A Dead Man’s Game: A Review of Spectre

Spectre (2015)

Spectre (2015)

This review will contain spoilers for Spectre

James Bond has always been a dead man.

Ever since he took out his first goon, in Dr No, without breaking a sweat, you knew, that James Bond could only ever be, a dead man. He’s a man with a mark on his head. He’s tried, and failed to make a life for himself, but he’s always been pulled back in by the life that he tried to leave, and the repercussions of his past actions.

Whereas the previous 40 odd years of Bond have been content in contained stories, Villain, Girl, Car, the Craig era has, more than any other, aimed to build a world, and create an overarching story that makes Bond a character, rather than a caricature. There are still the monologuing villains, female conquests and fast cars, that have been in there since the beginning, but they’ve been made more modern, tougher and less silly, respectively.

Since Casino Royale burst onto our screens, shedding the cartoonishness, and raised eyebrows of its predecessors, instead creating a darker, grittier world, the Bond films have been about something. Whilst previous series entries have had political undertones, such as the cold war and such, these modern outings have focused on Bond himself, his relationships and his increasing mortality.

The new Bond era has been brought firmly down to the ground, and while some people might be pining for the sillier days of double taking pigeons and submersible crocodiles, it’s clear that, for now, not only is this edge making the franchise just as popular, it also appears to be here to stay, and I can’t see Bond ever really going back to its bad habits.

Spectre not only make reference to the past three films, connecting in their individual plots, to make it a satisfying overarching story, but it continues to delve into the world weariness of James Bond and his often evident death wish. Since the loss of Vesper in Casino Royale, Bond has been stony faced, even through a smile, he’s hiding the tougher edges behind his, seen it all, eyes.

Now, much like The Doctor in Doctor Who, he is faced with the images of all those who have died around him, Vesper, M and Mr White, the father of his current companion, Madeleine Swann. Like Skyfall, he is also meeting his past, reconnecting with pieces of his history that he’s avoided for some time, and so things are continually more personal than usual.

The Craig era was initially a prequel, now it’s become its own thing. A re-do of sorts, because in this, Bond isn’t aware of Spectre. Now, as the Double-0 programme faces extermination from all powerful surveillance loving bureaucrat Denbigh, played by Andrew Scott, it’s up to Bond to find his place in the world, and find peace with his own troubled past, and save the day, basically.

Uber spoilers from this point on. Beware.

Does Bond die? No, but neither does Blofeld. How can he?. He’s the spy’s greatest nemesis, and like Moriarty, The Master and countless others, he always has to come back for more. During 60’s/70’s era of Bond, he came back for 3 films in a row (different actor in each mind), followed by a bizarre faceless pre-credits cameo 6 films later, in which he gets dropped down a chimney, never to be heard of again.

Bond began Skyfall supposedly dead, in this he starts out in the middle of Mexico’s Day of the Dead festival, before wanting to disappear, much like the off the grid strategy of Skyfall’s finale. He’s a man who reeks of death. He causes it, he wants it, he surrounds himself in it. The festival or the funeral, this is a film where Bond is concerned with death in a big way. Even though you know he’s never going to die, it’s always an interesting story to watch an immortal man confronting his mortality, and with the ghosts of his past coming back to haunt him, there’s an urgency to him needing to find peace.

Skyfall was one of my favourite films of 2012, and one of my favourite films ever, so Spectre has a huge deal of expectation to manage, for me and for everyone. Is it a success then? Well, broadly yes. Spectre has the same tangible style, delirious action and warm Britishness that made Skyfall so fantastic, yet it isn’t quite as good as the 2012 hit.

Firstly the plot is back to being as unmemorable as ever, it’s Bond playing connect the dots on an international level, whereas Skyfall had a great sense of home, and played a story of revenge. It also closely resembles some of the story beats from the last film, and it just makes you remember how great that was.

Secondly, it’s pretty easy to realise Bond is a bit of an asshole, especially when it comes to women. Bedding a woman shortly after her husband has died, doesn’t lend itself to compassion, and the franchise has always been accused of sexism, which is entirely warranted, because it used to be utterly true.

Whether it is now is debatable. There’s elements of male dominated misogyny here and there, but the female characters are often far more than window dressing these days, even if there’s usually one woman a film, who strips off under seduction by Bond. Léa Seydoux is a great match for Bond here, she’s strong but vulnerable, smart and human, she closely resembles Vesper Lynd, and seems to know her way around Bond’s mind better than he does.

Though the issue is still increasingly a talking point, it’s hard not to see that positive changes the franchise has made over the past few years. It’s a popular money making franchise that won’t be going away for a while, just as long Bond doesn’t slap a girl on the backside telling her that the Men have to talk, ala Goldfinger.

Elsewhere Christoph Waltz is revealed to be Blofeld after all, and even though it wasn’t a surprise, it gave a great kick for someone who’s been watching the Bond films since they were young. I’m glad he’s not dead, he’s got the cat and the scar, but he’s not bald yet, so that’s to come. Waltz was great in the role as old Ernst. His introduction as a shadowy figure sitting at the head of a large table of people, was creepy and effective, and his torture of Bond was vicious.

When you saw that his lair was inside of a meteor crater, resembling a Volcano, that was just another tip off that he was Blofeld. There’s no fooling this audience. We all knew Benedict Cumberbatch would be Khan.

Dave Bautista was very powerful and ruthless as Mr. Hinx, even though his death came too early, whilst Q, Moneypenny and M all gave good backup performances as, not so much Bond’s colleagues, as his entourage. Andrew Scott wasn’t a surprise second villain and a nice cameo from Dame Judi was a welcome reminder of Skyfall’s greatness.

The best part of the film was in its action scenes. The opening was a bravura opening scene involving a single one long take, midair helicopter fights, collapsing buildings and skeletons. It had me in goosebumps before the warbling of Sam Smith had started.

The Bond Dinx fight on the train was also pulse pounding and visceral with Bond almost losing, and a great if too quick death for the hulking villain. A great car chase in Rome, watch explosion and imploding building gave the action quota a strong leg up, and remains the best part of the film, if only the climax hadn’t been spread out as thinly.

The cinematography was eye catching, but not Roger Deakins beautiful, the music exciting, the direction confident, the performances strong and funny moments, amusing.

Overall, Spectre wasn’t as good as Skyfall, but it was better than Quantum of Solace, and through all it’s slight campy nods to Bond of old, it remains the gritty hard edged thriller that Bond has become. I’m interested to see where they go next. Bond’s alive, for now.

Rating: B  7/10

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