Daniel Craig returns for his fourth outing as secret agent James Bond in Spectre. After garnering public and critical praise for Skyfall, the returning leading man and director Sam Mendes had made the task of impressing the audiences more difficult. The way they have succeeded in moving Bond forward is by taking a leap back.The overall story arc in Spectre is one of the past shaping the future. From an artistic stance this is what the writers and director have done for the movie. 2006’s Casino Royale‘s narrative and techniques didn’t tell a classic James Bond story.
He was stripped down to a raw double-O recruit, facing realistic fight scenes and more believability in plot. There were no secret underground lairs or futuristic technology aiding Bond. It was a Jason Bourne style action movie with a hint of that British Secret Service that defines Bond from other heroes.
Following Casino Royale was Quantum of Solace which demonstrated that for the first time in his history, Bond would be episodic. There was a larger story at play and the two films continued plot points laid out in the reboot. Skyfalldidn’t collect these directly but it was another act in what was clearly a saga.
Enter Spectre, both as movie title and secret organisation. With it we get the inevitable end game of all reboots. They can tease and hint for as long as they want. They can drop the gimmicks and add realism. But no amount of intelligent modernisation can delay the end to foreplay.
Christopher Nolan placed his version of Batman in the real world but he still had to give us a cape and cowl before adding a face-painted Joker. With Bond it’s exotic locations, improbable survival after deliberately getting caught, tough voiceless henchmen he shouldn’t be able to out-muscle, love interests and gadgets. Yes, the nostalgic toys have returned, albeit on a subtle scale.
Eventually you have to apply the first rule of show business: Give the people what they want.
After three movies of hinting it can be Bond, Sam Mendes, in his second stint at the helm, decided to tick-off a check-list from the pre-Craig era. We see a train scene, an alp sequence, multiple car chases, gratuitous sex scenes, a real baddie’s secret liar, Q in the field, a gadget to help Bond in a time of peril, a car with an ejector seat. It feels like a classic Bond shot with current actors.
The story isn’t without fault. How 007 gets the initial lead can be described best as: a plot hole. But when it becomes apparent we’re heading into retro-Bond territory it becomes less of an issue. In another life he ended up space, so we can ignore small errors here.
The idea of governments having too much surveillance and how organisations can be infiltrated is a hot-topic. It could be cruelly said that it borrows some ideas from Captain America: Winter Soldier, but it does so with a more sophisticated edge. Although Skyfall can’t be forgiven for stealing ideas from The Dark Knight and Home Alone.
The film is aided by a strong supporting cast. Ralph Fiennes once again proves what a solid actor he is and gives the Secret Service a soul. Ben Whishaw’s Q and Naomie Harris as Miss Moneypenny provide the perfect support, quite literally, it feels like Bond’s team is his family. Léa Seydoux is more than just a simple love interest; she adds genuine emotion to a film that could have easily turned out cold. Those that saw Andrew Scott in the BBC’s Sherlock already know his talent and Christoph Waltz is . . . well, you won’t be disappointed.
The new Bond has now become the fully-formed agent we saw in his previous incarnations. In doing so the universe he occupies has stepped away from reality and rests somewhere between the old and new versions. This isn’t a bad thing. Without embracing Bond’s past he would have just become a Bourne imitator. Now all bets are off. The stakes can be set as high as any writer’s imagination, any famous villain reborn.
In order to continue the episodic nature there’s also another certainty: there’s a painful future ahead for Her Majesty’s finest.