Overview: Bond searches for the man behind the mysterious organisation known as Spectre. Eon Productions; 2015; Rated PG 13; 148 minutes.
Imitation: Bond does not innovate, Bond imitates. This reviewer has discussed this before. Bond is always behind the trends, reacting a few steps later. If something is trendy, that trend will become the defining element of a movie, or a scene illustrating the trend will find its way into the script. For example, Licence to Kill’s emphasis on violence is a reaction to the success of Die Hard and Lethal Weapon. Moonraker’s existence is based upon the success of Star Wars. In the recent Bonds, this trend of imitation has continued. Casino Royale might never have existed if it hadn’t been for Batman Begins; Christopher Nolan’s Batman genesis showed that audiences would follow a clean slate approach to a franchise and Bond followed.
So what’s popular now? Continuity. The Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) has created a trend for interlinking movies. DC comics are now doing the same, as is, inexplicably, the Transformers franchise. Even the recent Dracula Untold had to go through reshoots in order to place it within a shared universe of Universal monster movies that has yet to reveal itself.
However, if there’s one thing Bond isn’t known for, it’s continuity. The joy of Bond is that you can, for the most part, pick any movie at random and watch it without needing to be caught up. Everything is pretty self-explanatory. Bond is a spy who is given a job at the start of the movie and then spends the rest of the movie carrying out that job to completion. Traditionally, there haven’t been many cliffhangers or dangling plot threads with Bond. It tends to be all wrapped up within two hours.
Sowing the Seeds: Which brings us to Spectre. Bond producers are attempting to have a shared universe within its own movies by having a villain who claims to be behind the schemes of all of Daniel Craig’s Bond movies. He is, as he announces, the author of all of Bond’s pain. It’s an interesting idea — that is, a big boss behind every baddie. This idea was explored before during the Connery years, where a shadowy figure would appear for a scene and command a villain to perform an action that Bond had to stop. Eventually the shadowy figure stepped into the light but only after four movies in the shadows. Spectre dispenses with that idea and simply hopes that the audience will believe that this character is the architect of the bad guy plots of Casino Royale, Quantum of Solace and Skyfall, though the movie goes out of its way to mention Quantum of Solace the least.
The reason the MCU works is because the links between its movies are seeded. In Iron Man, there is a scene in which Captain America’s shield is behind Tony Stark. In Captain America we see that same shield be built by Tony Stark’s dad. That is great seeding because it works both ways. Watch Iron Man and you get the foreshadowing of Captain America, watch Captain America and you get the explanation for the scene in Iron Man. Spectre does not bother with seeding because it’s clear that the idea that a shadowy figure is behind everything was conceived for this movie and not always the plan from the reboot. Except that it was. The plot of Quantum of Solace is Bond going after the shadowy organization behind the events of Casino Royale, but that organisation is not Spectre and it is implied that their leader is tortured for information by Bond and killed by members of his organisation. Surely, during that torture, Spectre would have been mentioned. The problem seems to be that the producers haven chosen to establish continuity after the fact rather than sowing the seeds for it from the beginning.
However, even with these issues, Spectre is still somehow a good Bond movie. It is fun, exciting, and action-packed. The opening is one of the best ever and the train fight is reminiscent of the train fight in From Russia with Love, one of the most brutal knock down fights in Bond history. Hoyte van Hoytema, taking over from Roger Deakins, has an incredible eye for scale and manages to make everything seem vast and impressive. He also drowns the screen in shadows and unfocused shots which vanish as Bond becomes more aware of the plot against him.
It’s also nice to see in these new Bonds an extended role for Moneypenny, M, Q and Tanner– as they all work together rather than spending the movie in an office. Perhaps this is a bit of Mission Impossible’s team dynamic rubbing off on the Bond franchise, more imitation from the producers.
Overall: This movie could have benefited from a stronger villain, perhaps one who actually does something rather than talking about things the audience is pretty sure he couldn’t have been responsible for (i.e. Silva had a grudge against M anyway, he didn’t need to be pushed to target her as a way to get back at Bond) and perhaps a flashback or cameo from a past character in order to help establish the villain’s credentials or thread the series’ shared universe. But even with all that, the movie uses great set pieces, humour, gorgeous locales, and a couple of massive, bloody explosions to redeem itself as a film that Bond fans can enjoy.