Since Sam Mendes set the bar precariously high in 2012, with the hugely popular and profitable Skyfall, the next installment was always going to have incredible hype around its release with audience expectations peaked and breath bated as to whether such soaring success could be achieved again. The jury is still out.
Spectre is incredibly hard to digest on one viewing alone. Unlike it’s younger brother, Skyfall, which was contained to the point of perfection – bringing in some Bond tropes and timely nods to the backlog of 007 memories, remaining complete whilst being part of something else far larger and still maintaining big blockbuster status – Spectre is just vast. If a normal movie is divided into three acts then this one is divided into three films. At one point, after a huge set piece and what would conventionally be the finale of any other film, and possibly should have been of this one, Bond even says, ‘this isn’t over yet’ as if he’s actually encouraging the audience to stay with him through the next hour. That sequence is stunning, the opening sequence is a genuine cinematic moment and the finale is…well, to put it politely, underwhelming. Why?
There are definite questions hovering over the holes in the characters of our villains here, like smoke from the barrel of a gun. Christoph Waltz, surely one of the all-time Bond baddies, right? Hmmm. Javier Bardem, not as elevated as Waltz’s character, in terms of plot, certainly seemed to walk closer to the well-trodden path of Bond’s previous adversaries. Maybe in time Waltz’s significance will be borne out but for now he seems a most confused nemesis. A nice line in the I’ve-captured-you-so-I’ll-tell-you-everything-and-give-you-time-to-escape scene harks back to one of the most famous Bond villain lines of all and is a particular highlight within the multitudinous self-referential homages yet does nothing to lift the shroud of ambiguity hanging over Waltz’s character. In a most bizarre twist, which is somewhat over developed and subsequently under used, the narrative deviates drastically from the established canon, opening a very large door to an even larger room only to reveal not very much inside.
Andrew Scott‘s ‘C’ is just an enigma. His motivation removed by a script that simply didn’t allow any time for us to find out who he was, what he was about or why he was trying to do, well, anything. There is light at the end of the tunnel, in the hulking form of Dave Batista, who provides some of the best adversarial moments as he faces off against 007.
Luckily we have our boys and girls from Her Majesty’s Secret Service and leading the way, obviously, is Daniel Craig in his fourth outing as Britain’s best. or, depending who you listen to within MI6, worst, secret agent. Craig has got to the point where he is this generation’s Bond and, for some, the ultimate incarnation of Ian Fleming’s super spy. At the very least, and discounting his apparent apathy at playing one of cinema’s most iconic characters, he has reinvigorated a franchise with credibility and enough grizzled grit (our Bond can smash through walls with his bare hands) so that the we can grow old, and our kids grow up, on some substantial British movie making.
Ben Whishaw has thoroughly perfected his bespectacled, somewhat socially uneasy ‘Q’, to the point where you could see him inhabiting the role akin to the late, great Desmond Llewelyn. Naomie Harris is less used but that’s quite alright, as she doesn’t offer an abundance of appeal as Moneypenny.
It’s ambitious, silly in places, utterly gargantuan as a movie-going experience and definitely warrants a second viewing. Although that might reveal some of the deeper inadequacies then it would certainly allow you to enjoy the hugely entertaining full-circle moment of this Daniel Craig James Bond renaissance.
Does it feel like an ultimate homage to his four films as Bond and a possible fitting farewell; setting up the next inhabitant of the synonymous white tux, martini breath and licence to kill? Quite possibly. But is it also a fine balancing act between huge spectacle and historical respect for what is a worldwide and revered brand? Definitely yes. And enjoyably so as Mendes and Co. carve out a visually rich, high-octane ride that uses this already robustly rebuilt character of our modern Bond and pushes him through a towering and sprawling adventure to get the bad guys and make things right.
Spectre may mark the end of something but, then again, all good things come to an end, so why not go and enjoy it.