spectre_ver5SPECTRE

  • Year:  2015
  • Director:  Sam Mendes
  • Series Rank:  #5
  • Bond Girl:  Léa Seydoux (Madeleine Swann), Monica Bellucci (Lucia Sciarra)
  • Bond Villain:  Christoph Waltz (Franz Oberhauser), Dave Bautista (Mr. Hinx), Jesper Christensen (Mr. White)
  • Bond Support:  Ralph Fiennes (M), Naomie Harris (Moneypenny), Ben Whishaw (Q), Rory Kinnear (Bill Tanner)

SPOILER-FREE

The first two Daniel Craig films had gone back to the basics, stripping away all the trappings of the James Bond character as developed in the films and re-imagined him as the original Ian Fleming spy in the 21st Century.  Then came Skyfall, which re-integrated vital parts of the Bond universe with this new Bond.  Skyfall was definitely the best Bond film ever made, but there was no question it wasn’t going to be the last – it cried out for more adventures with a new M, Moneypenny and Q supporting him in whatever would come next.  If SPECTRE is indeed the last film with Daniel Craig as Bond, indeed, if it were to be the last Bond film ever, it would be a satisfying conclusion to one of the great franchises in film history.

Skyfall was a great film and could be enjoyed by Bond enthusiasts, casual fans and even people who really didn’t know anything about the series.  But to really hit you, for that moment when Eve introduces herself, it helps to have been a fan.  The same is true for SPECTRE.  It is a very good action film, with some great action sequences (a thrilling car chase through Rome, more great action in London), a solid story (one which carries on from the previous films in a way I hadn’t quite expected), and, as has been the case with the Craig films, first-rate production values.

Prior to GoldenEye, the Bond films, while fun and action-packed, hadn’t really been the repository for great technical film work.  They had been nominated for only 9 Oscars, three of which were for songs.  But, when the series picked up after a six year gap in 1995, the budgets went way up, and so did the production values.  They took another leap in 2006 with Casino Royale, and yet another one in 2012 with Skyfall.  The last was because of the people involved – an Oscar winning director, as well as one of the greatest cinematographers of all-time.  You expected great action scenes in Bond films, but you didn’t expect the kind of thing that greats you with the opening of SPECTRE.

We’re in Mexico on Day of the Dead.  You see a man dressed as a skeleton with a woman and you follow them into the hotel.  They get into a small crowded elevator and you get in with them and you realize this is all one shot (all the more impressive when you think about how cramped that tiny elevator is).  The shot continues into a hotel room, where we find Bond taking off his mask, follow him out the window and we move up into the air, keeping with him climbing across a roof-top to kill a man.  All of this is the work of Hoyte van Hoytema, the new director of photography for this film.  It’s a fantastic shot and one you wouldn’t have thought to find in a Bond film before 2006.  He doesn’t yet have an Oscar nomination, but since making a name with Let the Right One In, he’s also done The Fighter, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, Her and Interstellar, and he’ll be earning an Oscar nomination before too long.

Bond is going to kill the man because he’s been given a mission, and when we find out what that is, it’s a nice surprise.  Skyfall dealt with the relationship between Bond and M and how they could only trust each other.  Or perhaps the theme was: trust no one.  If that was the theme for Skyfall, the theme for SPECTRE is trust your friends.  The previous M is no longer around (though Bond’s fondness for her is evident in the bulldog on his table) and Bond isn’t quite sure how he feels about the new one.  But there are those he trusts, including Moneypenny (a Bond girl in the previous film, but Bond support in this one) and Q.  Bringing in Naomie Harris and Ben Whishaw were two of the best choices ever made in the franchise’s history and they both come through with flying colors.  We are reminded of how much Moneypenny cares for Bond, and even though Ben Whishaw is a lot younger than Desmond Llewellyn was even at the beginning, we see that he’s nor more ready to be out in the field than his predecessor.

No pictures available yet of her in the slip.

No pictures available yet of her in the slip.

I’ll go ahead and give away one plot-point which you could guess from looking at the cast list, which is that Quantum, the shadowy organization from the first two Craig films, is linked to SPECTRE.  Bringing in SPECTRE, which has been out of the Bond universe since before I was born due to copyright issues, brings this full circle after the conclusion of Skyfall, tying this back in to the earlier Bond films in a way that made me, as a longtime Bond fan, just smile all the more.  To find out more about them, he must hunt down Dr. Madeleine Swann, played by Léa Seydoux.  Now, how you feel about this film might hinge entirely on Seydoux.  Veronica felt she seemed too young to embody what her character needs to embody.  I, on the other hand, never felt that.  She’s capable, she’s helpful to Bond in spite of her insistence that she’s doesn’t like guns and she provides an emotional anchor for him to hold onto.  She also, in one scene, is a reminder that while Bond enthusiasts might have a passion for bikinis, given how many have appeared over the course of the franchise and because of Ursulla Andress (or Halle Berry), a bikini, to me, is never going to be as sexy as a slip.

WaltzSpectreFor the villain, the filmmakers continued the trend of the Craig years of scouring Europe for great actors.  After hitting Denmark (Mads Mikkelsen), France (Matthieu Amalric) and Spain (Javier Bardem), this time we get Germany with Christoph Waltz, and like Bardem he’s got an Oscar (actually, he has two).  Waltz is more of a shadowy menace through much of the film, as we get a glimpse of him early on and his penetrating stare and silky voice, starring at Bond.  But, as we get further into the plot, we start to realize more about him, see how much he’s willing to hurt Bond and how much he’s been hurting him without Bond knowing it.  He doesn’t quite get up to Bardem level, but he’s still easily on the list of best Bond villains.  If his (mostly) unstoppable henchman seems familiar, that’s because he’s played by Dave Bautista, who was actually less unstoppable last year as Drax the Destroyer.

The supporting cast continues to be fantastic.  It’s not just that inner circle that Bond knows he can trust (Wishaw as Q, Harris as Moneypenny), but also the solid performances from Kinnear again (as Tanner) and Ralph Fiennes, who already established himself as a much more physical M in the previous film (even taking a bullet).  Remember that Fiennes is a man who has played the ultimate evil, both factual (Schindler’s List) and fictional (the Harry Potter films) and you’re not quite sure what to make of him.

What you will make of SPECTRE could depend on a good many things.  You might think the film drags on a bit (it is a bit long, but it’s mostly plot, so there’s not obvious places to cut), you might, like Veronica, not buy into Seydoux, you might think the Craig films are getting a bit too dour (that was certainly one complaint made about Quantum of Solace).  There are also obvious comparisons to be made to Captain America: The Winter Soldier, which deals with a lot of the same story concepts that are used here, so it might feel like a bit of a retread.  I didn’t mind that because both films do it well and they are story concepts that are relevant in the wider world beyond these films.

For me, this has the great cast, it has a solid plot that fits perfectly into the overall Bond universe and it brings it all together in a fantastic way, with great production values, solid acting and good direction.  It is not a perfect film – to me, there is one casting mistake (it’s a slight spoiler, so only click the link if you’re okay with that, but to pick the person who’s been a star in the bottom thing listed here, is just asking for people who watch that not to trust the person, and that’s as much as I will write here), and I wish they had actually brought back Jeffrey Wright instead of just naming him (but the film is long enough as it is).  But, as I said above, if this is the final Bond film with Craig, or even the final Bond film, then I think it ends just the way I would want it to end.

SLIGHT END NOTE WITH VERY MODEST SPOILER:

With any film, you bring yourself into your viewing experience.  I spent three of the happiest weeks of my life in London and I love the city.  I love that the last two Craig films have spent (what seems like) as much time in London as the previous 23 Bond films combined.  One of my favorite things in the history of television is when Top Gear did a race through London, with Jeremy taking a boat up the Thames.  We have had it DVR’d for three years and it’s the first thing we watched in both our current and previous apartment, to make certain the DVR has kept it.  Likewise, I have rarely been as stirred during opening Olympic ceremonies than I was watching David Beckham racing up the Thames with the Olympic Torch.  There’s a moment close to the end of SPECTRE which reminded me of both of those moments.  That was what I took out of this film – a reminder of two other moments that will always bring a smile to my face.

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