There is a wonderful moment in Spectre when secret agent extraordinaire James Bond (Daniel Craig) finds himself in the hallowed halls of the former MI6 headquarters. As if strolling through a fun house of horror, one where his own image is plastered on shooting range targets, he passes by pictures of deceased friends and foes whose death he feels responsible for in some fashion or another. It is at this point where the film cements the reconstruct of its own lore and weaves together the strands of the Daniel Craig era into one thin quilt of continuity.
One of the things that struck me most about Craig’s run as 007 is the fact that there are personal stakes to each mission his Bond takes on. His superiors may see him as nothing more than a “blunt instrument” that kills on command, but it is his vulnerability that makes this rebooted James Bond such a compelling character. Similar to George Lazenby’s take on the character in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, my favourite of the Bond films, Craig’s Bond leads with his emotions, which can be as destructive as his fists.
It is one of the reasons I loved Skyfall so much, at the end of the day that film boiled down to two men who have taken vastly different paths in dealing with their respective parental issues. This theme is continued once again in Spectre – the villain this time around has daddy issues rather than mommy issues – but the film is more concerned with showing that, above all, Bond is a man whose word is his greatest strength. For him trust is the only safety net one needs in life.
The plot of the film involves Bond ignoring protocol, and honouring the wishes of his late boss M (Judi Dench), by travelling to Mexico to conduct an unauthorized hunt for a man named Marco Sciarra (Alessandro Cremona). Discovering that Sciarra’s octopus ring may hold the secret to uncovering a covert terrorist group, and not sure who he can trust, Bond goes on a rogue mission to expose the organization known as Spectre. Determined to get the information at all costs, Bond strikes up a deal with his old enemy Mr. White (Jesper Christensen). In exchange for protecting Mr. White’s daughter, Dr. Madeline Swann (Léa Seydoux), Bond will receive information which will hopefully bring him closer to Franz Oberhauser (Christoph Waltz), a man from his past who is supposed to be dead, but now sits high within the ranks of Spectre.
As Bond’s quest has him globetrotting around the world, his current boss M (Ralph Fiennes) must deal with a new superior C (Andrew Scott) who wants to dismantle the ‘00’ program in favour of a new high tech global surveillance system. If this all sounds a tad similar to Mission: Impossible – Rouge Nation, which was released a few months earlier, then it is clearly a happy coincidence. Considering the shifting nature of terrorism, and the overreaching measure that governments are trying to employ to counter them, it makes sense that these themes would be top of mind for both franchises. However, Spectre is so well-versed in the Bond universe that it smoothly distinguishes itself from its competitors.
Regardless of whether offering a plethora of loving call backs to classic Bond films, such as when Oberhauser plays gracious host to Bond and Swann in his dessert headquarters, or providing thrilling action sequences, like Bond’s fight with Mr. Hinx (Dave Bautista) on a train, Spectre is never short on entertainment. While Dr. Madeline Swann may not carry the instantaneous butt-kicking appeal of Rebecca Ferguson’s Ilsa Faust in Rogue Nation, she is easily the most memorable Bond girl since Vesper Lynd. Seydoux plays her with such confidence that Swann comes across as not only intelligent, but also able to handle herself with a weapon if need be.
While Spectre may not hit all the same high notes as Skyfall, though Hoyte Van Hoytema’s cinematography is equally as gorgeous, Sam Mendes still constructs a Bond film that is far more enjoyable than most are giving it credit for. Is it too long? Yes. Is Monica Bellucci’s Lucia Sciarra underused? Yes. However, these are minor quibbles in a film that delivered exactly what it sets out to. It is after all a Bond film; a world where the action is over-the-top and the villain’s motives for world domination are nonsensical at the best of times. Spectre provides all of this while still allowing Bond to have genuine stakes in the carnage rather than, like so many other Bond films, simply going through the motions.