Spectre

  
I’m calling it right out of the gate; Spectre is the best James Bond film.

I’m not suggesting it is the best stand alone film of the twenty six motion pictures there now are featuring Ian Fleming’s famous spy, that’s probably still Casino Royale, but it is the best James Bond film. It has everything fans have come to love and expect over the last fifty three years and it seems as though the entire series has been evolving toward this point.

All of motifs that recur in the 007 movies are checked off by Spectre but rather than the film coming across as some kind of parody or laboured construction of familiar traits the film works as a coherent and compelling piece of storytelling. Other movies in the series have been a mix of stronger and weaker elements. Take The Man with the Golden Gun which has cars flying around like it’s a Fast and Furious film but is ultimately quite boring, building up to two men having a pistol duel. Then there’s On Her Majesty’s Secret Service that has a genuinely moving and heartbreaking romance at its core but also has cheesy jokes and innuendos that wouldn’t have been out of place in a Carry On film. Most of the Bond films can be described with similar dichotomy and while Spectre may not have the most audacious stunts or outlandish enemies it is a much more consistent film. Don’t get me wrong, for all their faults I love all of these films which is why it is so good to have one that ticks the boxes without any apology necessary. 

We start off with a great pre credits sequence then which, in terms of action and explosions, is probably the most thrilling part of the film. Director Sam Mendes, returning from Skyfall, opens with a bold tracking shot that Hitchcock, Scorsese and Orson Wells would have been proud of. Following this there is sniper action, foot chases, helicopter acrobatics and of course the gun barrel shot and a title credit sequence with dancing girls over Sam Smith’s lacklustre theme song (which actually works fine in context).

Whereas other Bond films have struggled to measure up to a strong opening though (The World is not Enough is probably the best/worst offender here) Spectre never lets go of its audience and the two an a half hour running time flies by. We get the country hopping, the tuxedo, a near indestructible henchman, gadgets (nothing as stupid as an invisible car), martinis, snowy mountain locations, a secret criminal lair and a car chase complete with a comedy local man in a little motor that gets caught up in the action.

  
The film also has a number of great pay off lines but where these have been corny in the past, here they are wonderfully dry. Of course there are beautiful women too. They don’t have double entendre names but if you search out the origins of Monica Bellucci’s character name, Lucia Sciarra, it translates to ‘light quarrel’ which is appropriate as she puts up typically little argument when Bond seduces her. Léa Seydoux plays Spectre’s female lead Madeline Swann, Madeline meaning ‘high tower’ so you could read something into this too if you wanted to. Needless to say, she crumbles. (Interestingly James mean ‘supplanter’ which once you’ve seen this film you will realise is also particularly apt.)

The one aspect of Bond films I’ve not addressed yet is the villains and in bringing back SPECTRE (previously featured in Dr. No, From Russia with Love, Thunderball, You Only Live Twice, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service and Diamonds are Forever) this film sees the return of the biggest, baddest bad guys of them all and Christoph Waltz is excellent as the incumbent leader of this evil organisation. He is more reigned in than he is for Tarantino but this works in context. Like all the things the film brings in from 007’s previous outings, he is kept just the right side of believable. This is the world of Daniel Craig’s grittier Bond after all and everything is the better for it.

Finally I have to mention Moneypenny, Q and M. They all support 007 on his mission in one way or another but interesting is they way they all come together for their own subplot at the end. I don’t recall a James Bond movie having a subplot before and this is further indication of the franchise’s new maturity. It is all familiar yet more sophisticated. 

Spectre then is unlikely to impress casual viewers quite as much as fans but I loved it. It picks up the series that I’ve followed since the annual Boxing Day Bond screenings ITV ran in the 70s and 80s and does something simultaneously familiar and totally original with it. Screenwriters Robert Wade and Neal Purvis, have taken a character they have been scripting since 1999 and that was created forty six years earlier and done something new with him. (Even if one aspect of his back story seems to have been borrowed from Austin Powers 3). 


The Ripley Factor:

  

As much as I admired the film I do have to admit that other Bond films have had stronger female characters. Monica Bellucci was celebrated in the lead up to the movie’s release for being a Bond girl (an antiquated and sexist term I use with reluctance) at 50 years old (four years older than Craig) but her part is a slight and totally disempowered and submissive one. Seydoux’s Swann is clearly being set up as an equal to Casino Royale’s Vesper Lynd but has none of the spirit, strength and vulnerability Eva Green showed in that film. Ultimately she too is largely passive. Thank goodness then for Eve Moneypenny who is brave, self motivated and dynamic. This is a total and welcome contrast to the way the character was portrayed in Connery and Moore’s day. She goes a long way in making up for the near absence of Judi Dench.


Is this one for the kids?
Spectre is a 12A but it isn’t particularly violent or sexy for that certificate. The swearing is minimal and while they have a little bit of fun with an official code named ‘C’ there is little here to bother anyone ten or over. If your children have been okay with any of the other Daniel Craig Bond films they’ll have no problem with this. There is one particularly wince inducing moment of torture but it isn’t graphic.

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3 thoughts on “Spectre

  1. As someone who read all the early 007 books before they were filmed, I feel that the films starring Connery were the nearest to Ian Flemings image of James Bond. When Moore took over the role we started to get the OTT car chases, explosions etc. Also he didn’t have the right personality, no sense of hidden menace. A
    ll the following Bonds were OK but not engaging, I have yet to see the latest Bond on screen but going by your excellent reviews I will give him a try..:)

  2. I wouldn’t go as far as you, but the more I think about it the better my opinion of Spectre gets. It probably won’t crack my top 5, but it was definitely a really good one. Thank you for bringing up how The World is Not Enough was a huge letdown following a great opening. That always infuriated me. I’m definitely onboard with Moneypenny fulfilling the Ripley factor, I just wish she’d had more to do in Spectre. She felt underused to me. Still, I really enjoyed it and am looking forward to seeing it again.

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