Our Word Is Our Bond concludes with Daniel Merry taking a look at Spectre (2015) starring Daniel Craig, Christoph Waltz and Lea Seydoux.
Spectre – A ghost from Bond’s past
One of the defining features of the Daniel Craig era as James Bond has been the franchise’s determined reinvention of itself. From the opening sequence of Casino Royale in which we saw the freshly installed blond Bond earn his ’00’ status, through to the refiguring of MI6 by the end of Skyfall, we have been thoroughly reintroduced to our favourite secret agent.
With Bond 24, tantalisingly named Spectre, we might have been forgiven for thinking that now would be a good time for this new iteration to finally set out on a new adventure, totally unfettered by the baggage of both his personal and, by extension of his being cinema’s most enduring personality, his meta-history. Think again.
At the close of Skyfall Gareth Mallory says to Bond “So, 007… Lot’s to be done. Are you ready to get back to work?” To which Bond replies “With pleasure, M. With pleasure.” Bond was now reborn, as was MI6, and the franchise was perfectly poised to kick on and start creating a whole new era of Bond adventures. Even the placement of the gun-barrel sequence at the end of Skyfall rather than at the start, which irked so many fanboys, was a deliberate acknowledgement that the end of Skyfall was in fact the beginning of the new Bond.
Every new Bond film raises the heart rate and the level of expectation just a little bit higher. The early signs already made it clear that Spectre would be paying tribute to the series, and then some. In the official trailer alone there were several obvious and other less so references to Bond films of the past. We also learned that the shadowy organisation of S.P.E.C.T.R.E. would figure, but in what form remained to be seen. Before its final release it was clear that Spectre was going to dig into Bond’s past, not elaborate on his future.
The film starts with the epigraph “The dead are alive”. Unusual for a Bond film to start in such a cryptic manner, and for the less observant or less bothered it might have simply been a neat way of tying in with the pre-title sequence of the Day of the Dead carnival in Mexico City. However, it really is the key to the film’s thematic core, and on more levels than one.
Most reviews of Spectre talk about the opening sequence and that is entirely deserved. The partnership of Mendes and Deakins in Skyfall gave us perhaps the most technically accomplished and visually stunning Bond film in the entire canon. Well, Spectre is every bit as good on that score and although Roger Deakins was replaced by Hoyte van Hoytema as cinematographer the production and directorial values are just as high. Heavily influenced by the imagery of Live and Let Die and a tracking shot reminiscent of the funeral sequence in Mikhail Kalatozov’s Soy Cuba, the opening sequence is a benchmark of excellence in the Bond series.
The outcome of Bond’s activities in Mexico—which are completely unauthorised by MI6 and the result of Bond having received a mysterious message from a most unexpected source—is that he finds himself on the trail of an organisation that nobody knows anything about but appears to be everywhere and is headed by a malevolent character who seems to have a score to settle with Bond. The fact that this has echoes of Casino Royale and particularly Quantum of Solace, is important for a number of reasons. It’s important as part of the narrative of Spectre, but it’s also important as part of the overall arc of Bond’s journey in the Craig years. It’s entirely redundant to discuss this point any further unless you’ve already seen the film. However, it’s enough to say that the writers of Spectre clearly had an eye on developments taking place in other fictional universes, such as Christopher Nolan’s Batman Trilogy, Star Trek: Into Darkness, Captain America: The Winter Soldier, Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation, and, from the less generous, Austin Powers in Goldmember.
Despite being suspended from duty by M—who is having his own problems with C, the head of MI5, in a struggle for power over intelligence operations—Bond enlists the help of the very willing Moneypenny and Q, who help him disappear and get on with his rogue mission.
At this point it’s necessary to stop with any further discussion of the plot. More than any other Bond in recent memory, Spectre attempts to unfold a story that leads up to a revelation intended to surprise and delight fans. FYI, it’s safe to read on, there are no spoilers here. However, unless you’ve been off backpacking in the rain forests or never seen a Bond film before, the direction and main payoff of Spectre is so obvious that I’m not sure there’s very much to hide, and this is the major failing of the film: the unsurprising twist that attempts to tie in with the earlier films.
What can be said about Spectre is that it is a brilliant back to basics Bond adventure. Where Skyfall was heavy with story and character development that matched the underlying subtexts of the piece, Spectre revels in being an unashamedly front and centre Bond film. There are multiple references to previous Bond adventures. I attempted to list from memory all the homages I spotted and managed a list of about 20—and there are certainly more than that. Some may find this sort of thing lazy and cheap in the writing, but the franchise has earned the right to celebrate its heritage. It’s a tenet of every new Bond film that it recalls the tropes and iconography of its predecessors, and in Spectre we have an outstanding tribute to the series. I can’t wait to get my hands on the DVD and go over it in detail to spot every nod and wink to the history of 007.
Spectre is a super-spy adventure taken to levels never seen before with Bond v.6.0. We have a lot more of the traditional globetrotting, taking Bond to various international locations, giving the film the exoticism we’ve come to expect. Fights and encounters with the villain’s henchmen, involving helicopters, super cars, trains, planes, boats, all ramp up the fantasy aspect of Bond’s world.
In some ways, Spectre feels like Craig’s Goldfinger: The jokes and humour abound; there’s a slightly ridiculous plot that doesn’t, for the most part, get in the way of the forward momentum of the film; there are gadgets and action set pieces; Bond girls; and a stellar performance from the man at the very heart of it all. Daniel Craig has now turned in four performances as 007 and this is the one where he totally inhabits the persona of James Bond. He’s assured in every single nuance of movement and speech. Sean Connery will always encapsulate the identity of James Bond—he was fortunate in getting to play the character first and to do so with his creator and the world into which he was born still alive and a reality and from which he could draw and seek inspiration. However, who will argue that Craig is second to Connery? They are equals. Both men have interpreted the character to perfection, and they are the measure by which all future performances will be judged.
There has been a lot of talk about Spectre being Daniel Craig’s last turn as Bond. Clearly this is all speculation, not helped by Craig himself making comments that, although exaggerated and reported out of context, do nothing to fuel the prospects of him making a return. If Craig decides to walk away from the series now, Spectre will be a fitting place to do it. Not surprisingly, Bond comes through in the end, but he does so in a manner that could easily be interpreted as him heading off to start another life. If that is the case, it will all make sense once the dust has settled. When there’s nothing more to say in reviews and analyses, we can look back at Spectre with clarity and say that was a great way to sign off.
On the other hand, this may not be the end and Spectre could be seen as the perfect set-up for the next film. Bond is reborn. MI6 is reborn. The villain is reborn. The dead are alive. Just as at the end of Skyfall, at the end of Spectre, I was already excited at what the yet untitled Bond 25 will offer. There’s a great opportunity to push the franchise forward. Although elements of On Her Majesty’s Secret Service are already running through my mind, the foundations for a new and exciting future have been laid. Just one request: no more looking back, please.
MoM Rating: 8/10