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Spectre: how does this Bond film stack up?

Film

Here is a Bond movie with fewer gadgets but lots of the expected derring-do.

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Daniel Craig is still stony-faced and apparently invulnerable. In the face of a flood of superhero movies, perhaps it had to be this way.

The plot is flimsy but it provides enough framework for a number of dynamic set-piece action moments to keep the audience excited. Nonetheless, after more than two hours, I was thinking about which one could have been cut.

The Sam Mendes-directed Spectre opens with the rowdy theatre of Mexico City on the annual Day of the Dead festival, and what an opening it is. One would almost think it was aimed at increasing tourist visits, but would that be too cynical?

Regardless, there is a thoroughly infectious musical backdrop from a street drum-band, lots of engaging costumes, and James Bond purposefully working his way towards an assignation with death. Almost immediately a chase is on and the adrenalin is pumping.

It would hardly be a Bond movie unless the “go it alone” trope was employed. Ralph Fiennes plays Bond’s boss M, seemingly with a mouth full of cotton wool at first. He tells Bond to back off after exceeding his authority, but Bond wants to press on with the goal of killing an über-enemy, Oberhauser (Christoph Waltz).

Complicating matters is a threat to MI6 itself from the Centre for National Security (CNS). You can smell a rat straight away and it is Andrew Scott (well known for playing Moriarty in the BBC’s Sherlock series) as the M15 head Max Denbigh.

Bond’s female interests in Spectre have been thoroughly advertised, not least Monica Bellucci as Lucia Sciarra, an older woman. Even if it broadens the scope for female actors in this kind of movie, she is still a secondary character and playing a traditional ‘Bond woman’ – ie dispensable.

His primary goal, anyway, is to find Madeleine Swann (Léa Seydoux), the daughter of an assassin nemesis, as a means of getting at that fierce enemy from his past. At least White is well-educated and she does exercise power in her chosen career.

There are some welcome comic touches in the first part of the movie as Bond grapples with the controls of an unfamiliar car. Aerial shots showing the scenery of Rome, the Austrian Alps, Tangier and the Moroccan desert are beautifully directed. Such things tend to drift from attention, however, when there is another narrow escape to be executed.

The Bond movies are frequently described as a franchise. If you foreground that aspect, you focus on the commercial enterprise rather than the story. Then again, the Bond films do constitute some kind of juggernaut of product placement opportunity, so it’s probably fair.

Mexico City paid $20 million to appear at the start of the movie. Land Rovers and Range Rovers proliferate. Aston Martin contributed eight DB10 concept cars which you can’t buy and one that is headed for auction, whetting the appetites of wealthy motorists. Previously, Heineken paid $45 million so Bond would order one of its lagers in Skyfall. It’s quite an industry.

Some marketing people claim that such advertising is a must when production and marketing costs are so high for blockbusters like Spectre, but this is a bit of a circular argument – at least when PR bosses are filling their own pockets. The latest Heineken ad (girl + Bond + waterskiing) is an example of when their pay should be cut.

Craig himself is listed as one of the co-producers. I would like to know what he did for this besides agree to appear in the movie, but maybe I am being churlish. This is his last appearance as 007 and already the press is swivelling its attention to prospective new JBs.

That does not mean that Spectre is not worth watching at all, but perhaps it points to the predictable, if successful, nature of the 007 stories. You can look elsewhere for novelty, but still look here for good old-fashioned adventure.

Can the Bond character shake off being typecast? Should future directors bother trying? Though the role is entrenched and results in fairly unsurprising stories, there is scope for some variation – maybe a grubby, down-on-his-luck Bond who cannot always succeed. Maybe a weary Bond who wants to retire and, rather than taking on one last job for a friend (another action hero trope), actually does not.

It’s going to be hard to say goodbye, and I suspect that time is far into the future.

 

 

 

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