Welcome back to James Bond Overdose. The powers that be have seen fit to grace us with yet another entry in the Bond canon, and let me tell you, the wait has been worth it. SPECTRE is a gorgeous throwback to the classic Bond we all know and love, full of nods to previous Bond films, but presented in new and startling ways that really work well.
While MI6 is involved in a convoluted government reorganization that has M (Ralph Fiennes) facing off against the haughty Max Denbigh (Andrew Scott) who wants the 00 program to be dissolved, James Bond (Daniel Craig) is following a trail of leads that will take him face to face with a figure from his past, Franz Oberhauser (Christoph Waltz). Along the way, he meets Madeleine Swan (Léa Seydoux), daughter of longtime foe Mr. White (Jesper Christensen). Aided by Q (Ben Whishaw) and Moneypenny (Naomie Harris), Bond uncovers the existence of a monumental crime organization whose influence stretches back all the way to Bond’s childhood (three guesses as to that organization’s name).
It’s a slower-paced Bond film that feels much more like a detective mystery. It takes its time to unfold, but the payoff is delightfully satisfying. Don’t worry, though; there are still enough gadgets, fights, chases, witty comebacks, and explosions to satisfy any die-hard Bond fan. The fight choreography is wonderful, and one such encounter between Bond and Huge Henchman, Hinx, is a wonderful throwback to the Connery and Moore eras.
Following on the heels of the incredible Skyfall, I was worried this one wouldn’t be able to live up to it. And while I think the two are pretty evenly matched, both films find strength in different places. It may not surpass Skyfall, but it is able to find its own wonderful voice. If I had one complaint, it would be that the film is predictable in parts, but it’s the sort of predictability that causes long time fans to jump up and down in their seats going, “Just watch, he’s going to say the thing!” It’s a Bond film, and it doesn’t pretend to be anything else.
The cast is wonderful. M, Moneypenny, and Q continue to win my undying devotion. Especially Q. I didn’t think anyone could replace Desmond Llewellyn, but Ben Whishaw’s character is probably one of my favorite Bond characters now. I’m glad we get to see more of Naomie Harris, too. She feels so much more like an actual person rather than the Innuendo Sounding Board she sadly was so often reduced to in the older films. And Ralph Fiennes is a marvelous M, filling Judi Dench’s shoes wonderfully. His take on the character reminds me of Bernard Lee in his earliest Bond films. He’s prickly and imposing, but you can’t help but appreciate his cool demeanor and quick dark humor.
Madeleine is an able female lead. She’s strong and self-assured and only feels damselly in one scene. But she makes up for it with some great moments later on. She and Bond have really great chemistry, and I love how she is really developed as a character, and not just window dressing. I know we won’t see her again, but I would love to see her get recruited by MI6 or something. *wishful thinking*
I’m also a massive Christoph Waltz fan. I wish he’d gotten more screen time, but it’s probably for the better. His character is like a good wine: to be savored, not chugged. Oberhauser is just wonderful. Waltz clearly understands the James Bond aesthetic so well that I have no doubt that he would be just as at home in a Connery-era story.
I also want to shower director Sam Mendes with praise for the film’s visual style. I adored the gorgeous tracking shot that opens the film, and the play with focus and focal points that is used throughout really pulls the audience into the landscape of the frames, especially in one scene between Bond and the gorgeous Lucia (Monica Bellucci) where the camera keeps only her anguished face in focus even though the real action is happening in the unfocused background. Just marvelous.
Lastly, I want to talk about the music. Thomas Newman’s score is colorful, multilayered, and gorgeous, and it seems to have matured into itself since his work on Skyfall. It feels much more Bond-onian this time around. I would never have pegged Newman (who has scored such films as American Beauty, Finding Nemo, and Saving Mr. Banks) as being able to pull off the bold brassy confidence of a Bond score, but he does fantastically. And he still leaves room in the score for the introspective, psychologically rich music he excels at.
The opening credits, designed by Daniel Kleinman (who, you’ll remember, has been with us since the credits for GoldenEye) are surreal and entertaining, but perhaps not as satisfyingly structured as Skyfall‘s. The octopus motif (based on the SPECTRE logo) is used to beautiful effect (Octopussy would be proud) and I like how it sort of tells a story rather than being just images for the sake of images. Also, the title sequence really brings Sam Smith’s song, “Writing’s On The Wall” to life. When I first heard it on its own, I found that it was beautiful but didn’t think it was bold enough to really carry the opening credits of a Bond film, but when paired with Kleinman’s visuals, it really soars well. It’s like Smith is making love to an orchestra and not rushing a single thing. It’s more restrained than Adele’s Oscar-winning predecessor, but it fits the mood of the film very well. I have since readjusted my opinion of the song and may or may not have been listening to it on repeat…maybe.
All in all, it’s an operatic entry in the canon that, surprisingly, stays away from melodramatic emotion or sentimentality. The script is tightly written and the many thematic arcs resolve themselves well. The mystery unfolds at a great pace, and the characters shine beautifully. The moments of explosive bombast are tempered by scenes of quiet contemplation and simmering tension, and the whole thing is just so darn pretty to look at.
Random Observations (with spoilers redacted)
-the gunbarrel sequence is back in the beginning!! Eeeee!
-Craig pulls off (and pulls off, hehe) suits better than I’ll ever hope to, and even a skeleton suit, which should look goofy, just looks achingly good on him. ‘Tis unfair.
-Opening credits! So many tentacles… I love the flashbacks to previous movies like what they did for On Her Majesty’s Secret Service.
-Q! I love how his laptop is covered in fun stickers.
-M is really able to completely dominate his office the way Bernard Lee did, even if he’s just sitting there, he fills the whole room.
-Moriarty!! Well…not Moriarty…but that is how I will always see him.
-Lots of globetrotting in this one.
-Dave Bautista looks extremely adorable with a beard… He’s supposed to be this big terrifying henchman a la Jaws and Oddjob, but he looks like such a good guy…until he starts going all Smash Smash on Bond, I guess…
-BE NICE TO THE PRETTY CAR!
-HOLY [redacted for spoilers].
-Aaaaaaah! The [redacted for spoilers]
-YAAAAAAAASSSS!!!! [Explanation redacted for spoilers]
-They don’t end the movie in a boat, sadly. It seems that tradition has fallen by the wayside… *kicks rocks*
Alright, alright, I’ll leave haha. See you next week!