After the hugely successful and Oscar winning (the first Bond film to win an Oscar since Thunderball) heights of Sam Mendes’ Skyfall, Mendes was brought back in three years later for the hotly anticipated Spectre. Even six years later, I get the sense that the jury is still out on this movie. I know people like it, and people don’t. Spectre is honestly really good fun, from where I’m sitting, and a part of me likes it more than my 3-star rating might suggest. Yet there is also a smidge of clunkiness to it that feels noticeable in the final act. Eh, it’s whatever.
Helping sell things is of course the blonde haired, blue eyed bombshell Daniel Craig, and many thought this to be his final Bond outing. Why? Well, while promoting this film, he told reporters that he’d rather slash his wrists than take part in another one. I didn’t quote that, because I’m not sure if that was verbatim what he said, but it was something in that vein. In any regard, ouch. Also, if Spectre would’ve been his last go, it would’ve been a rock-solid note to go out on.
I have seen Casino Royale and Quantum of Solace countless times, because they’ve been out for over a decade and they’ve been there. Skyfall is one I’ve seen a number of times, but as I got older my tendency to re-watch movies became more seldom, and thus, I think I’ve only seen Spectre twice in the last six years. It’s a film I remember fondly, and honestly my current feelings toward it are fond. What I enjoy about Spectre is what people might not, and it’s that it manages to feel old fashioned, old time-y, free spirited, even goofy at times. Even when things take a turn for the silly though, it doesn’t fully lose sight of what Craig and Co. first established. The film receives 3 stars, but a part of me wants to give it more.
The film opens sensationally, as we find Bond attending a Day of the Dead festival in Mexico. He is tracking an enemy for reasons that are unknown until after the opening credits. The following results in the explosion and collapse of a building, and with Bond and the enemy in a helicopter spinning above the festival. This has to rank among the best openings, for the way it’s filmed (Hoyt Van Hoytema, of Interstellar and Dunkirk, steps in for Roger Deakins) and the way it’s crafted. It’s a beauty to behold, and a complete thrill.
We then get the opening title sequence, one that I dreaded hearing again. This time, it’s the Oscar winning “The Writing’s on the Wall” by Sam Smith, and the last time I heard this was in the theatre, and to my ears it sounded like a dying whale. Hearing it again, it is less painful and it honestly works well enough, but it is no match for the animation, which features a bunch of octopi slithering their tentacles and stuff, while also showing us footage from the first three movies.
So it turns out that the reason Bond was after this guy was because before M (Judi Dench) passed on, she left behind a message urging him to track this dude down. Not much in the way of context, but he confides in Moneypenny (Naomie Harris) and Q (Ben Wishaw) with this information, mostly leaving the new M (Ralph Feinnes) out of it. M has troubles of his own, as a little weasel nicknamed C (Andrew Scott) is out to prove that the Double-O program is obsolete, and he intends on having them shut down. Alas, Bond sets out to pursue the mystery further.
After sleeping with the widow (Monica Belucci, a Bond girl his age) of the man he kicked out the helicopter, she leads him to Spectre, making its first appearance in the series in probably 40 years. While in the meeting though, the head speaker, one Franz Oberhausen (Christoph Waltz) calls him out for being there, and it leads to a pretty cool car chase with Dave Bautista’s mute but frightening henchman. Soon Bond goes in search of a man referred to as “The Pale King,” who turns out to be Mr. White (Jesper Christiansen), who leads Bond to his own daughter, one Madeleine Swann (Lea Seydoux), who teams up with Bond to track Spectre down.
As a Bond film, Spectre checks off all of its boxes. It looks, feels, and sounds like a Bond film, from the beautiful cinematography to the great score by Thomas Newman, and then to the obvious. The production values are obviously first rate, but Spectre works for the reasons that a Bond movie should. The action sequences are pretty marvelous, as are the locations, which are as beautiful in Spectre as the women. Mendes is an expert craftsman, more than proving his action movie chops with Skyfall and delivering them once again here.
We all know that Skyfall was as great as a Bond movie could be. Spectre isn’t quite great. I like it quite a bit (possibly more than 3 stars) because it does capture the feel and spirit of a movie like Goldfinger or You Only Live Twice. It is rollicking entertainment, yet when everything is revealed, I feel that this is where everyone was sort of turned off, and it is kind of where the movie falters. It’s revealed (spoiler, but it’s not too shocking) that this Oberhausen guy is actually Blofeld, and that he is the reason behind Bond’s suffering in the first few films. Why? Because the two grew up together (Blofeld’s family adopted Bond after his parents died) and Blofeld’s dad took more of a liking to Bond, so he killed the old man and set out to ruin Bond’s life. It’s not bad, necessarily, but it feels somewhat flimsy. There’s also the final act, set at the recently destroyed MI6 headquarters, that also feels a bit goofy.
With all of that though, it doesn’t get in the way of how good Spectre can be. Everything here is done pretty well and even though it is a long one, clocking in at nearly two and a half hours, it’s never a dull one. It’s a pretty fun one, handsomely made and old fashioned. Perhaps the division on this film stems from the fact that, in the story department, some of it has been done before. Shoot, even some of the locations feel like homages (Bond meets Swann at a ski-resort-clinic-thing that seems straight out of On Her Majesty’s Secret Service). For my money though, it’s all good, sometimes great fun.
James Bond, and I, will return with No Time to Die.