For many of us James Bond has been a constant. For more than 50 years a series of actors have taken on the role over the course of twenty-four officially sanctioned movies. He has been, by times a killer, a clown, a lover, a sinner and a saint. In “Spectre,” the latest edition of the Bond Follies, he is all those things and more.
The new film opens just days after the events of “Skyfall.” M (Judy Dench), Bond’s boss and confident, has been killed and 007 (Daniel Craig) is fulfilling her last request. He’s in Mexico City (just the first of many exotic locations in “Spectre’s” travelogue) to assassinate an Italian mobster through a crowded Dia De Los Muertos parade. It’s a wild scene—involving thousands of extras, helicopters, exploding building and a serious fall broken by a well-placed sofa—that sets the tone for the rest of the film; Big, loud and slightly silly.
Information gathered from the mobster’s widow (Monica Bellucci) leads Bond to Rome and a meeting of the super-duper, top-secret terrorist organization SPECTRE (Special Executive for Counter-intelligence, Terrorism, Revenge and Extortion) led by evil genius Oberhauser (Christoph Waltz).
Back in London the new M (Ralph Fiennes) is defending the 007 program from C (Andrew Scott), a bureaucrat who snidely says, “We’re going to bring British intelligence out of the dark ages and into the light.” In other words, on-the-ground agents and their licences to kill are about to be replaced with drones and high tech surveillance and security. The plan is to unite the defence systems of the world and dispense with Bond’s human touch.
Meanwhile Bond is still globetrotting, now with Madeleine Swann (Léa Seydoux) on his handsomely tailored arm. She’s the daughter of a former SPECTRE member and just might hold the key to infiltrating the organization.
“Spectre” is worth a look for the scenery alone, and no, I don’t just mean Daniel Craig’s Tom Ford suits or Monica Bellucci’s jewels. From Rome to Tangiers to Mexico City and beyond the movie is a parade of beautifully shot tourism brochure-ready landscapes.
The stuff that happens in front of those landscapes is worth a look too. Director Sam Mendes keeps the pedal to the metal, tossing out implausible plot twists and action scenes with great regularity. City blocks blow up, airplanes chase automobiles and, of course, the classic ticking bomb makes an appearance. As usual the body count is high and there’s even a wild areal fight sequence before no more than four lines of dialogue have been spoken.
There’s all that and a lighter tone then the other Craig Bonds. The grim-faced 007 has been replaced by a slightly-less grim faced Bond. Craig isn’t channelling Roger Moore or anything quite so broad, but there are laugh out loud moments as “Spectre” simultaneously plays up to and satirizes Bond stereotypes. In one scene Dr. Swann and Bond fall into a surprise embrace. In any other Bond movie they would kiss and tumble into bed. Here she says, “Don’t think for a moment this is where I fall into your arms,” effectively satirizing the Bond as lady-killer stereotype and making strides for Bond Girls everywhere.
Too bad there’s no such reinvention of the Bond villain. As Oberhauser Christoph Waltz is a bit of a dud. His backstory is interesting and he certainly has evil intent, but he comes across here more as a bully than a supervillain. Waltz doesn’t come close to the menace he brought to “Inglourious Basterds’” Col. Hans Landa. He’s barely in the film but casts a long shadow… a long shadow that could have been much darker.
If there is a message in “Spectre” it has to do with new versus old. C represents a dangerous future where drones and surveillance put enemies at arm’s length. M and Bond represent tradition, a more gentlemanly form of killing where you have to look into the eyes of the person you’re about to off. It seems to be asking if James Bond is of the past, a dinosaur. I’d say no, not as long as the 007 movies are as entertaining as this one.