DISCLAIMER: This is a discussion piece, I’m prone to ramble and, if I deem it relevant, I will include plot points from whatever I fancy that could be deemed spoilers. You’ve been warned, don’t eat the Snickers if you’re allergic to nuts.
Why are you asking me this? You already know if you’ll enjoy Spectre or not. Did you like Skyfall and Casino Royale? Then yes, you’ll like Spectre. If you just want me to pat you on the head and reassure you that it’s not Quantum of Solace then you’re okay, it’s not Quantum of Solace. What it is is a perfectly competent Daniel Craig as James Bond film. It has the usual smattering of guns, chases and a sprinkling of tension. Is it a cinematic masterpiece? No, it’s James Bond. I suppose you might also be here because you’ve seen it and need to be told what you think about it, that’s okay too. So, for those of you who haven’t seen it, here’s the review:
It’s more of the same. Perfectly competent and enjoyable, if the rest of the James Bond reboots are your bag. Is it better than Skyfall? No. Is it worse? Also no. It’s not a must-see or a masterpiece, but a better way to spend a couple of hours than pretending to do housework.
Now for those who have seen it, or who don’t care about going in blind, scroll down past the sexy man and we’ll get to the real talk.
Okay, so you’ve dared move on beyond the big sexy man, which means you’re ready for me to discuss this plot in detail. To be perfectly honest with you, if you’re even slightly genre savvy there aren’t really any spoilers I can give you. Oh, sure, the plot has twists, but they’re obvious a mile away. For example, to nobody’s great surprise, the officious bureaucrat pushing the shady total surveillance network and wanting to shut down the 00 programme turned out to be working with the bad guy. Stop the presses, my mind just burst from my newly shattered skull. In all seriousness, though, were you really expecting anything else?
But Bond has never been about plot twists or surprises, has it? Not really. James Bond is about a suave man with cool gadgets being cool. That we have, in spades. The film opens with the usual mini-plot set piece, this time set during Mexico’s Day of the Dead festival. Big panning shots of flashy parades before sweeping the camera down to follow a man in a skull mask and a white suit, then on to a man in a skull mask and a black suit, this one with bones on. Follow the black, bony man and the woman on his arm until it turns out that this man is Mr. Bond himself and the man in the white suit is a nasty man who needs to get shot. Minutes later, buildings are exploding and a helicopter is doing some low flying aerobatics over a crowded plaza, with a walking chase through a crowd in the middle to calm us down. As always, this opening bit is a microcosm of the film itself – lots of exciting action with some slow bits in between, all of it probably horrifically expensive.
Now, before we go any further, let’s get two messy bits out of the way. Personal opinions and comparisons to Skyfall. I like Craig’s James Bond. I find it refreshing that it makes no bones about the fact that he’s a deeply flawed and damaged individual whilst not letting that fact distract from him doing all the James Bond shenanigans we came to see. It’s also good that he straight up admits that he’s an assassin. Not a spy, not a secret agent, but a hired gunman. That’s my jam, maybe yours is plum, but mine’s apricot so that’s how this is going to taste. As for the inevitable Skyfall comparison, well, I personally rank Casino Royale, Skyfall and Spectre basically equal. Skyfall just had the huge advantage of following the runt of the litter, Quantum of Solace, and, as such, seems much better by comparison. Skyfall also probably has the best acting of the set in Judi Dench and Javier Bardem, but since when did we go to a Bond flick to watch actors do the acting thing? We’re there for the special effects and flashy gizmos and, in that respect, they’re all about equal.
So I promised to talk about the plot, not that there’s anything here you didn’t see in the trailer. As with many modern films, the plot’s more complicated than is, strictly speaking, necessary, but not too overwrought (you’ll need to pay attention to a couple of details though or some bits will catch you out of left field). That first mini-plot I mentioned is the start of the main thread, Bond goes rogue. See, that mission to Mexico to kill the dude in the white suit wasn’t a mission from MI6, it’s unfinished business from the previous M. So Bond gets grounded like the naughty boy he is, but before long we’re in Italy with a stolen, well-kitted-out Aston Martin.
It is here that we stumble upon the grand conspiracy: a Masonic sort of thing with shifty looking, morally dubious people having the mother of all board meetings and all wearing matching creepy signet rings. Now I’m not kidding when I call this “the grand conspiracy”, because this is the final boss, the one the villains of Casino Royale, Quantum of Solace and Skyfall were all working for. Of course, the trailer spoiled that with our diabolical mastermind whispering “I’m the author of all your pain” whilst their mugshots flashed up on screen. But that’s getting ahead of ourselves. Right now, we’re watching a man I shall call “Ser Gregor” pull an Oberyn Martell on the first idiot who applied for the white suit’s now vacant spot. For those who don’t know what I just said, he crushes the man’s head with his bare hands in the first of our two torture moments, that’s a 12a rating for you in 2015 folks. Ser Gregor then gets in his flash car to chase Bond in his flash car through the streets of Rome.
From here on out the film continues much a muchness. A bit of plot then a set-piece, a bit of plot then a set-piece. I’m not going to give you a blow-by-blow of the entire thing, that would get old fast and, if you’ve read down this far, I’m going to assume you’ve already seen the film anyway. Suffice to say that Spectre follows the audience interest curve (see my article on horror if you don’t know what that is) pretty much bang on form, although add an extra few dips and troughs for the sheer length of it, two and a half hours is a long film whichever way you slice it. I’m not sure if it’s just a quirk of the genre or just a sad fact that the dips on the curve are where the plot occurs.
Now, you might recall that I said that you’d need to pay attention to a couple of details or some things would catch you out of left field? No? Oh dear, you’re going to need to do better than that. It’s weird that in a film that is, let’s be frank, dumb, shooty, explody fun they throw in a couple of rather subtle points early on that will become important in the finale. This is hardly something special, the trope’s called “Chekhov’s Gun” if you want to look it up on TV Tropes, but for a film with this run time and little emphasis on plot, as befits Bond, it felt a little out of place, and I know for a fact that one in particular (the old MI6 building is condemned and due to be demolished) caught a few people out. Most of this happens during the side plot known as “The Thrilling Tales of M and his Assistant”, which cover the 9 Eyes project and, whilst important to the plot, feel unimportant to the film. M and his assistant never fly a plane through a barn, that’s all I’m saying.
And so, as I draw this article to a close, we shall discuss the ending of Daniel Craig’s tenure as 007. As I said earlier I’ve rather enjoyed this Bond reboot. It reminds me of what happened to comics in the 90s: everything was a bit twee so someone decided to make things darker and grittier and it all sold rather well. I think Spectre and its ending are a fitting farewell for Craig, setting the series up to adopt that old fan theory of “James Bond is just 007’s codename” with Craig’s successor as Craig’s character retires at film’s end. What happens with the next Bond remains to be seen, I for one wouldn’t mind a small shift back towards the more tongue-in-cheek nature of the Bond that Pierce Brosnan portrayed prior to the reboot, though not a wholehearted shift back that way. The Craig films were always at their best when things weren’t all seriousness all the time, the Rome car chase in Spectre being a perfect example of this. When you have villains like Spectre‘s (a little bit of fanservice of the benign kind), a genuine, full-blown, balls-to-the-wall, old school evil genius, you can’t really say you’re going for gritty realism can you?
So that’s what I think of Spectre. I dislike numerical ratings (although I am obliged by the eleven gods of the journalistic pantheon to sacrifice that ideal upon the altar of audience appeal, as you saw before the big sexy man picture), so allow me to instead reiterate the brief summary here to close us out.
Spectre delivers exactly what you expect it to deliver and, as such, will likely find itself receiving harsher criticism than I believe hindsight will conclude it warranted. If nothing else, it is a fitting end to Daniel Craig as James Bond and I’d recommend catching it at your convenience if you’ve liked any of his other films. Due to its nature as a finisher, I wouldn’t start with it if you haven’t seen the films that preceded it.
If you liked this style of review let me know in the comments, along with any requests or recommendations new or old (no guarantee I’ll do it though). Also if there’s anything I missed, or you have questions, fire them my way and I’ll find some space to cover them – maybe a full film analysis or some such if you ask Father Christmas really nicely.
WORDS: JAMES ARNOLD