So here we are folks – Bond 24 aka Spectre. Told you I would be back!
Personally it’s great to revisit Bond again, especially after my epic Bond review marathon of ranking each Bond film from worst to best.
So the question I know you’ve been dying to ask (to a self-confessed Bond fan) is, what did I think of Spectre? Where would the film rank in my countdown?
Honest opinion, in terms of what I think of it – I felt a little frustrated.
A cryptic message from Bond’s past sends him on a trail to uncover a sinister organisation. While M battles political forces to keep the secret service alive, Bond peels back the layers of deceit to reveal the terrible truth behind SPECTRE.
“Welcome, James. You’ve come across me so many times, yet you never saw me. What took you so long?” – Oberhauser
Let me get this off my chest – whilst this review will sound overly negative, I don’t hate this film. Spectre is a good, decent Bond film…but it could have been a great Bond film, hence my frustration. It starts off brilliantly, stutters slightly in the middle and fell apart towards the end.
The best way to tackle this review is to break it down into four sections.
There are some positives about Spectre.
The gun barrel sequence makes a welcomed return at the beginning of the film. It then leads into a brilliantly executed and exciting pre-credit Bond sequence that is worthy of the IMAX presentation. It’s very obvious that the Bond producers have taken inspiration from a certain Oscar winning film with its continuous one track shot but it brings a positive freshness to the franchise. In fact all the action set pieces are good despite at times coming off like a well rehearsed Top Gear stunt.
There are plenty of respectful homages to Bond which for eagle-eyed fans will immediately get but most importantly didn’t come off as a distraction. Bond’s attire throughout Spectre was a nice throwback to Craig’s predecessors. The white dinner jacket – Connery. His clothing in Tangiers – Dalton. The brown suit when Bond travels to Oberhauser’s hideout or even the clothing during the Day of the Dead scenes in Mexico is a tribute to Moore but also a nice homage to Live and Let Die.
Even characters and locations are given the same treatment. Hinx (Dave Bautista) is the amalgamation of Grant (From Russia With Love), Oddjob (Goldfinger) and Jaws (The Spy Who Loved Me). His impact in the film is more physical than vocal but there’s no denying the brutality that Bautista brings to the role. Bond’s relationship with Madeleine Swann (Léa Seydoux) is very reminiscent of On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, right down to the mountaintop hospital facility where she worked.
Furthermore, if you’re looking for humour then M (Ralph Fiennes) and Q (Ben Whishaw) easily provide it.
But naturally when it comes to Bond films, the issue of balance is often mentioned because it’s so difficult to get right. It doesn’t matter whether you’re a fan of Fleming’s original novels or just the films themselves, the character of Bond appeals to many people. If the film is too comedic, then the balance feels out of place, especially in 2015. If the film is too gritty and serious, then it comes into criticism for not having enough humour or gadgets.
One thing that people have to remember is that Bond is not a cliché. By all means, he’s a deeply flawed character but there’s something human about him that we can at least connect to. He’s a spy who fights in the shadows. He’s extremely loyal and fights for Queen and country. He may have lavish tastes (alcohol, women etc) but by definition he’s a cold blooded killer.
The one thing that has been brilliant with Daniel Craig’s Bond is that return to that original essence. From Casino Royale to certain elements of Spectre, his gritty yet emotive Bond is a pleasure to watch. Always.
The problem I have with Spectre is if you’ve already gone down a certain route and tone, does it make sense to do a throwback to a retro era Bond? For example, the Roger Moore Bond films weren’t the best, but his natural loving charm and persona was taken into account. His films naturally adopted a tongue in cheek formula but at least you knew what you were expecting. It was a reflection of the times. To incorporate those elements into a Daniel Craig Bond film felt jarring. Spectre can be considered as a bit light hearted but it goes from one extremity to the next. Considering that the plot tries to tie together all of Craig’s Bond films under one umbrella, the end result can feel weird and unfocused. As much as I could suspend all disbelief for the sake of it, there are too many distractions that put me off.
That thought ties in nicely with the plot elements which is sadly weak and doesn’t hold up to scrutiny.
“You’ve got a secret. Something you can’t tell anyone, because you don’t trust anyone.” – Eve Moneypenny
There’s an element of Star Trek into Darkness with Spectre, in particular with a certain character, played by a man who was born to play a Bond villain – the excellent Christoph Waltz. The brilliant thing with Craig’s Bond films is that emotional impact that gives Bond’s journey meaning and credence. It’s very obvious who Waltz was playing. Therefore when it came to the actual reveal, it was something I was expecting and anticipated. It was predictable. Once you move past that reveal, my mind was questioning whether there was something else left in the tank – was there a further secret, something that was deliberately held back from the trailers? But sadly that question was never answered and the film ended. Can you now sense my frustration? It’s a “big deal” reveal yet I found the moment lacked the impact it deserved. It felt like a wasted opportunity. Given the elements at their disposal, there should have been a greater character development between Bond and Oberhauser to match the tone set by Craig’s grittier Bond in a post 9/11 world. I loved the omnipresent and mysterious nature that surrounded Oberhauser and Waltz demonstrates that brilliantly. But his connection to Bond and his justification for his madness felt more like a spoilt, jealous child than an evil genius who’s head of an sinister organisation.
SPECTRE as an organisation also gets the retro treatment. It’s present as a threat but just like in You Only Live Twice, SPECTRE lacks the impact to carry the job through! The plot heavily alludes to a surveillance nation where one system would be the source of information and the 00 division would become obsolete. But what was SPECTRE’s long term plans with the system? The sudden race against the clock for MI6 to shut it down in the final act didn’t justify its involvement in the story. So what if it went live? What were the consequences? Once again SPECTRE seemed content on being bad for the sake of being bad in their search for world domination.
SPECTRE’s links to Casino Royale and Quantum of Solace makes obvious sense but to shoehorn Skyfall into the mix might have been a step too far. We get a welcomed surprise in seeing Judi Dench’s M back. She’s the reason behind Bond’s mission, once again re-establishing the loyal connection between the two characters. However it raises further questions about her. Why did she wait until she had died to give Bond a cryptic message? She clearly had vital information relating to Bond’s past so why hide it from him?
Making Silva (Javier Bardem) part of SPECTRE is also questionable because his intentions was not about world domination. He was hell bent on getting revenge against his former boss. Skyfall in essence represented two agents battling in the ultimate test of physical and psychological wits, an aspect which I loved. Whilst on some level the decision makes sense to include him in Spectre, Silva’s involvement slightly diminishes the power Skyfall had.
“Is this really what you want? Living in the shadows? Hunting, being hunted? Always alone?” – Madeleine Swann
Skyfall had its problems with how the Bond girls were portrayed. Whilst the criticisms were valid, it didn’t bother me too much, in particular with Moneypenny (Naomie Harris). Just because she went from an active field agent to assistant to M does not devalue what she represents in the Bond franchise. Moneypenny’s ability to match Bond in terms of personality and charisma is a powerful trait. Her loyalty to him is unquestionable because her feelings and motives are deep rooted. It’s an aspect that is easily overlooked. She’s a unique Bond girl because she’s not easily fooled by Bond’s persuasiveness. She can hold her own. I’m happy to report that Naomie Harris continues to deliver in Spectre and given more of an active role.
However I did have problems with how the other Bond girls were portrayed in Spectre. They were either underused/wasted (Lucia played by Monica Bellucci) or underdeveloped/clichéd like Madeleine Swann.
What I couldn’t bring my head around was the polarising characteristics displayed by Lucia and Madeleine. One minute they couldn’t stand Bond and then two seconds later, Bond was undressing them with minimum fight. Madeleine confessed her love for Bond after only spending a couple of days with him! Because their views escalated so quickly, again it was a distraction. It’s like watching 70s era Bond all over again where the Bond girls were simply the damsels in distress. Their personal motivations are glossed over for a moment of ecstasy which devalues their character and our reason to sympathise with them. This point is perfectly illustrated when Madeleine is conveniently kidnapped twice, the second time being completely random with no set up whatsoever.
There are obvious parallels between Spectre and OHMSS with Bond’s relationship with Madeleine. We see Bond falling in love again but at the same time, the build up between Bond and Madeleine lacked the the beautiful intricacy that Bond and Vesper had in Casino Royale. Bond’s relationship with Vesper was doomed to begin with but because the script took its time to establish them, you believed in their love. The same essence occurs in OHMSS. In Spectre, the relationship felt rushed and forced in order to get to an end game.
“Well, it’s all a matter of perspective.” – James Bond
Bond’s opinion about perspective in the above quote resonates in this review because Spectre is a matter of expectations.
What do you want from a Bond film? If you want a Bond film which is a retro and clichéd throwback to a Roger Moore era, then Spectre works in that fashion.
However, if you’re like me and wanted more of the gritty, purposeful and emotive Bond, then Spectre will feel a little deflating, like listening to that uninspiring Sam Smith Bond song.
I don’t think the long running time helped and certain aspects of the film could have been developed more to give it the emotional weight it desperately needed. Tying all of Craig’s Bond films together like some Marvel Cinematic Universe was probably not necessary and should have been treated as a self-contained mystery. It’s certainly not the worst Bond film in the world but it definitely misses the mark of being one of the best. It’s a safe, three star film.
On a personal note I hope Daniel Craig does come back as Bond for one more time. If he doesn’t then Spectre’s ending feels like a goodbye. If he does change his mind, then it will be interesting to see how they move past that ending, considering it’s an ode to OHMSS.
There’s one thing that’s certain – James Bond will return.
The Revised Bond Countdown:
#8 – Spectre