Film Review | Spectre

If SPECTRE does in fact end up being the swan song to Daniel Craig's crabby take on 007, it's all the better for it: an uneven but still adequate send-off to the terror-and-surveillance era James Bond

Chasing ghosts: Daniel Craig takes James Bond to the past once again... and for the last time?
Chasing ghosts: Daniel Craig takes James Bond to the past once again... and for the last time?

And so another era of James Bond (probably) comes to a close. This year’s SPECTRE will most likely mark the last time chiseled, blonde hard-ass Daniel Craig gets to flaunt his ‘license to kill’ a variety of stylish – and brutal – ways. All in all it hasn’t been a bad run… the combo of Craig and – predominantly – director Sam Mendes bringing 007 fully in line with the 21st century zeitgeist with rising levels of quality.

If nothing else, SPECTRE succeeds in wrapping up the – loose – arc the CraigBond films have established, and gives an adequate send-off to our star, who has made no bones about his reluctance to top-up his run, even claiming that he’d rather “slash his wrists” than taken on the role of James Bond once again.

A missive from the past sends James Bond (Daniel Craig) to Mexico slap-bang in the middle of the ‘Day of the Dead’ celebrations, where he takes it upon himself to intercept an infamous criminal. Following the trail to Rome, he gains some valuable information from his alluring wife Lucia (Monica Bellucci), which in turn leads him to uncover the secret gathering spot of the shadowy organisation known as SPECTRE.


But 007’s rogue operations aren’t appreciated by his superiors back in London, as MI6 leader M (Ralph Fiennes) is being pressured by the new head of the Centre of National Security Max Denbigh (Andrew Scott) to disintegrate the ‘irrelevant’ double-oh programme in favour for a more technologized system of drone-based surveillance. Left out in the cold, Bond covertly enlists his MI6 allies Moneypenny  (Naomie Harris) and Q (Ben Whishaw) to help him locate Madeleine Swann (Léa Seydoux) – the daughter of a long-standing enemy, who may hold the key SPECTRE.

It should be a given by now that James Bond occupies a unique sphere in popular culture, and not just by dint of the sheer popularity amassed by Ian Fleming’s superspy ever since he was first given a screen incarnation by Sean Connery with Dr No back in 1962. Bond films are unique because in a lot of ways, they’re a lot like the Christmas panto. Instead of stories with dramatic or comic arcs, they tend to be build on action set-pieces and entrenched stylistic tics and catchphrases that the audience doesn’t just tolerate, but fully embraces. You go  in expecting to be intrigued by the musical introduction, thrilled by the operatic action opener, and amused by the deployment of character trademarks (“shaken not stirred”, the Aston Martin, the gadgets).

SPECTRE certainly doesn’t disappoint on any of these counts. The failed attempt at subversion with Quantum of Solace (2008) has taught the Bond authorities to not stir the pot too much, and with 2012’s Skyfall having injected a sense of over-the-top fun back to the gritty proceedings, SPECTRE balances high-octane action with lighthearted humour comfortably.    

But neither can Sam Mendes’s second attempt at directing Bond escape the dark knight’s shadow. Indeed, the focus on the surveillance crisis – SPECTRE is basically a Bond & Edward Snowden team-up movie – as well as the trendy grittiness still evident in the films is down to the influence that Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight (2008) has exerted on the pop culture zeitgeist. It will be interesting to see whether the inevitable re-casting will also herald a lighter change of pace from here on out.

There’s also a clear desire to cast Bond as yet another superhero, coupled with ‘haunted’ origin story and a rotating cadre of arch-villains and lost lovers. The CraigBond saga now has its own, consistent arc, and your mileage may vary depending on whether you prefer your Bond as a clean slate or not.

Otherwise, all is present an accounted for, barring perhaps a few niggles. Bellucci’s much-hyped role as the first Bond girl of ‘mature’ age turned out to be nothing but a cameo, but the new Euro-cinema It Girl Léa Seydoux is a logical shoo-in for Bond’s more significant emotional and cerebral female counterpart.

More logical still is the casting of Christoph Waltz as the lead villain – his role is obvious to long-standing Bond fans, but I won’t spoil it for the others – which many will probably herald with “about time!”. Having cornered the market on ‘erudite European eccentrics’ with his landmark Tarantino roles, Waltz thrills to the part of the head of SPECTRE, offering up some fine fan service towards the end.

The only thing that really slows this otherwise well-oiled vehicle down – or at least prevents it from engaging in the full-on operatic splendour that was Skyfall – is actually its most interesting element: the surveillance sub-plot. It’s great that Bond is using an immediate, real-life issue that after all makes sense within the context of espionage. But while the head-to-head between Fienne’s M. and Scott’s Max Denbigh is interesting, it often feels like a forceful intrusion from another film altogether.

Either way, SPECTRE concludes in such a way as to suggest that a change in direction for the series is certainly in the offing. Whatever awaits the enduring super-spy, let’s hope it’s at least as good as this.