Spectre (dir. Sam Mendes, 2015) – M’s cryptic message sends Bond on a rogue mission to uncover the covert and dangerous plans of a mysterious organisation Spectre.
Although well-acted and unfailingly slick, Spectre never quite delivers its promised depth.
Bond can get away with excess, and he was never going to make an entrance without theatrics. Elegant and fitting for the franchise’s histrionics, a stylised four-minute continuous take sees him marching through the elaborate Day of the Dead parade in Mexico City.
The opening sets up intrigue and expectations for action, as Bond scans the throngs of masked strangers with a mysterious woman at his side. When they arrive at the hotel, he reveals his true target – an assassin with ties to the titular criminal organisation. Leaping onto the window ledge, 007 runs rogue into fatal danger, leaving the woman behind.
We never see her again.
It is not long before we are introduced to the assassin’s widow Lucia Sciarra (Monica Bellucci), whom Bond seeks for her knowledge of Spectre. Old habits die hard, as he goes through the motions of rescuing and seducing the lady, before finally leaving her as he pleases.
We are less than 20 minutes into the film, and the problem is clear – a rote Bond formula including the bugging misogyny of a hero I love to hate. The endless sexualisation is of course, nothing new. Yet it remains aggravating how underwritten and interchangeable the female characters still are – almost invisible, in the case of former field agent Eve Moneypenny (Naomie Harris).
Dr. Madeleine Swann (Léa Seydoux) – the key to Bond’s mission to find Spectre – brings slight relief as the film’s only truly fleshed out woman with combat skills to boot. Yet even she is eventually relegated to the role of a damsel-in-distress. Twice. Of the four women, three are presented to be sexually involved with Bond, which definitely says something about how this film was written.
Bond’s constant objectification, whilst cruddy to me, hardly taints his solid reputation for most. Audiences will always return for the “classy” British spy, at least for the excessive stunts and action, where explosions leave his hair unruffled and suit impeccably ironed.
As we have come to expect of the Bond films, Spectre delivers in its always impressive fight choreography and cinematography, be it against stunning Austrian snow or London night lights.
Over-the-top gadgets and well-timed quips – courtesy of Q (Ben Whishaw) – bring back a trace of the absurd fun that the reboot has been missing, although indistinct in its reliance on nostalgia.
Of the rogues gallery, Spectre leader Franz Oberhauser (Christopher Waltz) promises to leave a deeper mark with presence alone. Waltz’s penchant for dramatic intonations makes his scarring villain nothing short of unnerving.
That is, until his craft proves burdened by an unsatisfying familial vendetta, a sketchy motive and his ridiculously impenetrable henchman (Dave Bautista). Further detracting was a messy sub-plot, when intelligence service head C (Andrew Scott) puts the screws to a global surveillance program. A perfectly good cast suffers the needlessly puzzling “twists” and the resultant over-convoluted plot.
With a confused backstory and emphatically weak characters of both genders, Bond 24 feels like a misstep that distances further from the reboot’s promising start in Casino Royale. But with its legion of fans who favour fun entertainment over complexity, it is unlikely that the brooding Bond will withdraw his license any time soon.