I had been looking forward to Daniel Craig’s fourth Bond movie Spectre for some time. So I made a point of going to the first available show on the first night it was on.
For the most part my review below will stay clear of major plot spoilers. However I will reference scenes if they have been shown in the various trailers. And there are probably one or two mild spoilers below.
The movie opens at the Day of the Dead carnival in Mexico City with what must be the most complex opening shot they have done on a Bond movie. In a long single shot the camera pans over crowds of people in costume and then closes in on what turns out to be Bond wearing a macabre skull mask. The camera follows him into a building and then onto the roof where some mayhem will soon follow.
Actually it looks like the shot was done in at least three segments and seamlessly joined together to make one longer shot. But it’s still damn impressive and thrilling to watch.
As seen in the trailer Bond was on an unauthorised mission to Mexico City and when we find out why it’s a nice little bit of business. He then enlists Moneypenny and Q to help him as he continues his off-the-books mission to Rome where he meets the Monica Bellucci character. Much has been made of her being a Bond girl at 50 and also that she’s not actually in the movie that much. But she plays her roll well as someone who fatalistically knows her days are numbered.
This leads us to one of my favourite scenes in the movie: the “Boardroom scene” that has been shown in the trailers. Here rich and powerful men and women are meeting in a dimly lit room to discuss their criminal enterprises in business speak. It is a genuinely creepy and menacing scene. It’d say it’s is one of the best “villain introduction” scenes done in a Bond movie. Ever. It makes the concept of an organisation like Spectre all too horribly plausible.
As well as a glimpse of Christop Waltz’s character Oberhauser we also get a introduced to Dave Bautista’s character Mister Hinx. He will keep popping up to plague Bond through the course of the move. Bautista is great casting as he makes the character feels like a real threat to Bond.
It’s Hinx that chases Bond in the movie’s main set piece car chase through the streets of Rome. Bond of course is in the new Aston Martin DB10. I’m not sure why but the car chase seemed a little bit flat to me and lacking jeopardy.
Also seen in the trailers was the reappearance of Mister White from Casino Royale and Quantum of Solace. I always enjoyed Jesper Christiansen as one of the best things in those two movies so it’s nice to seem him return and with a different dynamic with Bond.
Around the mid-point of the movie Lea Seydoux appears. She plays Madeleine Swann who is the main “Bond girl” of Spectre and has information that Bond needs to get to the mysterious organisation he has encountered. She is initially distrustful of Bond and wants nothing to do with him. Of course they end up working together. I have to say she’s one of my favourite Bond girls in ages. It’s always going to be hard to top Eva Green as Vesper in Casino Royale but Lea is very good.
Another of my favourite scenes is one featuring a fight on a train. These train fights have been done quite a few times in Bond movies ever since From Russia With Love set the benchmark. However I think it’s been a while since one has been included. This is a brutal fight between Bond and his ongoing foe Mister Hinx. Initially the fight unfolds without music which emphasises the impact of each punch. But the lack of music here is also a nice respite. I’ll have more to say about the music later on.
As glimpsed in the trailers this Spectre has a proper old-school secret base where they are orchestrating their global mayhem. Here Bond finally encounters his nemesis and I’ll say no more about that. However I will mention a torture scene that I think had most members of the audience squirming a bit.
So the first three-quarters of the movie is very strong. There are a good number of global locations visited and lots of efficiently done action. Plus I found the partnership between Bond and Swann very pleasing.
Then we come to the London-based climax. I don’t what to say anything about what the villain’s plot was but I will say it was painfully obvious to me from very early in the movie what it was going to be. It’s almost as if the writers weren’t even trying to hide it. And maybe they weren’t. But in case it was supposed to be a surprise I will say no more.
But in terms of the action in those London-set climatic sequences I do have to admit as it went along it started feeling, well… Perhaps just a little bit… silly. The implausibility factor really started kicking into play. Which is a pity as the Daniel Craig movies have always seemed to err just about on the side of plausibility for the most part.
Having said that I am reminded that a Bond movie called Diamonds Are Forever exists and this movie really can’t out-silly that one.
On an Ian Fleming related note there is a nice little nod to the James Bond short story The Hildebrand Rarity. I wonder if perhaps the makers are setting up the use of that title for a future movie.
Other than the slightly silly ending and the super-obvious villain’s plot my main criticism of the movie regards the music. At best it is serviceable but at worse it’s really quite poor. Thomas Newman doesn’t provide any actual theme for the movie. Plus he lifts whole chunks of his Skyfall soundtrack and drops them in. It’s either the height of laziness or the result of a compressed post-production schedule.
This is disappointing as the trailers had very impressive music. The second trailer in particular had that wonderful arrangement of John Barry’s theme for On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. I had high hopes that this movie might adopt that theme for some of the action sequences, but alas we get generic noisy movie music to accompany the action scenes. That’s why I was pleased that the train fight had no music. Because honestly I think no music is actually better than the music in this movie.
There are a number of callbacks to Daniel Craig’s previous entries in the series. For example there are some images used in the opening credits to link Spectre to its predecessors. Also there are nods to the earlier movies peppered through the running time.
Overall Spectre feels like the closest the makers have come to a classic Bond movie since the original Sean Connery films. It actually feels like a 1960s Bond movie updated for the 21st century in the style of Daniel Craig’s Bond. It actually feels a little bit like a Bond movie happening in the real world, if that makes sense. So you have some of the fantastical elements done with a little bit of grit as opposed to feeling like pure film fantasy.
Well, until the final act and some of the silly stuff happens.
So overall I rate Spectre highly. Perhaps 4/5.
Just to round things off I’ll quickly summarise the other Daniel Craig movies so you can see how it compares.
Casino Royale remains the best for me as it had a whole Ian Fleming novel to use as the basis for the story structure. Plus Eva Green as Vesper is one of the best Bond girls ever, if not the best ever. Witness Bond and Vesper with their verbal parrying on the train. And Mads Mikkelsen as Le Chiffre is the best villain featured in a Bond movie for a very long time.
Quantum of Solace is the much unloved ugly duckling of the Daniel Craig movies. The editing is frenetic, it’s shockingly short and there’s almost too much action for the curtailed running time. But there are inspired moments when it tries to do things a Bond movie has never done before. I love the arty intercutting between the gunfight and what is happening onstage at the opera for example. Personally I’ve become very fond of it despite its flaws and it’s a favourite of mine. But I’ll accept that most people will put it at the bottom of their list.
Finally Skyfall was critically and commercially acclaimed. It’s a fine movie but I find it very hard to love. There’s something about it that I can’t connect with. I feel distant from the characters and what is happening on screen. And don’t get me started on the plot holes. For example, let’s have a showdown with Silva in the middle of nowhere. And. Not. Bring. Any. Guns. So personally I think that one is vastly overrated.