Spectre, the fourth James Bond outing for Daniel Craig, takes the typical Bond cold open and immerses the viewer into an experience with a single long shot through crowds of people as the famed agent approaches his target. What I feared would only work as a callback to Live and Let Die with skull-filled imagery (remember Baron Samedi?) pulls double duty as it immediately presents the movie with its mission statement, picking up threads from Skyfall in honoring what came before. The opening of Spectre is an expertly crafted sequence, in a vacuum, completely free of the problems which plague the following two hours and change.
In Mexican culture, Día de los Muertos is a holiday celebrated with decoration that openly recall death. Skeletons dressed in gowns and suits are put up all throughout Mexico to honor loved ones who have moved on from life. We grieve, we mourn, but ultimately pay tribute to the dead by celebrating and honoring their memory. This is also what Director Sam Mendes places James Bond doing in the fantastic opening to Spectre. Where most globe-trotting Bond adventures use fancy locations as set dressing, Spectre accounts for purposeful plotting and stage setting with an event personally near and dear to this writer’s heart.
This current Bond is more personal, with his stories never reaching for the goofy tone of the Roger Moore era, something that Kingsman: The Secret Service harkened back to earlier this year. Even contemporary Bond’s villains aren’t seeking to take over the world. They’re middle-men in Le Chiffre, an environmentalist (Dominic Greene), and revenge-crazed Raoul Silva. This film personal-ness is also reflected in each of Bond’s segmented personal journeys and the women co-starring in this new era of Bond. Vesper Lynd is his only true love, Camille is another vessel of vengeance, and M is the closest thing Bond has to a mother, lest we forget dame Judi Dench as being the Bond girl in Skyfall.
After decades of a stale formula, these are all wholly refreshing approaches. All of this just makes it more disappointing when Spectre reverts to old school, tired Bond tropes. My dissatisfaction isn’t toward reminiscence about the old Bond days but moreso that, apart from a few choice selections, the filmmakers choose the wrong Bond tropes to utilize. In a perfect world, Spectre is able to capitalize on the aforementioned characters and have Bond’s self-reflection be the thematic meat of the movie.
There’s an attempt at establishing the idea of a “legacy,” and leaving something behind. I don’t believe the movie handles any of this well enough to stick the landing, but is that so wrong? I wasn’t actually crazy about Spectre, nor do I feel overwhelmingly sour about its shortcomings. There’s plenty to like and plenty to dislike, and I’m definitely more positive on this movie after a second viewing, but it’s a fundamentally flawed outing for the character.
An imperfectly structured building in real life would lead to a disaster that would lead to deaths of hundreds of people. This isn’t real life. It’s a movie. We can admire bits and pieces without worrying about collateral damage or public endangerment, just to put things into perspective. And let’s not pretend like there’s never been a bad Bond movie before (I would argue less than half even qualify as good movies but I don’t plan on dying on a hill today). But all of this compartmentalization does nothing to change the fact that Spectre’s opening just fucking rules. In spite of its retroactively tainting some goodwill built up in previous Bond outings, Spectre is worth watching for that opening sequence alone. It presents a thesis to Bond’s current mission clearly and efficiently, possibly more efficiently than any Bond opening in history, while maintaining the exciting espionage that is staple to the entire series. And not evem the weird tentacle porn in the follow up title sequence can lessen the impact of a cold open that, just for a moment, punctuates all of the exceptional aspects of Daniel Craig’s Bond legacy.