After the phenomenal success of Skyfall, SPECTRE has had a lot to live up to, and hasn’t shied away from the challenge. The film oozes confidence and doesn’t use its huge budget excessively, the exotic locations and gadgets all, arguably, integral to the plot, and bases its final showdown back in the UK- a successful feature that worked well in Skyfall. However, it never quite soars in the same way Skyfall does as, despite being confident, it never really seems to be sure of what it is.
Daniel Craig’s gritty, hard James Bond fades a little here as the film harkens back more to the comedy of the Moore era, and away from the persistent realism of Craig’s other outings. There are some excellent gags, both referential and fresh, that play well with the repartee developed between the core characters, however there are
other moments that border on the absurd, becoming humorous more through laughing at than with. However, Craig, despite his hardened portrayal of Bond, is excellent at delivering the witty one liners, and transitions seamlessly between action scenes, comic-relief and more emotional-based scenes. His relationship with Ben Whishaw’s Q has flourished into a fresh take on old friends, with their exchanges particularly entertaining to watch. Stepping into Judi Dench’s shoes as M, Ralph Fiennes is excellent, maintaining the hard character he created in Skyfall, and maintaining the position of M as well. As Moneypenny, Naomie Harris is given much less to do here than in Skyfall, but she does well with what she has. The lack of her action and the departure of Judi Dench’s M leaves the film’s women a little weaker and more under-developed than they were built up to be in Skyfall. Monica Belucci’s Bond girl has a relatively small role, but one seemingly pivotal in the twisty plot, whereas Lea Seydoux’s Madeleine Swann becomes a key character both in terms of the plot and the emotional side to the story due to her relationship with Bond. Despite the chemistry between the two actors, their relationship at times seems a little under-developed and thus the more poignant moments don’t quite feel earned, and due to its placement at the centre of the film, it may remove viewers slightly from the film as it does serve to remove some of the realism.
As for the film’s villain, you will have your suspicions as to the true nature of the character (and I shall neither confirm nor deny them), but as Frans Obenhauser, Waltz is terrific. He brings the same quiet sense of foreboding to the role as he did to that of Colonel Landa in Tarantino’s Inglourious Basterds, exuding a sense of controlled and deliberate evil that only serves to make his character more formidable. His introduction is understated but has great impact. It is at a meeting of SPECTRE that he quietly makes his entrance, sitting in the shadows, but as soon as he enters the entire atmosphere of the room and the scene changes. Everyone is suddenly much more on edge as the threat he poses becomes very clear. The scene builds until Obenhauser’s face turns towards the light and you catch a brief glimpse of his menacing, shadowy features. It is an effective scene that sets up his credibility as Bond’s enemy, something that is carried throughout the rest of the film.
The plot doesn’t spoon-feed you, the first hour is quite ambiguous, the viewer never quite sure of what is happening or what Bond’s rogue mission is. This forces the viewer to pay closer attention, however at times is a little too ambiguous for its own good, a little messy in places where it may momentarily lose its audience (possibly a product of the numerous writers brought on board to rewrite scripts). However, Mendes keeps his film’s focus, keeping you intrigued until the plot becomes clearer, and, despite its position of the longest Bond film ever, it never feels like it drags too much, although it probably could be a little tighter.
The film’s action sequences are spectacular, from the tense, brief gun fights to brawls in the carriages of moving trains and up in helicopters in the sky. As always they are choreographed beautifully, providing thrills and celebrations as well as moments of tension and anxiety. Swann is given a little to do here, removing her from the role that could have purely been that of a damsel in distress. Some of the violence in the film seems a little graphic for a 12A (particularly in Dave Bautista’s introduction, playing an excellent henchman), but serves to impress upon the viewer the capabilities of the film’s antagonists. All of these scenes, especially the action set-pieces, are captured excellently by Hoyte Van Hoytema, keeping the film’s playful, dark mood through his cinematography. There is one particularly impressive, long opening tracking shot that guides you through the celebrations of the Dia de Los Muertos parade.
However, where Skyfall was the perfect marriage between old and new, maintaining the series’ current hardened world whilst adding in a few more jokes and references back to Bond’s previous iterations, SPECTRE seems to try to do too much. It attempts to add in a lot more humour, but to the extent that the character Craig has built up with his directors over the past three films seems to be lost, as a much lighter, less emotionally scarred Bond seems to appear. This almost undermines the events of the past few films, as does the central reveal at the heart of SPECTRE, as it seems to be a vast, unintentional departure. The film tries to take the steps it did in Skyfall, but travel further, however this results in a loss of the series’ current mythology and tone.
Overall, SPECTRE provides a thrilling ride sure to entertain people everywhere, however after Skyfall, it doesn’t quite seem as impressive, substituting Craig’s Bond’s hardened past with a much more playful character which seems slightly out of place in the series’ current state.