Spectre is the 24th addition to the Bond franchise and, sadly, Daniel Craig’s final appearance as Mr.Bond. The film takes its name from a secret criminal organization, as no Bond movie can be complete without a powerful evil to oppose the good. The audience learns that this organization is responsible for producing every villain that Craig-era Bond has ever fought, guided by the chillingly evil hands of Franz Oberhauser (Christoph Waltz). As he explains to a captive Bond late in the film: “It’s always been me, James, the author of all your pain.”
In this lies the root of the predominant issue—the creation of a Bond “universe.” For filmmakers, gone are the days of one-hit-wonder blockbusters. Current cinema bears witness to strange happenings: prequels, sequels, two-part films and the incestuous overlapping of series (@Marvel). This fiscally driven agenda only serves to contribute to the arc mentality fad in which films can no longer survive with just a single plot line.
The Bond character that was excellently revived by the 1995 hit Goldeneye director Martin Campbell in Casino Royale—what is referred to commonly as the shining star of Craig-era Bond—seems diminished under Spectre director Sam Mendes’s attempt to tie the films together in a cinematic arc. Bond is a character not meant to settle down or reveal insight as to his orphaned childhood. He is an international man of mystery who should remain (duh) mysterious! Spectre brings closure to this character in an uncharacteristic method of nostalgia inducing connections to previous films with a constant circling back that was reminiscent of a dog chasing its own tail. James Bond does not chase tail (in the canine sense, at least). As put so adeptly by Christopher Orr of The Atlantic: “Bond is best left a cypher, beyond the realm of causal psychology.”
This sense of feeling and vulnerability was something also shared in Sam Smith’s Writing’s on the Wall, the official commissioned theme song for the film. Written from Bond’s perspective, the song incorporates “a touch of vulnerability from Bond, where you see into his heart a little bit,” according to Smith in an interview with NPR.
This effort to connect too many different aspects led to a movie considered drawn out by current standards—a whopping 2 hours and 30 minutes. According to former Bond actor Pierce Brosnan, “I thought it was too long. The story was kind of weak—it could have been condensed. It kind of went on too long. It really did.”
This being said, Spectre is not without its redeeming qualities. It is my belief that Spectre’s Bond demonstrates a careful balance between an evolved modern gentleman and the babe spanking , gadget-laden secret agent of yesteryear. It would be a mistake to completely phase out the “classic” Bond we experience just enough of in Spectre, for instance in his early on “romantic encounter” with the newly widowed Lucia Sciarra (Monica Bellucci). I am by no means saying that this sexist scene is morally correct, but it harkens back to the black and white roots of classic cinematic character.
At the same time, however, this duality is balanced most apparently with the character Madeleine Swann (Léa Seydoux), who appears as an empowered “Bond-girl” that would satisfy even the staunchest feminist. As the estranged daughter of Quantum of Solace baddie, Mr. White (Jesper Christensen), Madeleine is tough, smart, self-motivated, tactically capable and independent—she doesn’t need Bond nearly as much as Bond needs her. As the daughter of a professional villain, she understands Bond in a way nobody else could. Pushing further against the classic “Bond-girl” mold, she survives her time with Bond, a sharp contrast to Shirley Eaton’s character in Goldfinger and more recently Vesper Lynd (Eva Green) in Casino Royale.
While the film struggled to find a balance in its meta storyline and length, Spectre is by no means a slouch in the cinematography department. The film commences with an exquisite tracking shot that follows Bond through Mexico City on The Day of the Dead to carry out an assassination. I can’t undersell this scene—it’s beautiful and perhaps my favorite part of the past few movies along with the revival of the classic Bond car—the Aston Martin DB5. I can’t say I haven’t enjoyed the recent multitude of use for this particular cinematic emphasis either, which, to my delight, was used more recently in an episode of Game of Thrones.
Additionally, a wonderful, well done car chase takes place in the tight, cobblestone Roman streets between Bond in his Aston Martin DB10 and Mr. Hinx, a Spectre assassin, in a Jaguar CX75. Drawing clear parallels to Steve McQueen’s iconic chase from Bullit, the chase is an instant classic; it's exciting, indulgent and will undoubtedly be remembered fondly as one of the greats.
All these things are terrific and allowed for a perfectly enjoyable viewing experience, but that arc mentality “itch” remained consistently apparent throughout the duration of the film. While it doesn’t quite stack up against Casino Royale, in my opinion, Spectre was still an adequate conclusion to an era of Bond that will be sorely missed.