‘Spectre’ (2015) Review: Old Villain, New Threats

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Beginning with a memorable opening sequence tearing through Mexico’s eerie Day of the Dead celebrations, Spectre is captivating throughout. The action is tense, the dialogue is at times teasing and humorous, the retro is creatively remixed while remaining original, and the film contemplates a number of interesting contemporary themes.

There is a significant amount of retrospective continuity, connections between director Sam Mendes’s latest Bond contribution and the rest of the recent tetralogy, drawing together the varying elements of the four films. The broken shards in the opening credit sequence detail shadowy figures from Bond’s Daniel Craig-associated past, and while Sam Smith’s slightly-too-high-pitched theme song doesn’t entirely convince that the Writing is On the Wall, Christoph Waltz’s reawakened Blofeld insists he has been the unseen spectral figure behind all of the villains of the past three films and the purveyor of all Bond’s woes. Blofeld proclaims that he has ensured the death of every woman Craig’s Bond has come into contact with, from the lesser-known lovers to M herself, in revenge for a perceived childhood slight. There are further parallels between Lea Seydoux’s Madeleine Swann and Vesper Lynd, not least a train-carriage meeting between Swann and Bond echoing that of Casino Royale.

Mendes also makes a number of tributes to rest of the Bond catalogue. From the train carriage brawl with a brawny Spectre henchman which evokes a very similar altercation with another oversized criminal stooge in From Russia With Love, to the final pursuit of Blofeld down the Thames which echoes Brosnan’s 1999 chase, Spectre is full of throwbacks to previous Bond eras. And yet there is no sense of cliché, as each of these classic Bond scenes are recreated in an innovative and original way, and no sense of predictability pervades the exhilarating action scenes.

Nevertheless there still remains the misogyny inherent in all Bond films, as several female characters – a nameless Mexican girl in the opening sequences, Monica Bellucci’s grieving widow – are portrayed as objects to sate Bonds carnal needs. However, Seydoux’s Swann is a more than equal match to Bonds chauvinism, not just highly intelligent but determined and headstrong, and with corresponding combat skills. Although she too doesn’t take long to suddenly become enraptured with Bond, declaring her love for him after about five minutes, she has both the nous and resolution to leave him, avoiding the curse that has affected every other of Craig’s Bond liaisons (although admittedly they are shown walking off hand-in-hand in the penultimate scene).

There was an interesting focus on the theme of surveillance, with the key plan of the organized crime and terrorist association of the title to infiltrate an upcoming surveillance information partnership between nine of the world’s biggest intelligence agencies. This denotes the contemporaneous nature of the film, that the greatest threat perceived to humanity in 2015 is unlike those of past Bond films; threats of nuclear missiles, rogue satellite-lasers, or chemical weapons. Here information is the latest supreme form of power, and the greatest threat is of global totalitarian observation; no doubt a nod to the Snowden surveillance leaks, Ralph Fiennes’s M pronouncing it ‘George Orwell’s worst nightmare’.

It looks likely that this will be Craig’s last outing – he has said he will slit his wrists before he does another Bond movie – in what has become by far the most successful of all the Bond franchises, and one of the most successful of all time. But perhaps one of the few criticisms is that there might have been further character development of Blofeld (and also his ‘visionary’ protégé ‘C’), a task for which Waltz would have been more than worthy going by his malevolently layered portrayal of Hans Landa in Inglorious Basterds. Therefore perhaps in the interests of a full exploration of the background and motives of the two villains, a fifth film might have rounded of the franchise reboot, with Craig being dragged back kicking and screaming. However these are merely hypothetical fan-musings (moreover it is likely that we have not seen the last of Waltz’s Blofeld), which should not and do not detract from another superlative James Bond film.

Griff Ferris