Review: Spectre

The PR tour for Spectre, the 24th instalment in the James Bond franchise has been a riot, with Daniel Craig saying he would rather slit his wrists than play Bond again, before back tracking a little and settling for a more media-friendly “just enjoying the moment” line.

None of Craig’s complaints show during his fourth outing as 007. Bond is effortlessly charming, cool, and determined in a way that Craig has excelled at during his tenure. Rather than working under orders like his predecessors, Craig has repeatedly portrayed a Bond motivated by personal redemption and revenge, and this continues in Spectre.

After receiving a final message from Judi Dench’s M, Bond sets out to hunt down Marco Sciarra, with a direct order to not miss the funeral. This sets in motion a modern day, NSA-esque take on a story familiar to those who have been fans of the series for decades.

The opening scene is a spectacular five minute tracking shot, hovering over a Day of the Dead parade in Mexico, shifting to focus on a masked Bond, then following him up to this room, where he leaves the woman he is with to head out on to the roof and take aim at his target. It feels so natural and engrossing, beautifully deliberate but not at all gimmicky like this year’s earlier release Birdman.

Following this, Sam Smith’s ‘Writing’s on the Wall’ makes a lot more sense in context, assisted by a stunning intro, highlighting Spectre’s reach, Bond’s past, and the shadow that connects everything up until this point. Smith’s theme sounds massive in the cinema and the accompanying visuals add whatever is missing from the audio on its own, judging from its mediocre critical reception.

Winning formula 

Spectre has the tricky task of following the biggest Bond movie in history. It doesn’t try to outdo Skyfall’s grandiose scale, and feels cosy by comparison. There is a natural progression throughout Spectre that feels retro, taking the series back to its pre-reboot days – there is Bond’s story, and M’s story, and that’s it. With blockbusters becoming smarter, this outing chooses to stick to a winning formula of a strong plot and lavish locations, and one of the stronger casts seen in a Bond film.

Dave Bautista continues his transition from professional wrestling to acting after his entertaining role as Drax in Guardians of the Galaxy with the intimidating Hinx. He is hardly the most fleshed out character, but his imposing stature and composed demeanour make him a dangerous villain. Andrew Scott is on the right side of slimy without crossing over to Moriarty levels of ick – affectionately named C by Bond, he is determined to upgrade the government’s way of handling operations by surveilling all things at all times, including those within the department.

Léa Seydoux’s Madeleine Swann contrasts with her Loner Leader role in The Lobster, also currently in cinemas, as she latches on to Bond initially for protection but soon for her own peace of mind. Swann doesn’t get a lot to do action wise, but her constant presence changes the dynamic of certain scenes, and you feel that without her around, Bond would struggle to find the right motivation.

Anyone who watched Inglourious Basterds knew within the first five minutes that Christoph Waltz would make a Bond villain for the ages. His soft spoken antagonism carries a weight of menace and carefully hidden influence. Initially shrouded in darkness, hidden from both Bond’s eye and the camera’s too, Waltz’s Franz Oberhauser has been the man behind the curtain for quite some time.

There is a real pleasure in how Spectre links the events of previous films (though Quantum of Solace is, quite rightly, referenced the least of the last three). As Casino Royale ends, Bond heads off for revenge, and yet the higher power behind everything since then has remained a mystery. Having Spectre be a quietly intimate film for a significant amount of time gives the revelations time to breathe as Bond connects what has led him to this point.

Worth the hype

After the cultural phenomenon that was Skyfall, Spectre could not be a carbon copy, and it isn’t. This is a more camp affair, with more than a few nods to what has come long before – which could be seen as a step backwards. Finding the right balance of what made Bond so successful for all these years while also keeping what has made Craig’s turn as 007 so well received is vital, and Spectre gets it mostly right. It suffers from underdeveloped supporting characters, and a few rehash scenes – no matter how uncomfortable a torture scene is, it will be compared to the excellent one in Casino Royale – but mostly, Spectre is worth the hype, effortlessly stylish, with a strong cast and gripping plot.