Spectre is not, as some have boldly claimed, ‘the best Bond movie ever’.
But then, deciding on the ‘best Bond movie’ is like reaching a consensus on the best way to make a Martini: everyone’s got their own idea of how much of what you should slosh in, and whether to shake or stir (stir, always stir). But at the end of the day the ingredients are still the same.
And all the ingredients of a classic Bond outing are present and (almost) politically correct in Spectre.
It’s a celebratory cocktail of gadgets and globetrotting, but one sober enough to remember that Bond operates in the 21st century, where Bond girls are Bond women. And it’s not afraid to revisit Bond moments that have long since passed into parody.
When was the last time Bond was strapped into an elaborate torture machine? The World Is Not Enough? For Craig’s Bond at least, we’ve come a long way since the days of the seatless chair and the knotted rope.
Indeed, from the astonishing ambition of the pre-titles sequence onwards, Spectre puts into perspective how far Daniel Craig’s crash-bang super-spy has come since he was the bollocked half-monk, half-hitman in Casino Royale almost a decade ago.
He’s grown up – well, grown up as much as Albion’s alcoholic lethal man-child ever can – to become a man who enjoys his work. His corner-of-the-mouth smirk is his version of Moore’s eyebrow or Brosnan’s pout.
Craig may tolerate interviews like a man having a drill pushed into his skull, but for the first time his Bond seems entirely comfortable with who he is and what he does. So much so that he’s not above a joke or two.
Against that status quo, Spectre is a challenge to Bond’s comfort in the role of Her Majesty’s assassin, just as Skyfall was a challenge to Bond’s suitability to being a Double-0.
Officially, behind Whitehall’s doors, that challenge comes from Sherlock star Andrew Scott’s oleaginous ‘C’ and the dissolving of the 00-section in favour of an omniscient global surveillance that would have Edward Snowden shitting memory sticks.
Personally, it takes Bond into his past both as innocent and agent. Neither are particularly strong plot-lines, but where they truly engage is at their inevitable point of convergence. A point I think we all saw coming.
A point named Ernst Stavro Blofeld.
Spectre is a global paper-chase toward the mystery man whose identity we all guessed over a year ago following the least convincing Hollywood announcement since ‘Benedict Cumberbatch is playing a bloke called John Harrison’. But bloody hell, it’s fun.
And the film looks gorgeous. Sam Mendes’ directorial prints are all over this film. Once again London looks patriotically chilly, while everywhere beyond Blighty has its own distinct shade and flavour. You can practically feel the heat of Tangiers.
Much like Skyfall, as long as you only watch the villain’s plan out of the corner of your eye, it all hangs together, with each incredible action sequence feeling like a reward for your patience. And they are incredible. It speaks highly of the film when Bond’s Austrian plane/car chase feels like one of the less memorable moments.
Yet for all the collapsing buildings and car crashes, the most effective set-piece is one of its simplest and most old school, as Bond and Mr Hinx engage in a brutal fight on the North African train.
And it is breathtakingly brutal, the two crashing through carriages in a way that makes Moore’s fisticuffs against Jaws, or Connery’s tussle with Red Grant, look positively dainty. Fresh from his acting debut in Guardians of the Galaxy, Dave Bautista makes Hinx a perpetually throbbing knot of muscle who doesn’t so much appear on screen as charge at it until the camera retreats in terror.
And then after the physical beating by Hinx there’s the psychological hiding from Blofeld.
If you’re a fan of Christoph Waltz there are no surprises here. He portrays Blofeld with the glacial demeanour of a strange dentist, and the level of restraint you need for a megalomaniac with ludicrous power and ambition.
Even his reveal is done without fanfare. He’s so cool and still and solitary; a perfect foe for a kinetic Bond. It almost works against the character to have him as Bond’s half-brother. It stops him being as strange and sinister as Donald Pleasance’s Blofeld was. It’s an annoying and now tired trait of Craig’s tenure that everything has to be personal.
The family connection is unnecessary, just as it’s unnecessary for the film to retroactively construct a narrative for Craig’s tenure as Bond by picking up ends that aren’t loose and knotting them together to make the last four movies seem like a giant conspiracy against 007. As the film increasingly starts to bear the heft of its 148 minute running time and loses the pace of its ludicrously enjoyable first half, such details become dead weight.
Where Spectre‘s desire to give Bond’s life more context and meaning works is in the treatment of his everyone around him. Lea Seydoux feels like a fully realised character rather than the Bond girl who’s meant to be tough or vulnerable or a foil. She’s all of those things, yes, but she comes across as a person who is actually feeling those things rather than trying to be them.
Likewise the MI6 team seem like people with lives and stuff in their fridges, rather than ciphers for Bond to smirk at. Ben Whishaw’s cuddly Q is given plenty to do and nobody, save dear Desmond Llewelyn, could do it better.
It’s also nice to see that Naomie Harris’s Moneypenny actually has a life, and lover, and a sense of independence the character has never previously had. Even M doesn’t feel like a chore-dealing robot, but a man fighting for his country as passionately as Bond does, except he does it from behind a desk.
When they join together for the straightforward finale it’s an example of the old-fashioned, boots on the ground spy work that M consistently triumphs throughout.
Yet just as these characters have become fully-formed, there’s a risk that they’ll be taken away. What feels like a beginning for Blofeld also feels like an end for James Bond and company. Or at least Craig’s gristly take on him. The demolition of the old MI6 is filled with the symbolism of an era’s end.
If it is, then it’s a perfect end for Craig’s Bond; a spy who we’ve seen from pre Double-0 infancy right through to a point where he could pack it all in. because he’s got nothing left to prove. We’ve never seen that in a Bond before. Usually they just get balder and vanish. But Craig’s films have had an arc to them, self-contained from everything that has gone on before. Will he return for one more? It’s such a well-thought out end that you almost hope not.
Bond drives off into a postcard London, taking with him all the clichés we know him by. The Union flag, the Aston, the fanfare, and most importantly, the girl. We’ve got all the time in the world to think about them, and Bond’s future. At least until the cocktail gets shaken up again and we get the next film and, maybe, a new Bond, James Bond.
Released in UK cinemas on Monday 26 October 2015.
What did you think of Spectre? Let us know below…