Spectre (2015) - James Bond, 007
After 24 movies totaling nearly two whole days' worth of film, there are precious few stunts, scenarios, villains and general plots that Bond films haven't already traversed during the series' long history. But despite the Bond formula becoming as finely tuned as a martini (shaken, not stirred), the franchise has developed a wonderful ability to reinvent itself to the expectations and sensibilities of each successive generation and in turn keeping audiences hungry for more.
2006's Casino Royale introduced Daniel Craig's grittier and altogether more grounded iteration of the character. He successfully revitalized the series and culminated in the last entry; Skyfall, becoming the franchise's most financially successful picture, with critics swooning in its wake. So, how do they up the ante for the latest entry? Well, they reset the rules once again.
Continuing directly from the events of Skyfall, Bond is dispatched to Mexico during the Day of the Dead festival on an off-the-book mission by recently deceased M. Foiling an attempt to blow up a stadium. But causing havoc in his wake, Bond once again makes international headlines for all the wrong reasons, which plays into the hands of the smarmy head of the Joint Intelligence Service, who wants to shut the 00 program once and for all. For his efforts, Bond is suspended from duty but continues his investigation into the shadowy organization SPECTRE, whose tentacles have penetrated deep into international security services and threatens to unleash havoc on the world.
A departure from what ultimately became sci-fi silliness during the Brosnan years, the new Bond administration has sought to carefully escalate the drama with each successive entry, while also staying true to the newly grounded, even vulnerable sensibilities that Daniel Craig brings to the role. His Bond bleeds, bruises and gets banged up frequently; certainly not the impervious superman that he's oft portrayed.
Unfortunately, this has also led to a real sense that some of the fun had dissipated, with Skyfall ending up a rather joyless slog (albeit a masterfully made one). While that film introduced many nods to fan favorites such as Goldfinger's Aston Martin DB5, it also distanced itself further from the sly quips and misogynistic traits that the character is known for. This time around, filmmakers have attempted to swing the pendulum back just a little to the Bond of old. It's not entirely successful, but it's well-intentioned.
The fifth time around, Daniel Craig shows no evidence of growing stale, imbuing the role with ample energy, albeit without the same twinkle in the eye we saw in Casino Royale. Lea Seydoux is easy on the eye, but serves as a relatively unmemorable Bond girl, cut from the same cloth as most female sidekick roles these days ('strong, independent woman', etc. - because heaven forbids the film would be accused of sexism). Ralph Fiennes returns again as MI6 head M, but his frequent use of the trademark Voldemort scowl was just a little too much for me to take entirely seriously.
Much like the ret-conned revival of Khan in Star Trek: Into Darkness, Spectre's villain is its worst kept secret, but ultimately has very little impact on the story other than to tie it in with the wider legacy. Plucked out of obscurity with a sublime performance in Inglourious Basterds, Christoph Waltz has proved himself to be one of the best character actors working today. While the script admittedly doesn't allow him to eat the screen to the same level as Tarantino's flick, his performance almost singlehandedly lifts the film's fortunes.
Despite being saddled with undoubtedly the worst theme song in over two decades and too frequently slowed down by its own drama, Spectre is a solid effort to wrap the hanging plot threads of the last few films (perhaps a little too conveniently) and seems deliberately manufactured to bookend his five entries. On the back of Craig's recent comments which sought to pour a bucket of cold water on his possible return to the role (OK - more like burning the bridge at both ends), I wouldn't be surprised if Spectre signals the end of his tenure. But one thing we can be sure is that in some way, shape or form, James Bond will return.
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