In 2012's Skyfall, Q (Ben Whishaw), after showing James Bond (Daniel Craig) a new gadget he's designed, Bond appears to be slightly underwhelmed by it. Noticing his disappointment, Q asks him, "were you expecting an exploding pen? We don't really go in for that anymore." Why? Because the Daniel Crag Bond films have always had a grounded sophistication to them. They've always been a tad more realistic than films such as Thunderball, which features Sean Connery's Bond taking off on a jetpack. After watching Spectre, however, it appears that the days of the grounded Bond have come to a close. It's time to return to the more over the top world of Bond, and I have mixed feelings about this return.
Spectre kicks off in Mexico, with Bond hiding out in the middle of the Day of the Dead parade. An action sequence ensures and Bond ends up with a ring. A ring that provides him with the logo of an evil organisation he's on the hunt for, despite knowing next to nothing about it. His search leads him overseas yet again, except this time he encounters a young woman named Madeleine Swann (Léa Seydoux), the daughter of former bond villain, Mr. White (Jasper Christensen). She's well aware of what he's after and so she comes along with him as they attempt to track down Spectre, an organisation with connections to a lot of Bond's secretive past. And this organisation is led by none other than a man named Oberhauser (Christoph Waltz), who also has connections to Bond. What appeared to be an everyday mission has suddenly turned into a personal endeavour, and one that will push Bond beyond his limits.
Spectre opens with one of the greatest shots in Bond history. It's a three minute tracking shot in which Bond navigates his way through Mexico city, up onto a roof and over to his target. It's quite the first impression, and the scene only manages to get better. It's an explosive opening, fuelled with action and humour. The location is gorgeous and the action taking place is even better. It fails to top the opening of Skyfall, but Skyfall has one of the best openings of any Bond film, so that's to be expected.
From here, Spectre's entire first half is phenomenal. The plot is intricate, really pulling you into the story. It's not just about the action, it's about the journey Bond is going on, and it's a journey I was thoroughly invested in. The writers of the film have tied the plot to all of the previous Daniel Craig Bond outings, plus they've added a little extra something, and the result is sensational. It's a deep and intricate plot that makes the two and a half hour runtime fly by. The final result is ultimately predictable, but getting to this point is a lot of fun.
Spectre is an action spectacle, Sam Mendes completely understanding what it takes to make an action sequence. He always manages to hit all the right beats, whether it's adding humour or successfully getting your heart pounding. There's a standout sequence that takes place in the snow and it involves a helicopter, a hill, some trees and a couple of cars. It's the best sequence in the entire movie, although the opening showdown in Mexico and a fight on a train may give it a run for its money.
As previously mentioned, Spectre brings back the Bond of old. While Casino Royale introduced us to a fresh take on the classic character, full of regret and alcoholism, Spectre brings back some of the campiness we haven't seen in a while. We have the henchman, the evil organisation, the many women who see Bond and swoon, the Vodka martini, the cool gadgets and so much more. It's not a bad thing as for the most part it works extremely well, but it just feels slightly off in comparison to Craig's previous outings. It doesn't always follow the same tone that the rebooted series already established.
Christoph Waltz stars as Oberhauser, the latest villain attempting to take down the notorious James Bond. He may be the head of Spectre, but his motives are never explained. He's evil for the sake of being evil, and this is one of the biggest disappointments about the second half of this movie. The first half, as I just stated, is utterly brilliant. There's very little of Waltz, but that works in this film's favour. It adds to the mystery and the suspense. He's a sinister figure that we know very little about. When he's finally given screen time in the second half, his character isn't developed in the slightest. Waltz does his best, but he needed more to do.
Bond, being the womaniser that he is, always gets the girl. In every single Bond film, there's always a girl. There's always someone who wins him over, and in Spectre, there's two. The first is a widow named Lucia (Monica Bellucci). I was expecting her to play a more pivotal role, but instead she just serves as an excuse to have a sex scene. For me, it personally didn't work. Their encounter felt forced. He was given information regarding the plot, sure, but the romance was added for the sake of romance and it just didn't work. She's a grieving widow who lets Bond into her bed simply because he forcefully asked her a few questions. It's something I'd expect to see in a Roger Moore Bond film, not a Daniel Craig one.
Our second Bond girl, thankfully, is a step up from the first. Léa Seydoux has slowly been making her way up Hollywood in the last few years, starting with a small role in both Inglorious Bastards and the fourth Mission: Impossible movie. She then appeared in the excellent French film, Blue is the Warmest Colour. Most recently, Seydoux had a role in Wes Anderson's The Grand Budapest Hotel. She was excellent in all of those movies, and yes, she's excellent here. She's a strong female character, capable of kicking ass and looking good. She creates a vulnerability in Bond, somehow managing to make the film even more personal. She's one of the better Bond girls, in my opinion.
Taking place simultaneously to the main plot of the movie, we also follow the story of M (Ralph Fiennes) as he attempts to defend the 00 agent program from being shut down. Causing this shut down is a man named C (Andrew Scott), whose motives, like every antagonist in this movie, aren't very clear. In fact, I don't even think they exist, although does anyone really have a motive in this movie or did they just wake up one day and think to themselves, 'hey, I might be evil today?' The sub-plot does have its connections to Bond's adventure, but I can't help but feel that it dragged from time to time, taking up a little more screen time than it deserved.
Returning to the director's chair for the second time in a row is Sam Mendes, the man responsible for one of my all time favourite films, American Beauty. He's also responsible for directing my personal favourite Bond outing yet, Skyfall. That film had so much going for it, and so the hype for Spectre was high. I was immensely excited to see what was in store for us and as you're probably aware by now, it wasn't quite up to the standards of Skyfall. His directing skills are as brilliant as ever, the previously mentioned opening shot still rattling through my mind. He does a tremendous job at handling this franchise. He's just in need of a slightly better script.
On the bright side, Mendes totally nails the character of Bond. Sure, it deviates slightly from Craig's previous incarnation of the character, but in its own right, it works so well. He's evolved over the course of four films and he's currently at the point he was back in the 60s and 70s, and it appears that Mendes understands what made that character who he is, and so does Craig. He's charming, likeable and layered, and his performance here works extremely well. I still think his best Bond performance was in Casino Royale, but that's not to say his performance in Spectre disappoints. But what does disappoint is the opening title sequence. The song is catchy, but the visuals are unintentionally disturbing. Octopuses, man. Freaking octopuses.
Bond films usually go out with a bang, yet in Spectre the finale falls a little flat. It's not that the finale is necessarily bad, but it's just not fantastic. You can see all the twists and turns coming a mile away and so the stakes are never felt. You know how everything's going to play out. The finale feels like a bigger scale version of the scene in The Man With The Golden Gun where Bond is running through Christopher Lee's funhouse, of sorts. That scene worked in that movie, but this one feels slightly out of place here.
To sum up, Spectre is a return to the Bond films of old. While Craig's previous outings have been a bit more grounded, Spectre returns to the goofy fun, and for the most part, it succeeds. It just needs a better finale and more screen time for Christoph Waltz.
3 1/2 Stars