Spectre is the 24th film in the James Bond franchise, the longest running series of film, spanning the past 53 years. Bond has shifted from the iconic likes of Sean Connery, to the not-so-glorious days of Pierce Brosnan. Daniel Craig’s turn as James Bond is just as spectacular as his three previous entries. If Craig is to be believed that this will be his last time portraying the timeless spy, then Spectre is a solid sendoff.
The sequel to 2012’s Skyfall, the Craig series of Bond movies continues their trend of creating a linear story as the previous Bond films never did. The weight of the previous films, including 2006’s Casino Royale and, to a lesser extent, 2008’s Quantum of Solace, is felt throughout Spectre’s franchise-long 148 minutes. There are several homages to the three previous films, as well as the typical but iconic lines seen throughout all the 24 films. “Bond. James Bond,” Craig says for the fourth time to the underutilized Monica Bellucci. The line has lost none of its potency despite being uttered countless times.
Spectre opens with the extravagant action set piece that acts as a cold-open for the action pieces to follow. A long, nearly five minute tracking shot follows Bond as he treks the terrain of a Mexico City caught in the middle of its Day of the Dead festivities. The shot is impressive, and at times utterly breathtaking, as the camera pans and moves with finesse between the environments and actors. Director Sam Mendes, who helmed Skyfall as well, once again portrays a Bond world with the same gritty realism much of Hollywood has taken since The Dark Knight made it popular.
The proceeding scenes of the film spend time between Bond as he sets out to discover the origins of a secret operation known later as “Spectre,” and with MI6 agents dealing with internal turnover. Bond goes on a worldwide excursion, and it is a true display of the world’s most beautiful environments. Bond sees the likes of Rome, Austria, Tangier, Mexico, and, of course, London. The intrigue of the story lies in the moments that follow Craig through several different countries, as it is here the bulk of the story and the most intense action scenes occur.
The scenes at MI6 center around M (Ralph Fiennes) as he is confronted with the problem of modernization. Following a merger with MI5, idealistic and conniving C (Andrew Scott) wants to terminate the double-O program and replace the human agents with drones and other technological advances. These scenes tend to slow the fast pace set by the Bond action scenes, and while they offer some relevant social commentary on humanity’s reliance on technology, these feel shoved in the serve as plot advancement and give no real emotional heft.
The film is at its best in the Bond scenes, however. Craig once again establishes himself as one of the best Bonds in cinema history. The character that was given emotional depth and backstory finds more layers buried within the masked psyche of a suave and dangerous man. Although the link to the film’s villain is a bit contrived, because every Bond villain needs to have some relation to the man they oppose, the reveal does add more to a character who was once portrayed only as a cold assassin with a license to kill.
The main separation Craig’s Bond has had from previous iterations of the character is, certainly, his more human portrayal. This is a Bond that loves and questions his kills. He is still caught up by the interactions with both love interests and villains in the previous films. The faces of former villains Le Chiffre, Vesper Lynd, and Silva are shown in both the opening credits and at the film’s end, helping to demonstrate how these individuals have helped shape the Bond character Spectre gives us.
With these characters haunting Bond’s past, and having impacted him so, Spectre’s villain and new “Bond Girl” were faced with creating their own legacy in the anals of Bond history. These come through Dr. Franz Oberhauser (Christolph Waltz) and Madeline Swann (Lea Seydoux). Oberhauser is a menacing force as portrayed by Waltz, but receives barely a tenth of the film’s runtime. The reprecussions of his terrorist acts is felt in every scene, but the man himself is not given enough screen time to help establish him as a memorable Bond villain as Javier Bardem’s Silva became in Skyfall.
Swann is a capable love interest. In the interest of creating a Bond girl who represented more than a casual love interest, Swann rivals Casino Royale’s Vesper Lynd for the only love interest to actually steal the cold spy’s heart. Portrayed as neither weak nor overly capable of handling herself, Seydoux finds a tight balance in the character that makes her one of the better Bond girls in the franchise.
The action set pieces vary from spectacular to boring, which seems as consistent a Bond troupe as martinis that are shaken and not stirred. The opening action set piece involves Bond and an assailant named Marco Sciarra, and ranges from building explosions to crowd chases to fighting in a helicopter as it flips and spins upside down. The opening is certainly the standout action set piece in the film. Other action scenes seem to turn either tedious in their length or are not as exciting as the film’s opening. During one scene, Bond is chased through the streets of Rome by assassin Mr. Hinx (Dave Bautista). The car chase last about five minutes too long, and seems more an advertisement for the cars the characters drive than as a piece to create tension through the action.
Spectre has no concerns using previous Bond tropes, something that both Casino Royale and Skyfall shied away from, instead taking the tropes and turning them on their heads. At times the film seems too reliant on the traditional story elements and character motivations of previous films, Spectre is a suitable and enjoyable entry into the James Bond canon. If this is the finale to Daniel Craig’s lauded portrayal, then it wraps up his arc nicely, and serves as a suitable conclusion for the imperishable franchise.