CAST: Daniel Craig, Christoph Waltz, Léa Seydoux, Ben Whishaw, Naomie Harris, Dave Bautista, Andrew Scott, Rory Kinnear, Jesper Christensen, Monica Bellucci, Ralph Fiennes, Stephanie Sigman, Alessandro Cremona
RUNNING TIME: 148 mins
BASICALLY…: James Bond (Craig) unveils the existence of a sinister organisation called SPECTRE, whose head (Waltz) is a familiar presence to the secret agent…
NOW FOR THE REVIEW…
With No Time To Die being pushed back all the way to November April, the world needs its fix of Ian Fleming’s ace secret agent to tide them over until then. That’s why, every week until it finally comes out, we’ve been taking a look at each previous movie in the series to see if, and how, they hold up today.
This week, at long last, we’ve reached the end of our 24-film journey, and before we wait another five months to finally check out the 25th in this nearly sixty-year-old series, we have to talk about SPECTRE… again. I originally reviewed this movie upon its release back in 2015, and at the time I found it to be a highly entertaining film that, much like the previous one, combined old-fashioned elements of the series and updated them for modern day with pleasing results. Now, with the knowledge acquired from watching all of its 23 predecessors, it’s not only still hugely fun to watch, but I can maybe appreciate it a little more than I originally did.
After the film’s gorgeously executed opening complete with a one-take tracking shot in Mexico City – which feels like practise for director Sam Mendes before adopting the method for his own film 1917 – we learn that Daniel Craig’s James Bond has been sent on a personal mission to uncover an underground organisation called SPECTRE, who we learn has been behind practically every single threat Bond has faced over the last few films (in the process also retconning that pesky Quantum as a mere extension of its branches, instead of the all-out big bad it was originally built up to be). At the head of the organisation is a man Bond recognises from his own past as Franz Oberhauser (Christoph Waltz), and he soon teams up with psychiatrist Dr. Madeleine Swann (Léa Seydoux) – the daughter of Jesper Christensen’s Mr. White, who had previously shown up in both Casino Royale and Quantum of Solace – to prevent him from assuming control of all surveillance assets; that plan is being put into motion by government official Max Denbigh (Andrew Scott), who considers the double-0 program obsolete, much to the chagrin of new M Gareth Mallory (Ralph Fiennes) who faces his own challenges in his new position.
Though the plot is slightly complicated, something which I never really thought about until typing it out just now, you never feel lost whenever it moves from one strand to the next, because it stays consistently entertaining throughout and you are totally hooked in by the significant levels of intrigue surrounding the titular organisation. Having been barred from appearing in these films since Diamonds Are Forever due to rights issues, SPECTRE and – spoilers, for a five-year-old movie – its head figure Ernst Stavro Blofeld make a chilling comeback that gives you enough of a feeling that their operations go far beyond the large meeting rooms in which they convene; one of their early meetings sends chills down your spine from the creepy cinematography (provided by Hoyte van Hoytema, standing in for Mendes’ regular DP Roger Deakins), the eerie silence on the soundtrack, and Mendes’ slow but intense pacing all at once. As the only actor thus far to portray Blofeld in more than one movie – he is due to reprise the role in No Time To Die – Waltz leaves a considerable impression, channelling his inner Hans Landa for yet another memorable movie villain, one who I don’t remember thinking was all that strong on the first viewing, but watching it again there is a real creepiness to his rendition in the way he acts so jovial to the most terrifying of circumstances, especially in how he delights in torturing his adoptive younger brother.
That last little bombshell, incidentally, has been one of the reasons why this movie has proved to be just as divisive, if not more so, than Skyfall; by connecting both Bond and Blofeld on a much more personal level, with Bond being taken in by the latter’s father and causing young Oberhauser to grow jealous and dedicate himself to making Bond’s life miserable, some feel it cheapens the drama somewhat and makes it all too convenient for these two to already be familiar with each other before crossing paths once more. In a sense, you kind of see why they’d think that; it’s like if you found out that Batman and the Joker came from the same broken household and the Joker wanted to torment Batman because he didn’t feel as loved by their parents. It’s a little too neatly connected, and in some ways it makes the villain look more like a petulant child with daddy issues who never got over it, but as far as radical changes to the Bond continuity go, it’s hardly the most out-there alteration, especially when you try and piece together where each and every Bond throughout history interchanges with each other.
Beyond that, though, SPECTRE is a thrilling entry that gives plenty for our main hero to do, with Daniel Craig as ever relishing in the steely coldness of his portrayal whilst also properly contemplating for the first time in this series the idea of giving up his profession and settling down (themes which will, undoubtedly, cross over into the next movie). He shares a strong emotional connection with Léa Seydoux’s competent Madeleine Swann, and even manages to physically square down against a physically intimidating Dave Bautista as a silent henchman, particularly in a brutal train-set fight sequence that puts most of the other ones in this series to shame. It’s also his funniest turn as the otherwise-humourless Bond to date, with a couple of choice sight gags and comedic delivery helping Craig out of so many intense jams. Though the movie as a whole doesn’t quite reach the same levels of pure spectacle as Skyfall did, it keeps up a solid pace and amount of entertainment that the main star delivers with incredible ease.
Though we have come to the end of our massive Bond retrospective, the journey’s not quite over yet; we still have one more movie to check out in order to complete the 25-film line-up (but again, not until April; damn you, COVID-19). However, before then, I want to say that it has been quite a journey going over all of the older films; it’s given me a great idea of the overall evolution of this series, from its quieter beginnings in Dr. No leading all the way up to the bombastic outings of the modern era, and all throughout it’s been fascinating to see how each and every film has adapted for the times, even taking on certain cultural zeitgeists whether it’s blaxploitation or even space-set action, but all the while never entirely losing focus of its own identity as one of the greatest spy sagas in all of cinema.
To that, I raise a nice vodka martini – shaken, not stirred – to the series and its impeccable legacy, and no matter how No Time To Die turns out, it will no doubt further confirm its lasting power from here to the ends of the earth. Put simply, nobody does it better.
SO, TO SUM UP…
SPECTRE serves as a highly entertaining entry which doesn’t quite reach the heights of Skyfall, thanks to one or two script oversights, but gets by on some seriously thrilling filmmaking, a reliable lead turn by Daniel Craig, and a welcome return for Bond’s greatest enemy.