A year after the events of Skyfall, James Bond (played by Daniel Craig) informs those closest to him that he plans to disappear. His need to go off the grid is driven by a promise to protect a young woman (Lea Seydoux) and kill a mysterious villain (Christoph Waltz), whose connection with Bond is deeply personal.
Bringing back filmmaker Sam Mendes to helm Spectre, the 24th Bond film, after the monstrously successful (and, let’s be honest, overrated) Skyfall, was a masterstroke. Spectre is even more like a James Bond art movie, a lavish, state of the art spy adventure crafted by a director of vision, than its predecessor or any other Bond film before it. These movies have always been “big” but this one is truly grand, allowing the massive scale of the production to be filled not merely with spectacle, but genuine ideas on the 007 character.
Creating continuity between this and the other Daniel Craig films was a smart touch, as Spectre cleverly ties them together in a manner that provides both emotional and narrative punch. The best James Bond thrillers offer a sense of urgency, continuity, and a feeling that more is at stake than whether our hero might possibly drink a martini that hasn’t been adequately shaken or stirred.
When the long running Bond series takes the rare occasion to lean in their British Secret Service agent, dig just a tiny bit under the surface and remind us that, while Bond is a brilliant agent, he’s also a flawed man with a conscience, the films in question soar. Goldfinger, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, The Spy Who Loved Me, License to Kill, Goldeneye, Casino Royale and Spectre offer refreshing, varying shades to the well established character. The stories succeeded as well as the stunt work.
From start to finish, Mendes gives this a mythic feel, as key confrontations feel earth-shaking (particularly the scenes with Dave Bautista’s henchman). The opening set piece is so fantastic (both in conception and in how it’s staged) that it’s clear we’re in the hands of an Oscar-winning filmmaker. The story may not stand up to scrutiny but it pulled me in and kept me hooked during the brisk 148-minute running time.
Monica Bellucci deserved more than a flashy cameo appearance but Seydoux has a good character to play and is a fine match for Craig. Waltz makes a deliciously nasty villain, whose hypnotic entrance is a stylishly nightmarish set piece.
I grew up with these movies, pop in my Best of Bond Music CD often and never hesitate to admit that Timothy Dalton is my favorite Bond (his appearance and deadly-serious interpretation are spot-on with Ian Fleming’s vision and an ahead of its time foreshadowing of Craig’s interpretation). Spectre is both a nod to classic Bond and a satisfying, necessary expansion of the established lore. It’s involving, larger than life and consistently awesome, as well as one of the best films in the history of the franchise.
There are welcome dollops of humor, as well as Craig allowing unguarded moments that humanize his icy take on 007. The big climax is conventional, with its chases and explosions anticipated by a digital clock counting down, but once the story’s end is reached, it feels like a satisfying conclusion, not merely to this movie but for the series as a whole.
As always, the end credits reveal “JAMES BOND WILL RETURN.” Yet, the conclusion the story reaches, for Bond and those around him, is so satisfying that I’d be content if this were the final 007 movie.