The latest film may feel more like your dad’s 'Bond'
Where do you go after the most successful Bond in history? Strive to be bigger, meaner, slicker? Not quite for Sam Mendes. Following his own Skyfall, he opts for…grander. Spectre is, mostly, operatic, in scale, emotion and frequently in choral soundtrack. The thing with opera, though, is that while in its most powerful moments it can shake an audience in their seats, it does have a propensity to go on a bit.
Almost a decade after Casino Royale stripped 007 back to his barest essentials, Spectre is the gradual layering back on of the old garb. The opening, a ravishing sequence set amid the Day of the Dead festival in Mexico, is pure Craig era: brutal, practical, casually witty. Then as we progress it harks back more to the old days with, probably deliberate, echoes of Connery, Moore, Brosnan, even Lazenby. In come gadgets, disposable girls, villains with plans as diabolical as they are logistically unlikely. By the end we’re in a very 2015 world with a very 1995 Bond.
To explain even the basics of the story may spoil too much, so we’ll just say Bond’s entire division is under threat of downsizing, with an odious arse (Andrew Scott) brought in to unify Britain’s security agencies. Bond winkingly christens him ‘C’. Simultaneously, 007 is tracking the mysterious Spectre syndicate, which appears to be behind every bad thing that’s happened to both the world and Bond. We’ll leave it there, but it gets very complicated, sometimes impenetrably so. Like anything at the age of 68, it’s a bit baggy round the middle.
Mendes directs like a man determined to enjoy his last hours with the Bond toys. So many joyful flourishes, like a show-off opening tracking shot, Bond testing the special features of his new car and a train punch-up that leaves the famous one in From Russia With Love reeling. He is inarguably the best director to ever work on Bond, not only in imaginatively constructing the big scenes but in the performances he draws from his cast.
Every actor in Spectre is on top form, particularly Lea Seydoux as a woman vital to Bond’s mission, and inevitably Bond. That said, the Bond series still can’t find a female role, save the late M, that gives an actress something to work with rather than expecting her to bring everything to the party. Seydoux, Monica Bellucci and Naomie Harris are still just Bond facilitators, either sexual or clerical. It’s a depressing failure for a series that has strived to reinvent every other aspect. Honestly, just change the gender of one of the men and leave the script the same.
How much you enjoy this may depend on how you feel about Bond in general. If you miss the old days, with the world in elaborate peril and everything done with a big wink, this is a solid example of that. If you preferred the lower stakes but tighter storytelling of the new era, Spectre may feel like your dad’s Bond.