Starring: Daniel Craig, Christophe Waltz, Lea Seydoux, Ralph Fiennes, Monica Bellucci
Directed by Sam Mendes
After 53 years, the Bond film is a film genre in its own right. Audiences know what to expect—car chases, glamorous women, exotic locations, some sort of nod to the zeitgeist, and what not to fear—Bond actually dying, plots making too much sense, teetotalism...so it was only a matter of time before we ended up with a Bond film that is basically a tribute to Bond films. Spectre is essentially a Greatest Hits of 007 album, tilting several knowing nods to its predecessors, and even some of its parodies. With a stunning opening sequence set among the Day of The Dead festival in Mexico City, a setting so quintessentially Bond it’s a wonder it hasn’t been used before, Spectre instantly grabs us in a chokehold of entertainment with a battling climax aboard a helicopter.
From there we pick up where we finished at Skyfall: 007 is up to his old antics of purusing his own mission, disobeying superiors, destroying infrastructure and generally acting the (cashmere) goat.
Then the plot dovetails into part uncovering of the shadowy Spectre organisation, and part battle over the future of global intelligence-gathering—a head-on reference to the NSA and Edward Snowden snooping scandals. While the superb Casino Royale and Skyfall astutely shoved a wonderful Judi Dench into a more central role, her successor as M, an equally brilliant Ralph Fiennes, is criminally underused in this film.
With MI5 and MI6 set to be merged under a canopy of digital surveillance, it is M who argues you still need to be able to look a target in the eye before you snuff out their lives. But after that, M is relegated to the role of an exasperated police chief trying to control his maverick detective, as Bond traverses mountains, Nordic architecture and the elements in his pursuit of Spectre’s tentacles.
Daniel Craig gives a predictably excellent performance, bringing more of the romantically doomed hero to his Bond. Lea Seydoux is a phenomenal partner for Bond as Madeleine Swann: tough, clever and ruthless when required, while Monica Bellucci and Christoph Waltz give us solid if unspectacular accounts. But the eras come thick and fast with a tip of the Trilby to Connery (vintage Aston Martins and a scrap on a train a la From Russia with Love); Lazenby (a woman every bit 007’s equal); Moore (flirty banter and the best helicopter sequence since For Your Eyes Only); Dalton (Q and M in the field, self-analysis); Brosnan (boat chases, revelatory back stories); and even something of the Austin Powers in a villain’s lair that’s more Dr Evil than Dr No.
Of course, Spectre is a victim of the current crop’s very high standards—compared to most cinema fare it is breathtaking, and any Bond fan will enjoy the meta romp through its own martini-stained history. But here’s hoping that next time we move from a best of Bond to Bond at his best.
By Saptarshi Ray in London