.
SPECTRE succeeds on a lot of different levels, but perhaps the absolute biggest is on the charm of its cast. Every character here is amazingly well-cast; we saw enough of Ben Whishaw’s Q to get the idea of what he’s like in Skyfall, but thankfully he has more time here. He is absolutely a delight to watch and steals every scene he’s in; he is given plenty of adorkable one-liners like about how he has two cats and a mortgage, and even has a few classic Q type quotes (“When I said bring it back in one piece, I didn’t mean bring back one piece!”). If you were missing Judi Dench as M then you’ll be delighted to know that Ralph Fiennes fills hers (and Bernard Lee’s) shoes perfectly. He may not be as delightfully sassy as Judi, but he has all the features of a fantastic M- the overly tyrannical yet strangely caring nature of M, and he also has plenty of good one-liners, one in particular which comes during the film’s finale. Dave Bautista as Mr. Hinx is truly enjoyable, even if he’s but just a henchman; Lea Seydoux is not just something to look at, she turns in a believable performance as Madeline Swann, a woman who does everything she can while on the run from SPECTRE, and Christoph Waltz… well, why has it taken him so long to be a Bond villain? His performance as Oberhauser is brilliantly creepy and truly extraordinary. As per usual, the cinematography is also magnificent; while no Roger Deakins, Hoyte van Hoytema’s direction of photography is simply wonderful and truly vibrant. While SPECTRE may not look as lush as Skyfall or as slick as Quantum of Solace and Casino Royale, Hoytema’s cinematography brings a unique and extremely characteristic look to the world of 007, be it his golden tint during the Mexico City bits, the blue hues in Austria, or even the stony and bleak grey look of Madeline Swann’s office amd Denbigh’s headquarters, the look of the film is simply astounding.
Of course, the film does fail on a few levels. The most obvious one is the fucking DREADFUL theme song by Sam Smith; the song is not only horrid but also doesn’t really fit the movie. The lyrics, which were apparently written in 20 minutes, are too dissonant to the film’s tone, and lyrics like “If I risk it all/Would you break my fall” and “Without you, I’m suffocating” don’t fit the world of a womanizing spy, especially when he’s shown being a womanizer here as well. It isn’t helped by its weird and rushed opening titles, which have enough octopi in them to put a Finding Nemo sequel to shame. It also does suffer from a bit too much nostalgia being crammed in, and while the nostalgia is wonderful, it becomes a bit too obvious at times.
As a whole SPECTRE is a wonderful way to tie up the Daniel Craig era. It weaves together the previous movie into a beautifully complex web, and it also instills much hope for the future of the franchise while simultaneously celebrating the franchise what it is. Rather than being a glorified blowjob to the series’ influences, SPECTRE tastefully brings in elements of the old Connery movies, and even Roger Moore flicks, and uses the darker nature of Craig’s rebooted 007 to create a cohesive and creative story. Another thing it also does is leave you wondering what’s next for the franchise, and that’s what any good franchise should do. The upside is that there’s a lot of places this franchise could go; between tons of short stories and full novels by Ian Fleming and even continuations in recent year. With a good enough creative team there’s endless possibilities for this franchise, most of which are hopefully good.
SPECTRE is an absolutely magnificent celebration of old and new, and leaves you excited for what there is to come of the James Bond series while simultaneously reflecting on what made the previous films so well, using that to the story’s advantage.