2015/ UK, USA
Director: Sam Mendes
Starring: Daniel Craig, Christoph Waltz, Léa Seydoux, Ralph Fiennes, Monica Bellucci, Ben Whishaw, Naomie Harris, Dave Bautista
Words: J. Senior
THE DEAD ARE ALIVE
This text ident at the start of Spectre the 24th entry in the James Bond franchise is actually a rather telling statement, and one which informs the majority of events in this film thereafter. Sam Mendes’ second, and last James Bond outing is not a film to be forgotten easily. And yet again, the director uses the tried and tested spy format to try and tell a story with more depth and anguish than ever before, whilst also sticking to the character’s roots and providing a gleeful celebration in all things 007. As Bond digs deeper into the sinister organisation known as SPECTRE you almost feel the fun factor escalating up to a rip-roaring 11.
If Skyfall was a good film with James Bond as the central character then Spectre is really just a good Bond film all round. Up until 2012 Daniel Craig’s Bond had been somewhat impressive but had seemed too far removed from his own fictional world, he was slightly too grounded in reality and the character felt adrift in an ocean of mediocrity. Casino Royale was a good start for the character’s regeneration, but the attempt to go one better with Quantum of Solace simply alienated Bond in a way which hadn’t been seen since Never Say Never Again. Without the staple of characters around Bond like M, Moneypenny, Q and some recurring villains, he was alone in a rather dull and uninteresting narrative world. Quantum, was probably intended to become Spectre, however it was so un-villainous by the end of that film that the franchise nearly stalled altogether. Skyfall brought Bond back to the table, introduced our supporting cast and a few nods to Bonds past. However, while it was fantastic, it still wasn’t quiet a James Bond film. Undeniably beautifully shot and high on intrigue, but lacking that balance between the darker and lighter sides of the character fans had been missing.
Spectre rectifies this from the get go. Daniel Craig finally seems to be enjoying his role here. He is able to switch from moments of humour and transition easily into an aggressive intensity at a moments notice. This is the real selling point of the film. It isn’t all doom and gloom, you can enjoy yourself whilst also being taken along for the ride that the plot whisks you away on. The film is high on action, dark and gritty but also takes time to play for laughs as well. Bond is at his best when he doesn’t take himself too seriously and it’s a joy to behold seeing Craig slowly realise this.
In the age of the shared universe and other MCU like iterations it’s easy to forget that James Bond has slotted in with this popular trait on the back of Skyfall. Spectre trades off of the latter’s strong character work and with a returning cast starts to expand its net further by bringing back the infamous Mr. White from Craig’s other Bond outings and introducing us to Dave Bautista’s solemn Mr. Hinx, who is sure to play a part in any future James Bond movies to come. Christoph Waltz’s big reveal in the film will also completely alter the course of Bond in the 21st Century. With such limited screen time his impact cannot be understated and will most definitely cause a seismic shift in any narratives going forward. James Bond’s world is now populated by a wide array of characters that mean different things to him, no longer the lone wolf, this Bond now runs with the pack. With friends, enemies and multiple Bond girls to boot.
Belluci is the woeful stereotype, whereas Seydoux the stark opposite of female stereotypes in Bond films. Striking a nice balance in gender power roles. You win some you lose some I guess?
Sam Mendes does well to also note that James Bond, no matter how entertaining, Bond has other effects on its audience than just escapism. He also uses these films as a political platform. Bond is a political symbol, the symbol of how Britain conducts itself in international affairs and how it shapes the world around it. Spectre takes time to criticise surveillance culture and also the privatisation of stoic British institutions. Andrew Scott’s C is attempting to privatise national security and is ear-marked from the off as a threat not only to Bond but the 00-programme entirely. Mendes outlining here the dangers of trusting international corporations with the running of our most beloved institutions whilst also weighing in on the post- Snowden debate at the same time. His James Bond films have been wonderfully self aware and have said much about the world around them taking on another level of depth and intelligence often lacking in big budget movies.
The pay off with Spectre is that it really leaves you wanting more. By its end we have a resolution to Bond’s personal arc in the film but are left with so many open plot threads that another Daniel Craig helmed 007 adventure is not an unthinkable notion at all. Whether he stays or goes there is no denying him this film’ success. It does however feel like a fitting send off, Spectre somewhat compiles all of his Bond films into one narrative and attempts to bring them under one cohesive plot. Craig could comfortably do more, but why would he or should he?
The interesting thing about characters like this is the Doctor Who like regeneration that takes place when a new actor takes on the role. Spectre ends in such a way that if say Damien Lewis, Michael Fassbender or Idris Elba were to assume the role of Bond they’d be well placed to take the character onto new ground, with a new set of motives and conflicts whilst keeping the character within his newly established world.
The dead are alive… messages and faces from Bond’s past arise to push him forward and drag him down. Craig’s Bond may have been firing bullets and tackling bad guys in his own Bond swan song, his character’s cinematic death. For better of for worse, we now have a Bond franchise that no longer rests of the laurels of one actor, director or creator. We have a rapidly accelerating James Bond juggernaut. If Daniel Craig is about to step off, I can’t wait to see who climbs on to take the wheel next.