********* 7 out of 10 *********
Director: Sam Mendes
Actors: Daniel Craig, Christoph Waltz, Léa Seydoux
Right now, in 2015, we are seated far away from October 2005, when Daniel Craig was introduced to the world as the latest James Bond, taking over from Pierce Brosnan. A lackluster interview, the absence of oomph and charisma, a rugged exterior, all this led to an outcry among fans and critics that the wrong man had been brought in for the job. The website ‘danielcraigisnotbond.com’ came online. Needless to say, the website is now defunct. A year later, with the release of Casino Royale, the world came to understand and love this new appearance of Bond, rebooting the series which in a way has come to a full circle with Spectre. In the latest movie, director Sam Mendes once again allows the character of James Bond to express himself; he showcases the human side of Bond which connects with the audience even in the backdrop of mind-blowing action in picturesque locations. It was always going to be difficult to achieve the kind of cinematic brilliance that Mendes and Craig had managed in Skyfall, and so they can be forgiven for not reaching those heights, but still come very close indeed.
Spectre begins with James bond (Daniel Craig) moving about in Mexico in search of an assassin. This job had not been authorised by M (Ralph Fiennes), and so when Bond returns to London having created a bit of a mess in Mexico, he gets reprimanded. Bond is officially grounded, but 007 knows that he is onto something and so defies orders to continue his search. This will take him across the globe in search of a man called Ernst Stavro Blofeld (Christoph Waltz) who heads a dangerous secret organisation, ‘Spectre’. Along the way, he will meet a young feisty Dr. Swann (Léa Seydoux) who becomes part of his latest exploits. The scene is set for another bold and daring mission, though this time, things will get a bit more personal.
Spectre brings together the core team of Skyfall i.e. director Sam Mendes and the writers Neal Purvis, Robert Wade and John Logan, with writer Jez Butterworth an addition. That is why you find the heart of Skyfall still intact. The plot in itself is straightforward to a large degree: Bond finds a clue that takes him to a new country where he finds the next clue to another land, and so on. While the picturesque locations are a treat to the eyes, and the cinematography by Hoyte van Hoytema (the one who worked on Interstellar before) is absolutely brilliant, the writing team of Spectre manage to keep the aura of James Bond firmly grounded. He is still a man who feels the emotions of love, rage, disappointment, though his sense of duty resides in his mind above all. There was however supposed to be a deeper connection in Spectre where Bond’s childhood days hold a clue, but unfortunately when the secret is revealed, it was anti-climatic, failing to bring out the gasps that the writers would have initially envisaged. As if the director had second thoughts on its importance and eventually underplayed it.
Sam Mendes though knows what to offer in Spectre and in what doses. While keeping the character of James Bond grounded to the extent possible, he does not forget the thrills that a Bond film needs to provide. The movie’s opening shot in itself is a wonderful cinematic experience as Bond walks on the streets of Mexico dressed in a shirt with a skeleton imprint. The manner in which the cameras follow him – smooth, graceful, using the least possible cuts – is the kind of brilliance that a director of Sam Mendes’ repute brings. In Spectre, Sam Mendes creates an overarching storyline with the aim to bring some elements of the past Craig-led Bond movies together; by tying up these four Bond movies, he creates a cinematic universe of sorts, quite contrary to the old films that are meant to be standalone, and thus makes Spectre feel larger and grander. The music by Thomas Newman is fantastic once more, matching with his work in Skyfall, creating tension and drama whenever required to make for nail-biting scenes even when we know Bond is certain to win.
Daniel Craig returns in the role of James Bond with the confidence that comes with making a character your own over the course of three movies. As Bond has grown from the days of Casino Royale, so has Daniel Craig. Now each smile, each twinkle in the eye, each act of brashness, each sign of defiance, carry the trademark of Daniel Craig, something that whosoever becomes the next Bond would find difficult to match. Cool and charming for most parts, Daniel Craig can breathe fire when asked to, and soften up when required. He has created a personal connection with the audience through his movies, and if he does opt out of the next Bond movie, it would be a big challenge to the producers to replace him.
The antagonist in Spectre comes in the form of the extremely talented Christoph Waltz, who in fact can put on a charm that Daniel Craig could never match. He lurks in the shadows for most part of the movie but when he emerges, he brings in a different kind of villain than those usually seen in previous Bond films. His character is more of the analytical type, smart and egoistic, though Waltz adds the spark of eccentricity to him which makes him appear evil. Nonetheless, after having seen Bond battle Silva – played terrifically by Javier Bardem – in Skyfall, the lack of physical aggression in Waltz’ character makes him look drab. That is covered to some extent by the presence of Dave Bautista, who plays the strong tough henchman who keeps getting into a tussle with Bond. Bautista makes Bond look like a dwarf, and their hand-to-hand fights are wonderfully choreographed and a thrill to watch.
Léa Seydoux brings her own charm to the movie, looking more like a damsel-in-distress initially but only to turn into a more formidable force later on. She compliments Bond quite well, making her a good team partner. Ralph Fiennes gets to take the role of M in Spectre, and while Judi Dench is such a big miss, Fiennes brings his own commanding presence to the character. Andrew Scott, as the Government man working to close the double-0 program, makes for a well-groomed villain of the new world. Monica Bellucci has quite a limited role unfortunately, though as the oldest Bond girl, she does make a strong statement. Naomie Harris as Monneypenny and Ben Whishaw as Q seem now as much a part of the Bond series as Daniel Craig, and along with Rory Kinnear provide a strong supporting hand to Bond.
Spectre in a way closes what began with Casino Royale, sparking a debate on the possible exit of Daniel Craig from this role. Craig is already 47 years old, and the next movie might come along with his 50th birthday, which does seem to be pushing the limits. No doubt Roger Moore played this famous role till 57, but Craig has already given interviews stating the difficulties in continuing with the Bond role. As Spectre looks on its way to become the second-largest, if not the largest, Bond film, the producers have a big incentive to keep Craig still involved. Or do we invent it all over again? Can the studio be once more bold, the way it was in 2005, in selecting a lesser known name, carving a newer image of Bond, and delighting fans with a glorious adventure? Whatever the case may be, if Craig does decide to quit playing the famous British agent, Spectre is not a bad way to walk away.