“There is a spectre haunting Europe. The spectre of…” James Bond apparently. And it’s quite a good one, although not without its faults.
Spectre is an excellent midway sort of James story. This is not to dismiss the film as a filler – it isn’t – but it does rely on at least a basic knowledge of the prequels to fully appreciate the plot. That being said, it was quite well-paced, although that pace could be described most effectively as “smooth but at times mildly disjointed” – you found yourself comfortably transported around the plot (and the globe), but the plot feels less like a plausible narrative and more like a series of events engineered to bring Bond and the audience from point to point.
The story is classic Bond, but with a modern edge and grit. With the villainous Spectre organisation reanimated from the older Bond films, there is a classic touch (even the white cat makes an unexpected appearance). This is the highly modern issue of surveillance and the role that plays in our everyday lives, and its ideology. Spectre manages to balance these two factors very well, with enough room for small surprises.
From the opening gun barrel sequence, it was clear that Spectre was recalling the older Bond films, and there are brief moments of levity through the use of one-liners and slapstick – a nice reminder of the campiness of the originals, and what made them so fun. The action sequences are also glorious: there’s a hand to hand fight in a helicopter, a protracted car chase through the streets of Rome, complete with car flamethrowers, and a scene in which Bond chases three cars across the Austrian snow in a plane.
The script explores the theme of faces and familiarity in the film, and although there was some tense moments that could have been explored further, it felt superficial – perhaps because it was leaning too heavily on the other movies in the Daniel Craig era. Another issue that could have been explored further was James Bond’s family and past, something which was a huge part of Skyfall but was a little neglected here. It definitely relies on Skyfall for some of its plot points and emotional hits.
Top marks go to the production values: Spectre boasts a budget of around $300 million and it shows. From the colourful Mexican Day of the Dead parade to the vast Austrian mountain landscapes, it felt like Bond was on a high-stakes holiday. There’s also the opulent man-made oasis in the Moroccan desert; the glass tower on the Thames, dark Roman streets, and a ruined 1950’s citadel.
Christoph Waltz as Oberhouser was an excellent, understated villain – a change from the overly dramatic Silva in Casino Royale or even the killer Mr White in Quantum of Solace or Le Chiffe in Casino Royale. Lead ‘Bond Girl’ Dr Madeline Swann (Léa Seydoux) was a pleasant change from some of the earlier ‘Bond Girls’ insofar as she was capable of pulling her weight as opposed to being a perpetual damsel in distress. There’s added intrigue as she’s the daughter of Mr. White. Naomie Harris (Moneypenny), Ralph Fiennes (M), and Ben Whishaw (Q) all make for an excellent supporting cast, and Andrew Scott is also an appropriately unlikeable antagonist C, the performance reminiscent of his excellent turn as Moriarty in Sherlock.
Overall, Spectre is overshadowed by Skyfall, and feels like a part of a series rather than a standalone film – at least compared to the other Daniel Craig Bond films. It does feel a little more style than substance, but it’s still another decent Bond film that can hold its own in the James Bond oeuvre.