Usually, there are two camps when it comes to Bond films. One on corner, the folks who much prefer the campy attitude and almost cartoonish style of the 70s Bond films. Led by Roger Moore’s understated but highly effective zeal and a script that sometimes would actually call for baffling lunacy (a baddie was literally blown up after being filled with gas via a hose) and set pieces that were as beautiful as they were unlikely. The other corner steers in the opposite direction and prefers the grim, grounded and gritty, bag and tag, nigh is the end of the world, no nonsense spy who actually uses his ‘license to kill’ to its maximum legal limit (if any). Both camps though agree that immense action and certain patented spy cliches are to be expected -nay, demanded – from a Bond flick. In that regard, this will be enjoyed by most for at least a few scenes at a time but begin to break down soon after.
Hot off the billion dollar scoop at the box office and a scintillating array of cryptic trailers, Spectre begins in Mexico City, sometime after Skyfall’s events where, on instruction from the late M (Judi Dench) out titular suit slaying hero hunts down (In classic Craig fashion) Marco Sciarra, a man he believes to be tangled up in the shadowy evil organization known as Spectre. Being an unsanctioned hit, Bond is suspended by M (Ralph Fiennes) and fueled by rage and a mysterious connection to his past, Bond, with the (sometimes unwilling) aid of Q (Ben Whishaw) and against the orders of M, scours the globe to uncover the secret that threatens to kill him and possibly endanger our world that is increasingly becoming surveillance obsessed.
The debate as to whether the reboot that was Casino Royale freshened up the longest running franchise in film history is surprisingly still debated. I loved the new direction. Bond was brutal, ruthless, rough around the edges and shot down alcohol like it was meant to be done, this shaken-not-stirred business be damned. He hit hard, drank hard, got hit below the belt hard (literally) and lost hard. Finally there was a character that seemed human at least. Having grown over the past two titles, not much has changed though. Daniel Craig’s portrayal of the suave spy still has him as the stoic, business first, questions later get the job done by any means necessary – and happen to charm his way into the damsel’s panties if it fits into his schedule.
Having Sam Mendes at the director’s chair also doesn’t hurt one bit. The opening scene is a dialogue sparse beautiful one-take set piece that displays the meticulous technical expertise that was put in. Featuring homages, a helicopter, a baddie, a massive parade and some good ‘ol action that then seeps into the opening credits sequence done by the golden voiced gentleman, Sam Smith. Not as epic as Adele’s version (that woman was blessed by the music gods) but holds his own.
Unfortunately, it starts going downhill from there. Probably as a result of Vesper Lynd’s death in ‘Casino Royale’, there hasn’t been a truly memorable Bond girl to speak of. She was the reason for the story arc spanning the new trilogy and Bond’s rage. Any other she met along the way, however stunning, seemed to fade into the background just as quick. The inclusion of the insanely alluring Monica Belucci (Matrix Reloaded), who was, for once, an age mate of Bond and made her officially the eldest Bond girl still couldn’t do much. There’s only so much one can do with less than ten minutes of screen time. Léa Seydoux (Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol) though holds her own as quintessential the love interest and manages to at least stamp her identity on the character. All that though still leaves a lot to be desired for a memorable Bond girl.
The cinematography is one place where there is very little to be faulted. The set pieces are a pure marvel to watch, both in detail and sheer size and scale. From the endless white horizon of the Alps to the desert of Northern Africa and particularly the opening scene in Mexico City. That alone, I wager, would win an Oscar, given a chance. The action is definitely not left behind. The cars in this installment thrill as much as the actual chase scene taking place amid the streets of Rome. When it comes to scenes where fists are the only mode of communication, henchman Mr. Hinx (Dave Bautista, Guardians of the Galaxy) fills in that spot marvelously with an entrance that will be remembered for years to come. A particularly brutal scene where they both square up looks like it belongs in a martial arts movie will definitely leave no doubts as to Batista’s wrestling track record.
Sadly, this highlights another problem too – the chronic under use of characters. From the aforementioned Belucci to the sophisticated big baddie Blofeld (Yes. It’s Blofeld. Don’t act surprised) it seems like a lot more mileage could have been milked from them – certainly from Blofeld at least, what with the rich history surrounding him and the fact that he’s portrayed by the amazing Christoph Waltz. The ensemble though manage to eke out the best with what they have.
All in all, Spectre manages to deliver a solid action packed venture but a less than satisfying entry into the franchise. I think this is the curse that comes with part of a franchise older than some of your parents. You are always going to be compared with your rich and diverse past. Kind of like how you’re always compared to an older sibling if you’re the youngest. Strangely, I’m starting to miss Roger Moore kicking ass in space. Huh. Who would have thought.