Spectre is directed by Sam Mendes and is Daniel Craig's fourth appearance as James Bond. Ben Whishaw, Naomie Harris, and Ralph Fiennes return to the cast, with newcomers including Christoph Waltz, Lea Seydoux, Dave Bautista, Andrew Scott, and Monica Bellucci. The film had a budget of nearly $250 million, making it one of the most expensive films ever made.
On its surface, Spectre looks like it's attempting to be the grand daddy of them all in terms of Bond films: a supersized budget, a crew of over one thousand people, and a lengthy enough run time to establish itself as the longest Bond film in history. Seeing how Quantum of Solace did not meet expectations following up on Casino Royale, it would make sense for Eon Productions to attempt a different tactic in order to follow up properly on Skyfall: go bigger and go bolder. But if film history can teach us anything, it's that bigger and bolder is never a guarantee for better. And at the same time, bigger and bolder is not to always bring out the cynic in all of us and immediately make us come to the assumption that bigger and bolder translates into a bad film, something that Spectre is certainly not.
There are taxing expectations to be had when you have two, top tier Bond films like Casino Royale and Skyfall glued to your film, so there was quite a bit for Spectre to accomplish if it wanted to earn the right of being a top tier Bond film. Everything was there for the film to work: Sam Mendes agreeing to return as director after initially stating he would not come back, Daniel Craig back again as Bond, and an acclaimed actor like Christoph Waltz playing your villain. In addition, the series was bringing back a villain and an organization that I think could be best described as Bond's arch rival/arch nemesis, because they've made appearances in more Bond films than any other villain. It seemed like the natural thing to do, as this was now the fourth film in the new Bond timeline, and someone was bound to say, "Hey, whatever happened to that Spectre organization? Bond was always finding himself up against them in the older films." Spectre had been absent from Bond films since 1983's Never Say Never Again, though the organization had really been absent since 1971's Diamonds Are Forever, because Never Say Never Again was the second adaptation of Ian Fleming's Thunderball, so let's just not count that one.
Anyway, Spectre opens with Bond in the midst of a mission on the Day of the Dead in Mexico City. Bond prevents a terrorist scheme involving the blowing up of a stadium full of innocent people, and he confronts the terrorists' leader, Marco Sciarra (Alessandro Cremona). Bond chases Sciarra into a helicopter, steals a ring on Sciarra's finger, and kills Sciara by kncoking him out of the helicopter. Bond observes the ring and sees that it has a stylized octopus emblazoned on it. When Bond returns to London, he is suspended from field duty by M (Ralph Fiennes), who is in the middle of a power struggle with Max Denbigh (Andrew Scott), who Bond gives the name of C. C intends to create the "Nine Eyes" surveillance network, as well as shut down the "00" program.
Bond disobeys M's orders and travels to Rome to attend Sciarra's funeral, where Bond seduces Sciarra's wife, Lucia (Monica Bellucci), and learns that Sciarra was a member of an organization with various criminal and terrorist connections. Bond goes to a meeting and learns that the leader, Franz Oberhauser (Christoph Waltz), intends to assassinate the "Pale King", who turns out to be Mr. White. Bond later travels to Austria to meet with Mr. White, who tells Bond to locate his daughter, Madeline Swann (Lea Seydoux). Bond finds Madeline and learns that the secret organization is called Spectre.
The story of Spectre is similar to that of Skyfall's, in the sense that you can't discuss it properly without giving half of it away. I suppose the best one sentence description I can give of the film's story is, "Bond learns of an evil organization called Spectre, and he needs to work together with a woman named Madeline Swan to stop their dastardly plans." Such a description, however, leaves out any mention who the villain is, as well as what exactly Spectre hopes to achieve. We at least want to know if they hope to do something like steal nuclear submarines or threaten the world with a laser beam. The first half of the movie, which is basically what I spilled out for you in the plot description, is basically Bond going step by step, until he finally reaches the big discovery that we all know he's going to come to eventually.
- Sam Mendes shows once again that he's got a knack for directing coherent and thrilling action scenes. The opener in Mexico City starts the film off with a bang, and the other action scenes keep up the momentum, even though they aren't quite up to the opener's level. There's never a long enough stretch where you start thinking to yourself, "There hasn't been an action scene in a while. When are we gonna get the next one?"
- Madeline Swann, an awesome Bond girl who knows how to fend for herself and doesn't need Bond to teach her how to use a gun or how to fight. Lea Seydoux does a nice job of making it clear that Madeline is Bond's partner who helps him accomplish what he needs to accomplish, not an unhelpful damsel in distress who Bond just drags around everywhere because he keeps thinking to himself, "look, she's no help at all, but damn I can't wait to get in bed with her." Madeline has a direct connection (being Mr. White's daughter) to what is happening with Spectre throughout the film, and is easily the second best Bond girl of the Daniel Craig era (Sorry honey, but Vesper Lynd was better).
- As the film progresses, Spectre's plot becomes increasingly problematic, mainly it how it diminishes the motivations of certain characters from the previous three films. This is a minor spoiler that I have to share to get my point across: we find out that Le Chiffre, Dominic Greene, and Silva were all members of Spectre. Now stop right there. We are being told that the three central villains from the previous films are all serving under one other villain. This completely obscures our understanding of what Le Chiffre, Greene, and Silva were attempting to do in their respective films, because now it's unclear if Le Chiffre, Greene, and Silva were all going about their individual goals as we were led to believe, or if they were all actually accomplishing their goals for the sake of Spectre. Was this reveal in Spectre planned all along, or did screenwriters John Logan, Neal Purvis, Robert Wade, and Jez Butterworth decided while writing the screenplay that they wanted to throw in a twist, no matter how confusing, because they were running low on ideas? The events of the three previous films are now affected by this reveal, and it doesn't help that Christoph Waltz's Oberhauser, the one villain connecting the other three, isn't very menacing as an evil overlord.
- Yeesh, someone please explain to me how Sam Smith's "Writing's on the Wall" won an Oscar for Best Original Song. This is a major setback from Adele's "Skyfall", with Smith singing some of the lyrics in a high falsetto voice that sounds like Pedro from Napoleon Dynamite before he hit puberty. Sam Smith has come out and borderline bragged that it took him less than a half hour to write the whole thing, but I think the accurate statement would be that he sung and recorded the whole song in less than a half hour, because that's exactly what it sounds like.
I didn't think too highly of Spectre the first time I saw it. Upon a second viewing though, I found myself mildly satisfied with it, even though the plot and opening theme still got on my nerves. So while the film is a a couple of steps down from Skyfall, Spectre remains a serviceable Bond film that thrives on its action scenes and committed performances, especially from Lea Seydoux. Everything seems to be going well for the first hour or so, until the plot and some of its reveals sink the momentum that the film had been sporting. Not Quantum of Solace disappointing, but a far cry from the elite status that the film was probably hoping to achieve.
Recommend? If you liked the other Daniel Craig Bond films enough, I'd give it a look.
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