Director: Sam Mendes
Cast: Daniel Craig, Lea Seydoux, Christoph Waltz, Ben Whishaw, Naomie Harris, Dave Bautista, Monica Belluci, Andrew Scott, Rory Kinnear, Jesper Christensen and Ralph Fiennes
Plot: Bond (Craig) is spending his time off, tracking down a terrorist organisation, while M (Fiennes) fights to keep the 00 program online.
Last time I reviewed a Bond movie, it was Skyfall. A lot of the things that held me back from giving Skyfall perfect marks was mainly down to Sam Mendes’ attitude when creating his Bond movie. While the cinematography, performances and action sequences were up there with the Best of Bond, Mendes was so caught up with making an anniversary Bond movie, he always seemed to be trying to attain the Epic Bond movie, which isn’t necessarily what was wanted. Say what you want about Quantum of Solace, but it kept the franchise ticking over without shaking the boat too much. However, with Spectre, while Mendes continues to shine when it comes to the direction (exploring character, filming astonishing action), he is still struggling to break out of the line of thought that he needs to be making the very best Bond that ever was. And in trying to reach for the stars, he misses and ends up with the worst Daniel Craig movie yet.
In terms of Mendes’ control over this particular entry (although perhaps the producers can be blamed a little too), it came across as me as a case of the direction getting all the little things right and all the big things wrong. For me, the narrative didn’t work at all. I am not even going to touch upon the fact, for the fourth time in a row, Daniel Craig has gone rogue from MI6 to take on the bad guys. I just didn’t buy the whole plot very much, the cutting back to MI6 to deal with the over-reliance on surveillance coming across as a bit too much. I liked that it tied in with the whole Snowden scandal, but to me, it seemed more important to the producers to cram M, Moneypenny and Q into the story much more from this point onwards, because they have assembled some world class actors to play them. Also, I struggled to take in the return of Spectre. I understand that Mendes wanted to bring back classic Bond, but the reason Spectre has slowly been written out of the series, is because it stopped working a long while ago. It is very hard to take a shadowy board room with master criminals seriously. Mendes, to his credit, tried to film it with the same realism that the Daniel Craig era has managed to get away with for some time now, but it doesn’t quite settle. The master villain controlling all other master villains just harkens back too much to the camp era of Bond (or feeling too much like the Bond parodies rather than the actual Bond movies), robbing Spectre of the sense of realism that the other half of the movie is trying to achieve. The surveillance plotline trying to mix with the boardroom of evil geniuses narrative doesn’t blend well at all. Neither does the Jaws-like henchmen, made of pure muscle, that can survive a car crash to crop up in a later fight, somewhere down the line. Then there is the whole angle of Mendes tinkering with the Bond backstory, bringing up his parents, something never done before in the canon. Maybe it is only paired with the rest of the grandeur set-pieces that this seems so misguided, but on the whole, it acts as the straw that breaks the camel’s back. No, Spectre, acting as the movie that connects all of the dots we didn’t realise needing connecting, seems like too big a mouthful to chew. I understand that Daniel Craigs Bond movies age well with time, but my first impression of Spectre is a massive swing and miss.
But, as I said, it does get the little things right. Very right indeed. I love the little things that Spectre does. There is one scene where James Bond watches over Lea Seydoux’s sleeping Bond girl in a safe house, drinking copious amounts. Suddenly, we lose touch of that perfect spy action hero and see the alcoholic beneath the mask. While a little more clichéd, there is another good scene, where we see inside Bond’s apartment, an untouched, unlived in house. I also liked how the supporting cast approached their characters. Lea Seydoux is a very strong entry to the Bond girl list, Mendes understanding that the real trick to building a Bond girl out of something other than clichés, isn’t making her a joint action hero, but simply developing her into something other than a two-dimensional scream queen. Christoph Waltz has been criticised for dialling back his usual villain approach, and refusing to embrace the melodrama he is famous for, but I quite liked it. Oberhauser could have been that ordinary bloke in the street, which I felt was a very clever way of playing someone who was meant to be the villain to end all villains. Then there is the simple case of Mendes nailing every action sequence thrown at him. That opening tracking shot where Bond takes a beautiful woman through the Day of the Dead festival in Mexico, seduces her in a hotel room and then gets into a sniper position onto the adjacent rooftop is phenomenal – and only one shot. One shot! If you love Birdman or Gravity, then this opening will have you squealing with joy over the brilliance of technical film-making.
Final Verdict: A lot of the time it is too much, too dependent on melodramatic plot devices, but the action still delivers, especially with three central strong performances.