Directed by Sam Mendes
Starring Daniel Craig, Christoph Waltz, Ralph Fiennes, Lea Seydoux, Ben Whishaw, Naomie Harris, Dave Bautista, Andrew Scott and Monica Bellucci.
A cryptic message from Bond’s past sends him on a trail to uncover a sinister organization. While M battles political forces to keep the secret service alive, Bond peels back the layers of deceit to reveal the terrible truth behind SPECTRE.
Mexico City. The Day of the Dead, a past-time embraced by any thousands if not millions of people is our entry point to Spectre, easily the biggest and loudest of the franchise’s long history so far. Dressed in suitably dark attire, Bond strides purposely through the scorns of people gracing the streets as they dance to the booming sounds of the now deceased, music thundering through the ocean of onlookers as they begin their marches, all told in one breathless opening salvo that unfolds (almost) in one magnificent unbroken shot that puts us firmly back in For Queen and Country mode. Bond’s tailor of choice is of the skeletal variety, setting the tone for Spectre, with skeletons in the closet firmly coming back to haunt our dynamic hero. Dem bones, den bones, dem dry bones.
As the Day of the Dead dance reaches its apex, Bond’s hunt for answers after the events of Skyfall is interrupted first by explosions then some light helicopter flying that’s more roller-coaster than simple reconnaissance. And that’s pretty much the summation of Spectre, Daniel Craig ‘s fourth outing as 007 and director Sam Mendes’ second: exciting, breathless, noisy but ultimately leaves you wanting more, despite its bum-numbing runtime. Craig and Mendes have found common ground and hit the ground running, but Spectre is so overstuffed with, well stuff, that it sadly never reaches the magical apex that Casino Royale, still Craig’s best outing, did a decade ago.
The opening hour or so races at a thunderous pace that it’s impossible not to feel aghast: Mexico City swiftly becomes Rome (and a breathless car – chase featuring Dave Bautista), Austria and of course London as Bond begins to connect the fractures still lingering after his trip to the highlands of Scotland. Soon enough, the octennial arms of secret organisation Spectre, fit with secret hideouts and all that emerge from all the mayhem, and by extension Oberhauser (Christoph Waltz), the darkly-lit big bad with his fingers firmly on a trigger straight to Bond’s mind and body. The writing is most certainly (and literally) on the wall, but once all we begin to learn of “the plan”, the film slows down to a crawl and loses its impetous.
For all the bravado and style that Spectre goes about its job, be it through Thomas Newman’s brilliant score, Hoyte Van Hoytema’s lush cinematography or indeed Mendes’ assured, emphatic hand, Spectre fails due its imbalance. After its kinetic opening half, full of verve and awe, the second half simply buckles under both the weight of the excellence that proceeded it and from its baffling insistence to retread old failings: plot turns become contrived, characters become somewhat perfunctory and the climax just feels too familiar, too repetitive to truly make the film soar. For a long while, it looks like it’s taking a few risks and get out from underneath Skyfall’s billion-dollar shadow, but it soon reverts to type and buckles towards its final moments.
Craig, as ever, is a brutal but compelling Bond, allowed to mix a little Roger Moore and Sean Connery into his Martini amongst the rib-crunching fisticuffs 21st century Bond does love so. Mercurial throughout, this is easily his best and if it is to be his last, what a way to go. Supported by the eclectic supporting cast who all give their all here, it’s the brilliant Fiennes who stands head-and-shoulders above the rest. Lea Seydoux adds a quiet charm to proceedings even if her arc as Madaleine Swann leaves a bit to be desired, while Ben Whishaw and Naomie Harris and Q and Moneypenny respectively bring a lighter touch. Then of course there is Waltz, who while on deliciously sinister form feels somewhat periphery, despite having a hand in “all of Bond’s pain”.
There is much to admire here, but Spectre is ultimately let down by its unbalanced script that seems to be only one-half of a much grander story. Mendes, Craig and company provide enough thrills and spills to endure another three-year waiting game, but if this version of Bond is to endure, it needs to take a few more risks than it does here. Spectacular at times, but too safe to truly soar.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★
Scott Davis is Senior Staff Writer at Flickering Myth and is co-host of The Flickering Myth Podcast