Spectre (2015)

Director: Sam Mendes

Starring: Daniel Craig, Christoph Waltz, Léa Seydoux, Ben Whishaw, Naomie Harris, Dave Bautista, Andrew Scott, Monica Bellucci, Ralph Fiennes

A recurring line from “Skyfall” was “Sometimes the old ways are the best.” This was an observation which was backed up by several callbacks to previous films, as well as the simple method by which the major villain’s plot was finally put to an end. Taking a much less subtle, but at the same time far more traditional approach in telling its story is the 24th James Bond film, “Spectre.” As hinted by its very title, the criminal organization known as SPECTRE, makes its return after a 44-year absence from the franchise. There’s no hollowed-out volcano lair this time, but one should still have a pad and pencil handy to document all of the classic era references which are present, as “Spectre” more than any other Bond film is a movie made by fans for the fans. As such, it’s a fitting one to end a marathon with… just as I have done.

“Spectre” starts things off by giving us what will go down as the most spectacular prologue in the series’ history. James Bond (Daniel Craig) is in Mexico City carrying out one last order from the dearly departed M (Judi Dench). Unsanctioned by MI6 and the new M (Ralph Fiennes), Bond kills three men plotting a terrorist bombing, inadvertently demolishing an entire building by destroying the bomb and tossing the lead terrorist out the side of an airborne helicopter. Before doing so, Bond relieves the man of a sinister-looking ring with an octopus symbol on it. Additionally, although Sam Smith’s “Writing’s on the Wall” pales in comparison with Adele’s “Skyfall,” the accompanying visuals are as striking a main title sequence as any that we’ve seen from this franchise, and somewhat creepy on top of it all.

Grounded by the new M for his actions in Mexico City, Bond hasn’t finished his old boss’s mission just yet, travelling to Rome to attend the funeral of the man he tossed from the helicopter. Bond seduces the man’s widow, Lucia Sciarra (Monica Bellucci) for the purposes of gaining information about the late terrorist’s employer, which turns out to be SPECTRE. At the same time, M is butting heads with C (Andrew Scott), who considers the 00 Agent program antiquated and means to replace it with an Orwellian global surveillance network which he calls Nine Eyes. Bond, wearing the late Mr. Sciarra’s ring, attends a SPECTRE meeting where the organization’s head, Franz Oberhauser (Christoph Waltz) calls him out by name. Realizing his presence there has not merely been anticipated but planned, Bond escapes certain death at the hands of SPECTRE henchman Mr. Hinx (Dave Bautista). Afterwards, Bond enlists the aid of Miss Moneypenny (Naomie Harris), whom he asks to look into Oberhauser, a man whom Bond recognizes from his own past… and whom he previously believed to be dead.

In the meantime, Bond looks up his old enemy Mr. White (Jesper Christensen),  who now is slowly dying from thallium poisoning. Bond promises to protect White’s daughter, Madeline Swann (Léa Seydoux) in return for information. Prior to taking his own life with Bond’s gun, Mr. White tells Bond that Madeline will point him in the direction of L’Américain, which will then lead Bond to SPECTRE. Bond finds Madeline working as a doctor at a clinic up in the Austrian Alps… where one can only hope that no one is secretly plotting global takeover through germ warfare. The initial meeting between Bond and Madeline doesn’t go so well, and Bond is about to leave when he sees that Mr. Hinx has showed up to kidnap Madeline. Rescuing her, Bond introduces Madeline to Q (Ben Whishaw), who has used Sciarra’s SPECTRE ring to uncover a link between that organization and all of Bond’s previous tormentors: Le Chiffre, Dominic Greene and Raoul Silva. Finding Bond more trustworthy now, Madeline reveals that L’Américain is actually the name of a hotel in Tangier.

At L’Américain, Bond discovers a secret room where Mr. White had all kinds of information on SPECTRE’s operations, which includes the directions to a secret base out in the desert. Bond and Madeline travel to their destination by train, where they encounter Mr. Hinx one last time before Bond ejects him from the moving train car, apparently killing him. Afterwards, Bond and Madeline become intimate. Upon their arrival at the SPECTRE base, a few unsurprising facts are revealed. First,  SPECTRE is behind C’s Nine Eyes project. Duh! The ability to watch your enemy’s every move is just the sort of thing an evil criminal organization would spring for! Next, Oberhauser reviews his personal history with Bond. Oberhauser’s father served as Bond’s temporary guardian in the aftermath of his parents’ death. A jealous Franz would later kill his father over this and stage his own demise. This would allow Oberhauser to re-emerge with the identity of Ernst Stavro Blofeld and form SPECTRE.

*Sigh* You know, these movies always manage to do one aspect of the character of Blofeld poorly, and I think in “Spectre” it’s the reveal of his origin. It’s not a fatal flaw, mind you. In part because Mike Myers had already done the “he was your brother all along” angle with Dr. Evil and Austin Powers, it’s a little hard to take it seriously. There’s also a ridiculous device that Bond is hooked up to which can supposedly drill into and screw with parts of his brain. We see it working not once but twice, yet Bond is 100% fine afterwards. He and Madeline break custody and blow up the base (a magnificently HUGE explosion, by the way), and Blofeld is presumed dead. Of course he isn’t dead… just disfigured like the Donald Pleasence version of the character from “You Only Live Twice.”

While M and Q put a permanent stop to the plans of C, Blofeld captures Madeline and forces Bond to search for her through the ruins of the old MI6 building (abandoned after the attack in “Skyfall”), which Blofeld will thoroughly demolish with explosives in a matter of minutes. Though Blofeld insists that Bond must make a choice between saving his own ass and dying in the attempt to save Madeline, Bond gives those choices the finger by rescuing Madeline AND getting out of the building in time. Not only that, but Bond also shoots down Blofeld’s getaway helicopter. An injured Blofeld crawls from the wreckage. Instead of killing him as promised, Bond elects to throw away his gun and walk away with Madeline while MI6 takes Blofeld into custody.

The way that “Spectre” ends, it offers a convenient out for Daniel Craig should he indeed wish never to play James Bond again… an honor which none of the previous actors to play the role (whose tenures fizzled out) were awarded. I’ve already come up with my own shortlist for who I think should be the Bond girl for “Bond 25,” but I can’t even fathom who the next James Bond could be if Craig really is done. Replacing Sean Connery was tough enough, but Craig has raised the bar so impossibly high that I don’t envy whomever follows in his footsteps. Even Daniel Craig’s least effective entry, “Quantum of Solace,” is still a decent film compared to some of the turkeys of the 70’s and the 80’s.

I have my concerns about “Spectre,” but despite being the longest James Bond film, the pacing isn’t one of them. The whole thing is practically non-stop, grab-you-by-the-throat action. It loses a tiny bit of steam in the final act, but not a significant enough amount. Virtually abandoning the darkness that makes both “Casino Royale” and “Skyfall” so attractive, Bond is more confident even in the face of an imposing threat like SPECTRE. You never for a moment believe that he won’t win the day, which makes this Bond more like Sean Connery than he’s ever been before. Likewise, Ralph Fiennes’ portrayal of M is eerily reminiscent of Bernard Lee. Christoph Waltz is as terrific as Blofeld as I had expected him to be, and wouldn’t mind if he returned as he has teased that he might. Less effective is Léa Seydoux. She’s good, but I’m not sold on Madeline Swann as the girl that James Bond would consider leaving MI6 forever to be with.

A movie as big as “Spectre” pretty much demands repeat viewing. As this was my first, time will tell if my opinion on it changes at all. But I feel safe in saying that it’s one of the better films in the series despite not being in the caliber of either “Casino Royale” or “Skyfall.” As long as you’re not setting your expectations too high, anticipate no surprises and go in ready to have the kind of fun you had with the Bond of old, “Spectre” will not deceive you.

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Comments
  1. Sylvia Williams says:

    I agree with you about Spectre and I’m glad you, CEW Jr., and I saw it together! Do you think there is a neat parallel between the maternal figure letting the villain down in Sky Fall and Oberhauser’s dad letting him down by preferring to spend time with young orphaned James?

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