At first glance, Spectre is a film that appears to herald the return of the classic James Bond adventure; not least because of the eponymous organisation that was the bane of Sean Connery’s Bond fifty years ago, but there are also the improbable villains, elaborate set-pieces, and a somewhat juvenile sense of humour. However, beneath this old-school veneer is an experience very much in keeping with Daniel Craig’s interpretation of Bond. The emotional intensity that marked his three previous films remains at the forefront, as does his essentially human portrayal of the invincible super-spy. Indeed, Spectre’s combination of old and new results in an engaging and fulfilling film, although an inconsistent tone and some narrative issues hold it back from true greatness.
Spectre opens in an effective and crowd pleasing fashion; the much missed gun barrel sequence returns to the front of the film, a first for Craig’s Bond, and is quickly followed by an exciting opening in Mexico city. This is the first of many excellently crafted action set-pieces in Spectre, which Mendes executes with greater panache than in 2012’s Skyfall. A fist fight on a train is probably the film’s highlight in this regard, calling back to earlier Bond’s in its simplistic brutality while emphasising the physicality of Craig. This action is counter-balanced by a greater focus on humour than we’ve seen in a James Bond film for at least a decade. The jokes, for the most part, hit the mark and the tone remains broadly grounded, although some disappointing physical comedy intrudes on what should be an exciting car chase through Rome.
It’s difficult to find weakness, however, in Spectre’s cast. Daniel Craig provides his most self-assured appearance as Bond, easily moving between cool nonchalance, physical ruthlessness, and emotional vulnerability as Bond’s multi-faceted character is explored. Craig’s inquiry into the heart of Bond is complemented by Lea Seydoux as Madeleine Swann, a capable but troubled female lead who would probably benefit from a little more exploration before she inevitably succumbs to Bond’s charms. Christoph Waltz shines as the nefarious and quite psychotic Franz Oberhauser, while the rest of the cast, particularly the MI6 team introduced in Skyfall, give stellar performances, although Rory Kinnear’s Tanner and Monica Belluci’s Lucia Sciarra are given disappointingly little to do for actors of their calibre.
It should be noted that spectre is an excellent action film
Where Spectre does stumble somewhat is in its script. The plot is interesting and provides a surprisingly topical look at the growing role of surveillance technology, while the characters are well defined and there is clear development as the narrative goes on. However the script often feels like the result of several conflicting views and drafts (there are four writers credited), resulting in a world that, at times, feels needlessly convoluted and conveniently inter-connected. Whilst these issues never dull enjoyment as the action unfolds, they do leave the impression that the film is lacking the narrative finesse of Fleming’s novels and the best films in the series, and perhaps another script draft would have realised the film’s true potential.
Technically, however, Spectre is a marvel of blockbuster film making. There is a genuine level of artistry in Mendes’ framing and choreography, particularly in the captivating pre-titles sequence and the stylish chapter in Rome. Stunt work is, in the Bond tradition, the best in the business, with a pleasing reliance on practical effects over computer generated imagery.
To rate Spectre against Craig’s previous Bond efforts, let alone the wider Bond canon, is futile at this stage. Such an assessment is a task for historians rather than critics. Rather, it should be noted that Spectre is an excellent action film and an even better James Bond adventure. As expected, buildings are destroyed and cars totalled, but the emotional heart that did so much to separate Craig from his forbears is still there. So where next? Perhaps some fresh blood on the writing team wouldn’t go amiss, but Spectre opens up plot threads and characters that have the promise of an interesting future for the franchise. If this proves to be Daniel Craig’s last time in the dinner suit, he may be proud that in four films, his Bond has evolved more as a character than in the twenty previous efforts. Flawed, yes, but anyone looking for an enjoyable two and a half hours, and an invaluable entry in the story of James bond, will be foolish to miss Spectre.