James Bond has been a movie tradition that spans 53 years. 53 years. Can you list how many franchises out there amongst all of the studios that are still spewing out new installments every two or three years? (Answer – only a couple and, even then, those franchises are still younger.) Being the rabid Bond fan that I am, this whole three-year wait has made me itch my teeth in anticipation. I devoured trailers that showed very little of the story, with scenes shown that made no sense from a narrative standpoint. Expectations were high following the precedent that Skyfall set in 2012, but it was announced that Spectre would be a direct continuation, though set over a year later.
Entering the theater, I knew the type of movie I was going to witness. Every Bond actor has had that one installment you either love or you hate. Connery had Thunderball. Lazenby got lucky. Moore had The Spy Who Loved Me. Dalton had, well, Dalton had two very nice movies, and that was just swell. Brosnan had Die Another Day. Now it’s Craig’s turn to have that one flick that either polarizes or reels in viewers. If you walk into Spectre expecting the same type of visceral and raw action seen across Craig’s movies – not to mention the breakneck edge-of-your-seat pacing and thrills – you’re going to be sorely disappointed. This isn’t your dad’s Bond. This is your grandfather’s Bond. Spectre is the type of Bond film that Terence Young pioneered back in the 1960’s. It’s a slow-boil of a picture, a risky gambit for a franchise on steady footing and looking only towards the future.
Now, I get it, I truly do. Some movie-goers are miffed that the movie is wholly different, a 180 from Skyfall. That’s the point, isn’t it? Bear with me and you’ll see what I mean. In 2006, when the franchise went back to the days when Bond was wet behind the ears and only learning how to become the cold bastard we’d all come to know and love, Bond was very raw. He wasn’t patient, nor was he practiced; he was a solider with a mission to fulfill. In Casino Royale he was a thug with a gun, crisscrossing the globe to stop Le Chiffre. Quantum Of Solace, best viewed as the continuation of Craig’s debut (since the movie was slighted by the Writer’s Strike of 2008), showed Bond still rough around the edges, just a drone with a penchant for violence. With Skyfall and Spectre, however, everything comes full circle. Bond is now the man we first met when Connery dryly replied with his name at the baccarat table in Doctor No. He’s serious, yet sophisticated. He’s sarcastic, but on point. He’s lethal, but charming. The origin story is over. This is now the Bond he was destined to become.
Craig has now had four Bond movies and, despite the “slashing my wrists” brouhaha a month ago, will mostly likely return for his fifth in a couple of years. (If you had an asshat of a reporter, probably some Internet nerd wearing hipster clothing with an obnoxious haircut, asking you the same old questions you’ve heard all day, and you’re as dry and sarcastic as Craig, wouldn’t you be saying the same exact thing?) At first, we all were trying to make sense of this world that Bond inhabited. What bigger picture did the likes of Le Chiffre, Dominic Greene, and Victor Silva inhabit? Fans rolled their eyes when the organization was listed as Quantum in Craig’s second outing, only to disappear in Skyfall.
Happily, Spectre follows the organization that Bond fans know all too well. (Long and short, producer Kevin McClory had the rights to SPECTRE, as well as a couple other extensions, and sold back the rights in 2013.) The fact that you can place all four of Craig’s movies together and see how things all connect is amazing, and the plot ties everything together. We’ve gone from prequel to origin. Everything is clear now. All is connected. It’s a little too easily tidied up but with Spectre serving as the wrap of a four-film chronicle of Bond’s maturation, I can let it go. I for one am glad that all of the characters and plotlines actually lead to something and weren’t just for naught.
Moreover, Bond isn’t Bourne, and I think that’s why critics and crowds alike seem cold. Yes, I get it. How do you keep Bond relevant in a world populated by drones, satellites, and electronic surveillance? Captain America: The Winter Soldier touched upon the issue in the guise of a 70’s political thriller, and it was one of the more brilliant Marvel films. (A comic book movie with real-world overtones yet impending sense of danger? Gadzooks!) Bond, though, he’s a blunt instrument, a ghost in the machine. Spectre tackles the subject directly and compels viewers to understand how a dapper government agent is still more viable than a building buzzing away with the crackle of servers and computers. Even in modern times, a man with gusto such as 007 is a necessity, a physical presence to investigate and not rely upon reports and surveillance. A person with eyes on targets, gathering intel from cogs in the machine, aiming to strike and topple the enemy. It’s what audiences love to see, and it’s what makes Bond still relevant in 2015 versus a bygone era ala the Cold War.
How precisely can we tell we’ve circled back around too, straying away from the physicality of Jason Bourne and more into the monk/hitman that Bond was in, say, From Russia With Love? Now, and I apologize if this is a shock, but thesp (and now producer) Daniel Craig is a fan of the books over the movies. That’s where his passionate interpretation of Bond is rooted. Not the sly, humorous, misogynist of the Moore era nor the shoot first, ask questions later Bond we saw with Dalton and Brosnan. No, this version is more akin to the early days of Connery. He’s by the book – literally. Fleming would be proud. He’s steely-eyed or, as brilliantly described in one scene, “a kite dancing in a hurricane.” Craig has truly raised the bar in terms of our expectations for an actor to portray James Bond. He’s as cool as the other side of the pillow, to steal a phrase. Yes, his Bond is a mix between focused and tongue-in-cheek, but it’s a concoction that hasn’t been seen in ages. Connery nailed it, but no one else found that happy medium. Craig has and, if not for his performance in Spectre, the movie would certainly be a lot more dull and lackluster.
The formula that’s been absent since 2002 (actually, this precise formula has been missing for far longer than that) returns as well, and it’s welcome. We launch with the gun barrel (and I cheesed finally seeing this again!), a taut and merciless pre-title action sequence as Bond pursues an assassin through the Day of the Dead parade in Mexico City, then segue into globe-spanning thriller as Bond rabidly chases a lead given to him by a ghost from his past. You have the Bond girl (ne, woman here in the form of Monica Belluci), the strong and resilient henchman (former WWE superstar Dave Baustista, channeling Drax The Destroyer), the girl in trouble (Lea Soydeux – and finally, a commendable addition because she wants Bond on her terms and not his), and the villain (Christoph Waltz, who is criminally underused but his point gets across).
The action takes us from Mexico City to Austria (and I totally swear, the Piz Gloria location from On Her Majesty’s Secret Service is visited again though majorly modernized), then back to Tangier before settling home in London. Thomas Newman has settled nicely into his duties as overseer of the score, rivaling only John Barry in terms of orchestration. As a single, Sam Smith’s title track is a little weak but add in Daniel Kleinman’s title sequence – and the same gut feeling that Adele’s title track had my first time in theaters crept back. And, naturally, like the Bond films of old, you get an ending scene that makes you ask what’s next. Yes, a formula shake-up was necessary as we saw Bond grow up in a sense, but each film is a solo mission and it only makes sense we come back around to where we all started.
Oh, and keep a keen eye out. Whether you’re a rabid fan like myself or a casual goer who has seen all of the Craig’s movies, there are lines, gags, and sights that reference as far back as Goldfinger. Blink and you’ll miss. Because I blinked, I’ll have to catch it again. (I’d say oh darn but I can’t wait to see this flick again honestly.)
Now, granted, I’m not 100 percent happy. Part of me is thankful that John Logan’s original script leaked with the Sony hack a couple of years ago. His anemic script was exposed for the turd it was – hackneyed, lazy, and formulaic. Neal Purvis and Robert Wade, who guided the franchise for five straight movies, salvaged the script and infused the nostalgic tone we’re presented, with Jez Butterworth (Black Mass) punching up the dialogue. Yes, the movie is 148 minutes, the longest Bond film to date, but I never felt like the time dragged terribly. Some scenes too drag a little, but really, Skyfall was only 5 minutes shorter and I never felt like the movie dragged – it’s a minor gripe.
I wish we could have seen more of Hinx, a powerful adversary to Bond (and what a bare knuckle fight on a train with Bond too!), and I was definitely left hanging wanting more of Oberhauser, as well as SPECTRE. I suppose that’s what sequels are for, right? However, one canon change conceptualized by Logan still made it into the shooting script. Listen…I’ve been asked my thoughts on it (I won’t spoil it). I get it, I do. Certain dynamics are changed and the tension does make for some great meaty scenes. Doesn’t mean I have to like it (it’ll have to grow on me), but the end result does give fans a better understanding of one man’s persistence and another man’s tenacity. Shortcomings aside, despite what critics say (which, c’mon…does anyone listen to any mainstream critic anymore?), Spectre is a worthy part-two of Mendes’ chapter into the Bond franchise.