Review by Paul Stathakis | November 15, 2015


-So what’s going on, James? They say you’re finished.
-And what do you think?
-I think you’re just get­ting started.

Indeed, some­thing won­der­ful has hap­pened here in “Spec­tre.” It feels as if the series is just get­ting start­ed. Daniel Craig has found a direc­tor that under­stands the Bond for­mu­la well enough to bend it, reshape it, and make it his own. That direc­tor is Sam Mendes and he con­tin­ues here what he start­ed with “Sky­fall” (2012). Bond is once again fun and unpre­dictable but this time, he’s giv­en a lit­tle more room to breathe and be play­ful. Gone is the dark­er tone. In its place is an enlight­ened one. Con­sid­er a scene ear­ly on in the film where Bond nar­row­ly escapes a col­laps­ing build­ing only to land on a couch. He smirks at the sit­u­a­tion and indi­rect­ly winks at the audi­ence. In fact, “Spec­tre” is a con­coc­tion of moments that rely on nos­tal­gia — the mag­ic that made clas­sic Bond films thrilling but also inad­ver­tent­ly inno­cent. This may be Craig’s last out­ing as Bond but it’s also the film that tru­ly makes him an endear­ing ver­sion of the cel­e­brat­ed British spy.

Bond films are nev­er com­plete with­out cer­tain sig­na­ture ele­ments: the gun bar­rel sequence, the one-lin­ers, the vod­ka mar­ti­nis, the gad­gets, the exot­ic loca­tions, daz­zling action, a strange vil­lain, and a Bond girl. It’s worth not­ing that “Spec­tre” is the only of the Craig Bond films to open with the gun bar­rel sequence. Mendes had intend­ed to place it at the start of “Sky­fall” as well but could­n’t because of the film’s open­ing sequence. He offered this expla­na­tion at the time: “If you see the film, the film starts with Bond walk­ing down a cor­ri­dor towards the cam­era and lift­ing a gun. And of course the gun bar­rel is him walk­ing, stop­ping and lift­ing a gun. When I put the two togeth­er, it looked ridicu­lous.” This time, how­ev­er, Mendes gets his wish of begin­ning the film with the icon­ic open­ing. In this man­ner, “Spec­tre” announces ear­ly on a return to the tra­di­tion­al Bond film. This is an instance of famil­iar being very nec­es­sary. Then we have Léa Sey­doux, an actress that beams on the screen with inno­cence and vul­ner­a­bil­i­ty. She’s an attrac­tive Bond girl but not in a provoca­tive way. Her naiveté gives her an edge. In one scene where she joins Bond for din­ner on a train, she says to him: “You should­n’t stare.” Bond quick­ly quips, “Well, you should­n’t look like that.” Their romance is intense and believ­able. Sey­doux isn’t just anoth­er of Bond’s many female con­quests. She knows the road to his elu­sive heart and he sees some­thing more in her than just a pret­ty face and a gor­geous sil­hou­ette. It’s hard to put your fin­ger on it when the cast­ing is done this well but this is the role that will launch Sey­doux into star­dom and cement her sta­tus as one of the sex­i­est Bond girls to come along in a great while.

I will not dis­close any details per­tain­ing to the sto­ry but I will say that the writ­ers of “Spec­tre” have achieved what no oth­er Bond film has ever done. It is the one film that not only ref­er­ences oth­er Bond films but clev­er­ly draws a con­nec­tion between “Spec­tre” and oth­er titles in the fran­chise. There is also a twist involv­ing the film’s vil­lain, Franz Ober­hauser (Christoph Waltz), that may work for some but not sit well with oth­ers all the while pay­ing trib­ute to the uni­verse of James Bond. Waltz is a fan­tas­tic actor. But his role in “Spec­tre” is some­what prob­lem­at­ic. Rarely are we treat­ed to any moments of men­ace from him with excep­tion the scene that intro­duces him at a pri­vate meet­ing in a man­sion. The cin­e­matog­ra­phy is stun­ning, cast­ing Waltz in a shad­ow for just the right amount of time. But from that point on, he quick­ly los­es steam. He nev­er ris­es above his words and lacks the dev­il­ry of a Bond vil­lain (think Javier Bar­dem in “Sky­fall”).  Ober­hauser’s great­est strength rests in the way he speaks and the things he says. He knows how to pro­voke Bond and he is more manip­u­la­tive through his words than he is through his actions — which seem to come more from Hinx (Dave Bautista), his brawny word­less hench­man. Hinx seems like a big­ger chal­lenge for 007, first in an excit­ing car chase and then in a fight on a train where he utters his first and only word in the film.

More than 50 years since his incep­tion, audi­ences still flock to the the­aters to watch James Bond defy the odds and save the world. It’s a repet­i­tive exer­cise, yes, but it remains con­sis­tent­ly invig­o­rat­ing. In his 2002 review of “Die Anoth­er Day”, crit­ic Roger Ebert stat­ed: “I real­ized with a smile, 15 min­utes into the new James Bond movie, that I had uncon­scious­ly accept­ed Pierce Bros­nan as Bond with­out think­ing about Sean Con­nery, Roger Moore or any­one else.” The same could be said of Daniel Craig. We’ve grown accus­tomed to see­ing him on the big screen as 007.  He remains the right actor for the demand­ing job. Since tak­ing over the role, Craig has por­trayed the spy with a more seri­ous demeanor, nev­er attempt­ing to imi­tate those who have pre­ced­ed him. Despite the dark­ness that envelops him, there is a cer­tain charm to him. “Spec­tre” rep­re­sents his gen­tlest hour as James Bond right down to the clos­ing min­utes of the film where, for the first time in a long time, he isn’t con­cerned with leav­ing a few bul­lets still loaded in his gun. Cer­tain thrills may be gone and, in this case, that’s not nec­es­sar­i­ly a bad thing.


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