SPECTRE | Sam Mendes | November 6, 2015
3 years after Daniel Craig returned to the big screen as Ian Fleming’s James Bond in the resetting Skyfall, he’s back in the role for SPECTRE, and so is director Sam Mendes. And after Skyfall, expectations are high, to say the least.
SPECTRE continues taking Bond back to the past – or his roots – more in the cinematic sense than the source material. After Bond’s attempt to eliminate Marco Sciarra, an assassin, during a Day of the Dead parade in Mexico City causes structural damage and gains international attention, M (Ralph Fiennes) benches him, but Bond doesn’t let that stop him, as he had a covert mission from the last M (Judi Dench) in a video will. However, something he overheard in Mexico (along with an octopus ring he pulled off Sciarra) got him thinking back to his past, so he gets close to the widowed Lucia Sciarra (Monica Bellucci) and infiltrates a secret SPECTRE meeting in Rome, only to have his cover blown by SPECTRE head Franz Oberhauser (Christoph Waltz), which leads to a race to find Mr. White (Jesper Christensen) and his daughter Madeleine Swann (Léa Seydoux) and stop SPECTRE.
As a Bond film, it’s good. Familiar hallmarks return, like the gun barrel opening, the title sequence (with a shirtless Bond, in addition to the expected women), the locales (Mexico City, London, Rome, the Austrian Alps, and Tangier), the henchman (the nearly silent Mr. Hinx, played by wrestler-turned-actor Dave Bautista), and the women. In a sense, it plays like a familiar story – Bond on his own with some support and a gadget or two out to stop a big bad. The returning Thomas Newman wrote a good score to match the film, and Sam Smith performed a decent theme song (“The Writing’s On The Wall”), but there’s no stacking up to Adele’s “Skyfall”. However, SPECTRE is JUST shy of 2 and a half hours.
As a film by itself, it’s alright. What redeems it there is Mendes’ directing, as well as Hoyte Van Hoytema’s cinematography. This perhaps stands out in the 5-minute tracking shot following Bond through a part of Mexico City that echos the opening shot of A Touch of Evil. There is, also, the fairer treatment of the women (including Naomie Harris as Eve Moneypenny and Stephanie Sigman as Estrella), who feel more like characters than flat tropes, which is a welcome relief after decades of women with little depth, character, or motivation – apart from eventually sleeping with Bond.
But I’m still working to crack SPECTRE. It’s not a hard film to understand; it’s more the manner in which the plot is executed and the past is brought to light once again. Perhaps it’s the attempt to unite all of Craig’s Bond films or a sign that Bond is entering familiar territory once again. Perhaps it’s the undercurrent of espionage giving way to the surveillance state, which is more of the B-plot of the film, headed by Max Denbigh (Andrew Scott).
Still, Bond is back with the familiar tropes, action sequences, and tongue-in-cheek humor and wry lines (a fair amount from Q (Ben Whishaw)), and he’s looking good, but the screenplay (which some might say comes second in a franchise like James Bond) from John Logan, Neal Purvis, Robert Wade, and Jez Butterworth seems more of a rehash to set up for future films rather than something on par with the tension of Casino Royale or the drama and backstory of Skyfall.