Spectre starts with a bang – a full frontal assault of brass and a gun barrel sequence, announcing that for better or worse, Bond is back. We’re then treated to a single-shot sequence through the streets of Mexico City on Dia De Los Muertos,1 tracking Bond through every cliche in the book – bad guy in white, Bond in disguise, a beautiful woman who is used essentially as a prop. What follows is, like it or not, an above average but by the book Bond film – there’s a title sequence with naked women rubbing Bond’s pectorals to the underwhelming Sam Smith track “Writing On The Wall”, Bond getting dressed down by M, Bond going rogue, Bond following up some leads in exotic locations, Bond picking up some gadgets from Q branch, Bond getting questionable consent, a shadowy organisation, some silent bad guys, some beautiful Bond girls and lots of very expensive set pieces.
As such, it has very Bond villains, though sticking to the franchise formula proves to be a hindrance. Silence is their biggest weapon, and while it’s definitely an advantage in the case of Dave Bautista’s Hinx, it seems a huge waste of Christoph Waltz, who sits in menacing darkness for most of the film but only truly comes to life while waxing lyrical in a white room full of torture equipment. Colonel Hans Landa was not a monster for his silence – he was one for his courtesy and calm, and future directors would do well to remember that for Waltz’s inevitable future appearances.
Spectre definitely has its strengths – the opening sequence shot being a particular highlight, as well as Thomas Newman’s score and Jany Temime’s costumes. Hoyt van Hoytema has the unenviable task of following Roger Deakins’ spectacular cinematography from Skyfall, and while he does have some strong sequences, there are some Bourne–style shaky-cam chases and issues with depth of field. Sam Mendes, who is the first director to tackle sequential Bond films since John Glen,2 has a sufficient number of tricks up his sleeve, decently continuing his new chronology. The film definitely shares a chunk of its DNA with sequels like Star Trek: Into Darkness and Captain America: The Winter Solider, cherry picking the best of the universe’s history to build a new timeline.3
As in Skyfall, Ben Whishaw’s Q is one of the standouts, offering a dry humour and resignation to Bond’s constant destruction of his gadgets, as well as the occasional dad joke and a strong suggestion that Q is secretly a cat lord.4 Daniel Craig seems a little more wooden than in previous Bond outings, although that could probably be chalked up to the death of M. Moneypenny is disappointingly and inexplicably underused – Q ventures into the field to meet up with Bond at one point, begging the question of why, between himself and Moneypenny (the only two people at MI6 assisting a rogue Bond), they chose the untrained tech guy over the former field agent who was at least a candidate for (if not a confirmed agent of) 00 status in Skyfall. Lea Seydoux’s Madeleine Swann is at first refreshingly defiant, but instantly becomes flirtatious and frivolous as soon as she puts on a nice dress – she also suffered from that frustrating female ailment of becoming useless in a fight after a single slap.
The most tangible absence of the film is Judi Dench’s M. The tough but fair, firm and authoritative woman that could boss Bond around no longer exists – and masculinity reigns supreme without her. Ralph Fiennes does a solid job of M, but he feels more like a school headmaster scolding Bond, and having grown up with Judi Dench in the role it’s just plain disappointing to see M revert to being just another white man. There are six speaking female roles in the film – four of whom are romantically linked to Bond, one of whom is a Spectre executive and human trafficker, and the last of which is Dench’s M herself, appearing posthumously in a video tape for all of 30 seconds. The film also, in a move that is inexcusable in 2015, has only two speaking people of colour – Naomi Harris’ Moneypenny, and an unnamed member of Spectre. It’s especially disappointing considering that we know from leaked Sony emails that Chiwetel Ejiofor was originally cast as C, but replaced by Andrew Scott due to his lower price tag – Scott is functional in his role, but it isn’t hard to imagine the warmth and depth (as well as much needed diversity) that Ejiofor would have brought to it. When I mentioned my issues with the hugely white cast, my housemate asked what did I expect – and in 2015, I guess I just expected better. After all, this is a film with as many cats as women of colour.5
It’s easy to pick apart issues with Bond films, comparing them both to contemporary cinema and their own predecessors. Quantum of Solace is so easily loathed because it followed Casino Royale, but it’s still very much in the top half of Bond films. Spectre is, compared to the Roger Moore days and the later Brosnans, a cinematic masterpiece. Compared to some of this year’s films, even, it manages to be a relative beacon of representation and diversity.6 It’s definitely a solid popcorn flick, though, with fun action sequences and just enough plot to make the two and half hour run time worth it.
At heart, Spectre is an old Bond in a new suit, streamlined for 2015 and bringing all the old baggage. If you enjoyed the approach taken by the above-mentioned Into Darkness and Winter Soldier, you’ll probably be on board – it you weren’t a fan, you might struggle with the latest Bond endeavour. And if you can still sit through a Connery Bond, Spectre was made for you.
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