By: Muneeb Arshid
Spectre is the much awaited, brand new James Bond 007 starring Daniel Craig as the English super spy. It follows in the footsteps and is seen as being part of a quadrilogy with Casino Royale, Quantum of Solace (Really?) and Skyfall. Spectre also stars Christoph Waltz as Franz Oberhauser, Ralph Fiennes as M, Ben Whishaw as Q, and Naomie Harris as Eve Moneypenny with Andrew Scott playing Max Denbigh/C.
Bond films are always centered on four things: Bond himself, his relationships with both the Bond girls and MI6, the travelogue aspect of the spy life and the villain of the movie. Spectre has all four of them, all in differing aspects of good and bad.
What was always going to be difficult for Spectre was how it would follow up on the huge success of Skyfall. It was undoubtedly one of the best Bond films of all time and based on our review, could be the best ever as we gave it an A+. So what was going to be the thing that set Spectre apart from Skyfall and the other 22 Bond films? Well, the aforementioned four aspects to a Bond film should be able to clear it up.
The story starts with Bond following a lead from events of the previous films that takes him to Mexico chasing down a member of the same group: Quantum, which included Le Chiffre, Dominic Greene and Raoul Silva. Wrapped around Bond’s story of finding out the kingpin of this organization is the merging of MI6 with MI5 back in London. The London story follows a more modern NSA-inflected dilemma with the agency trying to implement a mass surveillance system as opposed to the 00 program after the events of Skyfall seeing the much maligned 00 program as being “old-fashioned” and “out of touch”.
Now, there’s been a lot of iffy reviews about this movie, calling it boring and terribly ordinary. I, alongside another fellow critic on our blog absolutely loved this film. As soon as the final shot was shown and the credits started to roll with the familiar Bond theme, I turned to Mr. Chulbul with a massive grin on my face and a big thumbs up. Spectre ended up being very entertaining all the way through for the two of us. However, two others in our group thought it was just average and that is how the reviews are going for this movie so far. So what’s causing these mixed reviews, as there are undoubtedly some issues in this film.
Once again, Daniel Craig as James Bond is on form, but not on the level that we saw him in Casino Royale or Skyfall. The important thing we have gotten used to (assume we forget about Quantum of Solace for the rest of the review) is that the Bond portrayed by Craig is one where the audience really connects to him at a personal level. There’s always the threat of imminent danger where Bond may not succeed, be that in a fight or him not closing the deal with a woman. His performances have literally felt like they hurt to the audience (a la the car flip scene in Casino Royale, you actually felt like you were in that car being flipped like 10 times). In Spectre, Bond has moments of both success and agony (real agony in a certain dental based scene), but I would say he’s much closer to the Bond from Quantum of Solace (here’s that movie again) where he’s cold and brash for the most part. But that’s not to say that this is a bad thing for this movie, Bond may be a cold person, but it works in the context of the movie, unlike Skyfall, where it was an internal battle between Bond and Silva and their mutual connection with M, the relationship between Bond and Oberhauser is one that is way more personal and thus requires Bond to cut off people as much as possible until the very last moment.
So, 007 gets a better than Average grade for his character in the movie, what about his relationships? Well, it’s good and bad on this front, with one of the biggest missteps ever in a Bond movie. But, first his relationship with MI6. His interactions with Fiennes’ M seem to be perfectly normal and quite similar in tone to the relationship he had with Judi Dench’s M minus Skyfall where it became much more personal. But it’s the burgeoning relationship, or lack thereof, with MI5 and Max Denbigh or C, that is the problem in the film. Their relationship or as C sees it, his relationship with the entire 00 program is the reason for this movie and that aspect of the movie is the strongest because you have serious doubt in the middle of the film as to whether the 00 program will continue to exist past this movie. But for some reason, that only lasts until about 20 minutes before the movie ends and we find out which direction Spectre is going to take which makes you as viewer say “what was the point of all that?” Only Sam Mendes could tell you but if they had been more steadfast on the surveillance vs. human spying issue, they would’ve gotten more out of the film.
This leads into the third of four things (I’ll come back to the Bond girls in a bit), the Bond villain. Which in this case, could be mass surveillance but as per billing credits, it’s Christoph Waltz’s Franz Oberhauser. It has to be said that Oberhauser doesn’t show up till about 30-40 minutes into the film. Unlike Casino Royale where Le Chiffre showed up right at the beginning of the film. And unlike the villains in Casino Royale and Skyfall, Oberhauser is criminally underused apart from the sequence where Bond and Madeleine Swann pay him a visit at his base in a crater in the desert of Morocco. Other than that, even during the final climax, Oberhauser isn’t directly involved in the action opting to stay on the sidelines instead. However, for the bits that Waltz is in the movie is acting masterclass on his part as per usual. One thing to remember, once you’ve watched the film is that Spectre ends up being a sort of an origin story for Oberhauser’s “character” and that if the next Bond film were to follow in the footsteps of this, we could see a proper masterful performance. But that’ll be a big if especially if there’s a new Bond, but Sam Mendes concluded the story in a way that the next movie could have multiple different options.
So I’d say we got an average villain at the end of the day, one who would only make the hard-core Bond fans excited. Then how about the Bond girls. Well, it’s a tale of two halves. Monica Bellucci is older, similar to Bond’s age, that would’ve gone with a more progressive times in Hollywood. However, the movie’s biggest misstep was the courting scene between Bond and Bellucci’s Lucia where she’s in the movie for literally 10 minutes, if that. And even once they’re back at her house, the courting feels very rapey, where it looks like Bond may just use her for information and leave (a la Casino Royale), but once he gets the info, then he sort of forces himself onto her where as a viewer you’re left with an uneasy feeling of what in the actual hell is going on. I would say the movie loses an entire grade because of that.
However, there is some redemption in the form of Léa Seydoux playing Madeleine Swann. For anyone who’s seen Blue is the Warmest Colour, there’s no question the talent she has acting wise. But in Spectre, she shows that she can hold her own in a big Hollywood blockbuster opposite 007 himself. Her relationship to Bond is very similar to Ilsa Faust from Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation and her relationship to Ethan Hunt. They both have instances where they are able to stand on their own feet and even help out the hot-shot spy in saving them. But they both have important roles in the films that drive the plot forward and are not just there for sexual appeal, which is what the previous Bond films have had a problem with especially before Daniel Craig took over. The move towards a strong female role really started with Eva Green’s Vesper Lynd and has now continued into Spectre.
And finally the Bond travelogue. This also leads in with the cinematography of the film, helmed by the great Hoyte van Hoytema, who has, amongst his back catalogue, cinematography credits for Interstellar and Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy. The opening scene in Mexico City is more than enough to explain how great this movie was shot, with a beautiful panning shot of a square with a tumbling helicopter where the Day of the Dead parade is occurring. It’s one of those scenes where you really do have to watch the film to understand the beauty of it. The movie also includes a beautiful opening 4-5 minute chase which looks as if it has been shot in one take. Apart from that, we get a much grungier London, along with the mountains of Austria and the desert of Morocco.
Spectre is a great attempt at an undeniably tough act to follow after the critical and box office success of Skyfall. However, there are issues with the film, mostly due to character development which ultimately hinders the plot and where it can go. This is also a 150-minute film, which may be a tad long for viewers who can’t sit through character development (wasn’t an issue for me).
Spectre is a solid addition to the Bond canon and may even crack people’s top 10 Bond films, but The Film Lawyers will give it a very average B-