The good news is that Spectre gets everything that was good about Skyfall and Casino Royale right and avoids the mistakes of Quantum of Solace. It moves, feels and sounds like a James Bond film and now Daniel Craig is as much a veteran as Sean Connery was by Goldfinger and Roger Moore was by Moonraker, he’s as comfortable in a dinner suit wining and dining the gorgeous Dr Madeleine Swann (Léa Seydoux) as he is getting brutally bashed by the fearsome Mr Hinx (Dave Bautista) moments later.
But despite the territory being as familiar for us as it is for Bond, there’s a distinctly new element in that Spectre feels like the end of a quadrilogy. The classic Bond movies were a bit more like a TV sitcom, seeing James battle a new megalomaniacal madman holed up with his private army in a completely impractical hideout, effectively resetting the whole world for next time at the end of every movie.
But Spectre is the culmination of the story that began in Casino Royale – of Bond’s parents and childhood, Mr White (Jesper Christensen), Silva (Javier Bardem) and the only woman Bond ever loved, Vesper (Eva Green).
In introducing the titular organisation and its enigmatic leader Oberhauser (Christoph Waltz) it wraps up and completes a very enclosed tale and – along with a spoilerific ending as well as Craig’s very high profile comments about how disinclined he is to play Bond again – makes it feel like the current iteration of James Bond is very much over.
We catch up with James tracking down a lead in Mexico City for a case only he knows about, off the grid once again. Of course, what should be a simple matter of making a contact ends up with a helicopter fight above a crowded square, the craft doing loops and somersaults above thousands of people.
James comes out of the fight on top, his only clue being a ring etched with a mysterious symbol. As he follows the trail from the widow (Monica Bellucci) of a local crime boss to the snowy cottage where a broken Mr White is holed up and beyond, Spectre becomes an almost Hitchcockian tale where Bond’s a detective tracing the mysterious symbol to its source.
Meanwhile, M (Ralph Fiennes) and the agency are fighting their own battle, as a government security bureaucrat – C (Andrew Scott) – prepares to shut down the 00 program in favour of a multi-country, technology-driven information sharing initiative that will give governments unprecedented power and render the likes of M and Bond obsolete – giving Spectre its underlying ‘who watches the watchers?’ theme.
Aside from the elements a good Bond film gets right (the fights, action, jet-setting mood and sexual tension between Bond and everything in a skirt), it does a surprisingly good job at one new component in particular. Whereas the rest of Craig’s Bond oeuvre has tried to move away from the corny-but-cool tropes of the old movies and be a bit more modern, Spectre embraces them.
Long-time writers John Logan, Neal Purvis and Robert Wade have given the organisation of Spectre a plausible reason to exist (rather than just to be the antagonist) that’s tied very cleverly to the whole security-apparatus subplot M, Q (Ben Wishaw) and Moneypenny (Naomie Harris) find themselves squaring off against.
The script not only takes the trapping of some of those admittedly silly old tropes and makes them feel contemporary and modern, it all leads up to a moment with Waltz not unlike Benedict Cumberbatch introducing himself as ‘Kahn’ in Star Trek Into Darkness.
Speaking of the 59-year-old actor, it’s quite something to upstage a James Bond entrance in a James Bond movie, but the scene that introduces us to Oberhauser and Spectre’s inner circle is the standout sequence of the movie. As well staged as any of the action sequences (maybe more so), we see Waltz completely in shadow in long shots, communicating with nothing more than tilts of his head as he orchestrates the steady destruction of the world.
What Waltz lacks in physical presence later, the blocking and design of the scene establishes before we ever see his face – we’re already sure we’re dealing with the most dangerous foe James has ever faced.
As Spectre henchman Hinx, Dave Bautista provides the film with another of the best set pieces when he and James beat seven shades of hell out of each other – as well as the luxury train carriage around them. For the first time since Bane fought Batman, you’re truly scared for a hero it’s clear is no match for his opponent.
The character of Hinx is less well served, coming into the story with a little bit of flourish but disappearing out of it very inauspiciously, seeming to exist only as a temporary obstacle in James’ quest.
It’s still hard to put your finger on what made Skyfall the best Bond film of the entire brand name, and while Spectre still doesn’t quite beat it it’s sure to keep the world’s most famous 60-year-old playboy spy relevant for global audiences for years yet.