Review: Spectre

Words by: Jack Dawson

And here we are again, a Bond movie that asks the question: ‘Is Bond still relevant in the modern age of espionage/box office draw’? It must be about the umpteenth Bond movie to do so. But for what it’s worth Spectre is a decidedly retro iteration of Bond; a film that looks back over the entire history of Bond films as well as the Daniel Craig era, though it succeeds more at the former than the latter.

It’s been a while since Skyfall, and MI6 is still trying to weather the damage. This isn’t helped by Bond pursuing his own agenda, seemingly going rogue in the process. However, Bond discovers a conspiracy at work, an agenda that has had a hand in every single tragedy and significant event in his history. Yes, even whatever happened in Quantum of Solace. No I don’t remember either, and I’m pretty sure that a lot of the film’s call-backs centre around that film. In any case, two requisite Bond Girls are produced, an old foe with a new face returns, and Bond walks away from an exploding base.

At this point I should probably lay down my Bond credentials, especially since Spectre tries to call back to the best of James Bond. I’ve seen a handful of Bond Films, Goldfinger and The Spy Who Loved Me among them, and thanks to a James Bond Encyclopaedia I had when I was a kid, I’m aware of most of the events and characters from most of the films (including that time that Bond put on Yellowface to appear Japanese. Or the time that he forced himself on a woman who was stated to be a Lesbian in the original book of the film. Or the time Bond disarmed a bomb while dressed as a Clown. Bond has done some messed up stuff). As for the Craig era, Skyfall is the only film I can remember clearly, it’s been years since I saw Casino Royale, and I’m pretty sure my brain shut down in self-defence during Quantum of Solace, so I missed a lot of the references to those films in Spectre.

What I’m saying is, I have a sporadic knowledge of the Bond films, and I still enjoyed the reference-heavy Spectre.

Though from the other reviews I’ve seen, I may not have enjoyed the film so much if I was more familiar with Bond films. There’s the traditional debate over how Bond should be portrayed exactly (as an amoral sociopath or as a suave gentleman), the tone of the film, and the self-seriousness of the ideas and characters. I would be amazed to find any two James Bond fans who agree on any single opinions.

One criticism I will accept is that the film tries way too hard to make the romance between Bond and his girl of the week meaningful, and I’d put forward a critique that the film tries too hard to make Bond seem sympathetic. Both of these elements fall flat, because neither is really true of Bond in any iteration. Casino Royale got away with a deep and meaningful romance because it was an origin story of sorts, which helped to explain how Bond became the jaded operative that quips his way through the rest of the films and refuses to form any kind of meaningful interpersonal relationship. And I don’t think I need to explain why the Assassin who jokes about people’s deaths and shrugs off every problem as if it’s an inconvenience should probably just be played as likeable rather than sympathetic.

Otherwise, it’s not a terrible Bond movie, there is some great action and fun locations to visit. Christoph Waltz gives a strong performance, and Ralph Fiennes fits into the role of M as if he was born to play it. For every misstep that Spectre makes, it usually compensates with an equally accomplished set-piece, from the macabre opening to the explosive finale. And as a finale to the Craig era, it actually wraps up what character development he underwent while addressing many long-time concerns that fans have voiced. And I can still remember what happened during most of its run time, which automatically puts it above Quantum of Solace.

For as long as the Bond series has existed it seems like every actor who plays James Bond gets one truly great Bond movie to call their own, a host of mediocre or unremarkable ones, and at least one terrible film. Craig is fortunate in that he’s had two great films. So two mediocre entries feels like a small price to pay, all things considered.

Spectre isn’t a remarkable movie, but it is a relatively competent effort that knows how to have fun and how to borrow from the best. And after a conclusive finale such as this one, I can’t wait for the next Bond to make their mark.