Release Date: 26 October 2015
Running Time: 148 min
Director: Sam Mendes
Starring: Daniel Craig, Léa Seydoux, Christoph Waltz, Ralph Fiennes, Dave Bautista, Naomie Harris
Prowling the streets of Mexico City in a top hat and skull mask, James Bond blends in with the crowd at the Day of the Dead festival. He stalks his prey through the skeleton garlanded streets, weaving through throngs of masked revellers and musicians. It’s only when Bond catches up with his target some five minutes later that the gliding camera stops and Spectre’s lengthy opening tracking shot ends. It’s a bold, swaggering introduction that nods its head to the famous starting sequence of Welles’ Touch of Evil, and is perhaps the most technically impressive piece of filmmaking in the Bond series to date.
Set directly in the aftermath of his previous adventure (2012’s record breaking Skyfall) Bond’s hat is on a shaky peg. His jaunt to Mexico was completely unsanctioned, and with MI6 still reeling from the attack on its headquarters and the death of M, the resultant carnage does nothing to ease the pressure that Ralph Fiennes’ new M is under. With a rival intelligence chief pushing for the introduction of a highly sophisticated and massively invasive new surveillance system and threatening the 00 section with closure, the relevance of agents like Bond in the information age is questioned. Just like in Skyfall, then. Only this time it’s tied in with contemporary anxieties about snooping governments and civil rights breaches. Bond’s hijinks in Mexico aren’t completely senseless though; he does get wind of a mysterious terrorist organisation named Spectre, an international syndicate that hang around in really dimly lit rooms whispering about profits. I’d like to see a drone manage that.
The story positions itself as a culmination of Craig’s run as Bond; apparently Spectre and their sinister leader are responsible for all the mayhem and tragedy he’s encountered across the previous three films. Tying things together like this is a bit of a departure for the series and with callbacks to Casino Royale and Skyfall as well as set-ups for later films, Spectre is more like a modern franchise movie than another Bond film. As a new direction it’s not always successful – certain developments don’t stand up to much scrutiny – but it offers something new to a series that’s been running for over fifty years and will likely stand out as either a landmark or an oddity in the series for exactly that reason.
There’s a real sense of confidence to Spectre, director Sam Mendes seems comfortable playing with this British institution, blending the old with the new and coming up with a thrillingly modern take on Bond. It’s easy to forget that the series was floundering without a real sense of purpose before Mendes took directorial duties on Skyfall. After the success of the Bourne influenced Casino Royale, its follow-up Quantum of Solace was a dour, joyless experiment in glowering intensity and juddering shaky-cam. Spectre is far more extravagant than either of those two films, incorporating some of the more outlandish excesses of earlier movies without toppling over into the silliness found in some of Moore or Brosnan’s efforts. Crucially, Craig’s performance manages to strike a balance between the grandiose and the gritty; he wears this role like a well-tailored suit. In fact, for about an hour and three quarters, Spectre promises to rank alongside Casino Royale and Skyfall as one of the all time greats. Unfortunately at almost two and a half hours long, things have fizzled out by the somewhat underwhelming finale. It just can’t quite match its own high standards at times, but when Spectre works it’s a real joy.