It’s been a long time coming, but finally those shady, conniving so and so’s of SPECTRE have returned to the James Bond franchise for the first time since Roger Moore dropped Blofeld (he’s not named as such due to the legal wrangling between Ian Fleming and screenwriter Kevin McClory, but we know it was him don’t we?) down an industrial chimney in For Your Eyes Only. For the sake of canon I’ll ignore Never Say Never Again, mostly because that story was already done better in Thunderball.
But I digress. SPECTRE are back and causing their own fair share of problems for MI6 and James Bond in particular. And that’s not all, as the investigation back in Blighty into the necessity for having Double O agents is once again under the scrutiny of Andrew Scott’s Max, aka ‘C’, who is leading an initiative for total surveillance. In other words, George Orwell’s worst nightmares realised.
Perhaps the best thing about this retconning of the Daniel Craig era is that Quantum of Solace is made a better film by tying those events together with these subsequent Sam Mendes-led efforts that began with Skyfall in 2012. It’s perhaps not the best example of retconning, especially as it was initially intended for Quantum to be the Spectre-like organisation, but it does at least give all of Craig’s Bond films an internal logic separate from the rest of the series.
Key players return in supporting roles, namely Ralph Fiennes as Mallory/M, Ben Whishaw as ‘Q’, Naomi Harris as Moneypenny and Rory Kinnear as Bill Tanner. Their involvement makes this more an ensemble piece more than anything else, even if Kinnear is lumbered with being the exposition man.
A Bond film tends to live or die depending on its villains. Spectre doesn’t go overboard with its villainous faces, focusing on two key players in the shady organisation – Christoph Waltz’s Franz Oberhauser and Dave Bautista’s monosyllabic Hinx. Waltz is great at exuding a friendly demeanour yet looking like he could rip off your face at any moment. Or get one of his henchmen to do it. His outfit is something else entirely – no socks, and a very odd jacket do him no favours. Hinx meanwhile has a few good moments, but is little more than a throwback to the silent and bulky henchmen of years gone by.
Then there are the women that Bond inevitably encounters. In this instance they are Monica Bellucci (in a brief role) and Lea Seydoux as the estranged daughter of Mr White. Bellucci is almost a blink and you’ll miss her presence, but Seydoux has a bit more to do. She’s not entirely helpless, although her involvement is mostly limited to being saved by Bond. As loathe as I am to refer back to it, we’re certainly not in the same territory as Halle Berry’s Jinx in Die Another Day, which is disappointing in this day and age.
Mendes has listened to the fans who complained about the lack of action set pieces in Skyfall by upping the quota considerably for Spectre. There’s much more in terms of the globetrotting that the series has been famous for in the past and which was somewhat lacking in the more introspective Skyfall. The script manages to pile up location visits to Mexico, Austria and of course London as Bond goes on Spectre’s trail. The locations are all stunning to look at, and even London has a surprisingly pleasant sheen to it.
It’s not all roses, though. It feels like there are narrative gaps that result in some aspects of the story not being fully developed, and in some cases events happen as if they have just been dropped into the plot in the hope that nobody will notice they don’t link all that well with the previous and following scenes. In that respect it jumps around a little too much for my liking.
Could this be Daniel Craig’s last spin in the Aston Martin? Only time will tell. If it is and a new Bond greets us in the 25th feature, Craig’s time in the tuxedo has been well spent, and despite a slight misstep with Quantum of Solace will no doubt be reflected on with fondness in years to come. Thankfully Spectre proves to be a worthy entry in his custodianship.