In James Bond’s 24th story and Daniel Craig's fourth round as 007, the classic espionage franchise finally asks itself whether, in the age of social media and mass surveillance, the world needs spies anymore. The film begins with a beautiful scene in Mexico City during a Day of the Dead parade. Masses of masked people happily dancing to a steady drum set the perfect backdrop for the movie's first fight scene: Bond follows Judi Dench’s posthumous demand that he kill a mysterious Italian assassin wearing a ring with an octopus on it. They beat each other up in a swerving helicopter over the city’s main square filled to the brim with people. The superspy wins, of course, and coolly regains control of the chopper with nothing but a few drops of sweat on his brow.
Back in gloomy London, 007 is chastised and 'grounded' by the new M, Ralph Fiennes (yes, Judi Dench is really gone). But with a little help from the eager-to-please Q (Ben Whishaw), Bond is able to continue his expedition off the grid. Life isn’t easy for M either, as he is under the constant watch of his new, younger, technology-and-surveillance-is-the-answer superior C (Andrew Scott, Moriarty from “Sherlock”). C plans to merge MI5 and MI6 and to get rid of all 00-agents, replacing them with a global digital surveillance network that the world’s superpowers have signed onto. How very George Orwell’s Big Brother of them.
The stereotypical script, gigantic (record-setting) explosions and never-ending supply of foreign-accented Bond Girls seemed to make the film a parody of its own genre.
After Bond makes his way into the Austin Powers-style meeting of the evil council, dubbed Spectre (the Special Executive for Counter-intelligence, Terrorism, Revenge, and Extortion), from which the octopus symbol originates and which is responsible for a string of recent terrorist attacks around the world, Bond goes to find and end the enigmatic mastermind behind the group.
He is followed to Austria, Switzerland and Morocco by Spectre’s terrifying muscle, Mr. Hinx, who survives every kind of seemingly unsurvivable fate and never speaks. Along the way, he picks up with the mesmerizing and seemingly unattainable Dr. Madeleine Swann (Léa Seydoux). Hinx appears at the most unexpected (and yet perfectly predictable) moments, such as during Bond’s dinner date with Dr. Swann on an Orient Express-like Moroccan train. After tossing Bond around the cabins and breaking everything in sight, Madeleine and 007 are finally able to push him off the train into the desert, when he says nothing but a calm “Shit!” When the battle is done, Dr. Swann innocently asks, “What do we do now?” The only possible answer: have sex.
The film continued on the tone set by “Skyfall” of exploring Bond’s childhood. Craig continues to develop the agent's character as someone scarred by his past and frustrated by his present. It has been the actor's mission to define his Bond reboot by looking at the character not as someone who is the epitome of cool, glamor and straight-faced killer, but as someone deeply affected by a constant barrage of villains, incredible loss and a lack of significant personal relationships. Christoph Waltz finally steps into the role he was made for: the cat-stroking Bond supervillain who had been making it his life’s work to destroy everything Bond ever loved. He is, as you may imagine, the evil mastermind behind Spectre and, conveniently, the conspiratory happenings of the last three films.
Sam Smith’s chilling “Writing’s on the Wall,” which is the first Bond theme to ever hit No. 1 on the charts, sets the stage during the film's classic title sequence. This one seemed much less classy and worthy of the British franchise's standing than the mesmerizing opening voiced by Adele in “Skyfall.”
“Spectre” received much acclaim months before it was released for the fact that one of the film's two Bond girls, Monica Bellucci (Lucia Sciarra in the film), is over the age of 35 (she is 51 and looks better than many women half her age, which would, of course, be a requirement for getting the role). It was meant to be a step toward the maturation and modernization of Bond as a character and of the franchise.
However, three things make this move much less revolutionary than it could have been: 1) Lucia is a widow but lacks any grief over the loss of her assassin husband—she instead just worries about her safety in a world of lies and secrecy; 2) even in her grief and with her I-don’t-need-no-man persona, she and Bond have sex about ten minutes after meeting; and 3) she is in a grand total of four minutes out of the total 148 of the film. The sumptuous actress makes an appearance to show that Bond, himself solidly in middle age, isn’t only interested in women without a sign of a wrinkle. The franchise will need to do much more than simply include such an actress on its payroll in order to show a change in an industry that limits a woman’s worth as she ages.
“Spectre” is a fun film to watch. Never boring, never too hard to follow, and with just enough glamour and style, car chases, explosions and martinis. It is a solid follow-up to the monumental “Skyfall,” but does not even try to compete with it. It’s sloppy and sappy and feels tied down by the most recent 007 films. Maybe Bond (or at least Craig) should have ended with the last one; but it is beautiful, under the masterful direction of Sam Mendes, and poses no risks to the continued success of the franchise. Craig does, after all, have one more film on his contract.