Review - Spectre

Spectre (2015), PG-13, 148 minutes - It's been quite a while since I've gone to a movie on opening night.  It generally doesn't fit into our schedule, and truth be told, I don't miss dealing with the crowds.  But this past Thursday night, a perfect storm of events occurred, allowing me the opportunity to check out the latest installment of the 007 franchise as soon as it opened.  What was that perfect storm you may ask?  First off, Spectre was playing at the local art house theater, which pretty much negated the possibility of an obnoxious crowd.  Second, the start time was 7 pm as opposed to midnight (apparently earlier Thursday night showings have become a thing since I last attended an opening night - nice to know).  And third, my wife had an exhausting day at school, one of those days where she didn't mind having a nice quiet house for the evening.  As a result, I jumped at the opportunity to see Bond's return to action.

Spectre is Daniel Craig's fourth (and potentially last) outing as seminal British super spy James Bond.   Similarly to its predecessor, 2012's Skyfall, Spectre examines more of Bond's personal history and how it coincides with current events in London, primarily the Centre of National Security's (CNS) intent to create a global surveillance program spearheaded by MI5's section chief C (Andrew Scott).  Such a program, if implemented, would lead to the dissolution of the double-o program at MI6.  The film begins with Bond partaking in a little off-the-books spy work as he carries out M's (previously Judi Dench) dying wishes to track down a man named Marco Sciarra (Alessandro Cremona).  He finds Sciarra in Mexico City during the Day of the Dead festival, finalizing plans to blow up a stadium.  Bond intervenes, although things do not go as planned.  A few bodies, a demolished building, and a crazy helicopter fight/hijacking sequence later he finds himself being temporarily suspended from duty by the new M (Ralph Fiennes) for his actions on an unsanctioned mission despite preventing the stadium bombing.  Actions like this, he is told, only strengthen the CNS's stance that the double-o program is antiquated and inefficient.  As we have seen before, Craig's incarnation of Bond doesn't necessarily do well with authority, and his determination is just as strong as his loyalty to queen and country.  So after soliciting the help of Moneypenny (Naomie Harris) and Q (Ben Whishaw), he ventures out on his own to investigate the one lead he took away from Mexico City: Sciarra's ring with a stylized octopus engraved on it.  The ring leads him to Rome and then to Austria in pursuit of the secret organization it symbolizes: Spectre, and their leader Franz Oberhauser (Christoph Waltz), a man long believed to be dead.  The plot unfolds as we learn how Spectre is tied to the CNS's global surveillance program, and even more importantly, how it is linked to Bond's past.

While Craig's take on James Bond was a reboot of sorts for the franchise, it has been one that, for three films has given winks and nods to classic 007 tropes while keeping one foot firmly planted in a 'more realistic' world.  Spectre gives us a world in which Craig's Bond makes use of many, if not all of the tropes the franchise has become known for throughout the years: gadgets, brutish henchmen, and an over the top villainous headquarters located in a remote area of the world, and of course Bond doesn't shy away from utilizing his sexuality in efforts to help his investigation.

Other than those already mentioned, Spectre is populated with characters portrayed by Léa Seydoux (ally/love interest Dr. Madeleine Swann), Jesper Christensen (recurring nemesis Mr. White), Dave Bautista (Oddjob/Jaws-like Hinx), and Stephanie Sigman and Monica Bellucci ('Bond' Girls Estrella and Lucia respectively).

No matter how well Spectre does at the box office (it is already breaking records over-seas), it is a bit of a landmark Bond film.  As it stands, there is a good chance that it will be Daniel Craig's last outing as 007.  He has said in the past that he wasn't terribly excited about continuing on in the role, but then said more recently that he'd be willing to as long as his body could take the punishment.  The film certainly plays as if it were his farewell to the character.  Spectre is also the first Bond film in twenty years that doesn't feature Judi Dench as M.  After the events of 2012's Skyfall, we knew that the reigns had been passed to Ralph Fiennes, it just feels like a bit of a shock as she has become so synonymous with the Bond franchise.

My personal belief is that Spectre falls notch below Skyfall, but then again those were some pretty big shoes to fill.  I did very much enjoy this entry to the franchise and think that it provides good closure to the story-arc that began with 2006's Casino Royale (coincidentally the first film I wrote a review for).  Spectre leans heavily on the events of both Casino Royale and Skyfall, so anyone who has not seen those films may not appreciate this film as much.  Director Sam Mendes has given us another high quality action/adventure spy thriller while re-incorporating some of the elements that had been abandoned in previous Craig-era Bond films.  I'd love it if Daniel Craig continues to carry the 007 torch, but if this was his final bow as Bond, I feel as though Spectre provides a fitting end to his chapter in Bond history.


- When Christoph Waltz was announced as having been added to the cast, it was widely believed that he would portray classic Bond villain Ernst Stavro Blofeld.  This was denied at every opportunity by anyone official speaking on the film, but as it turns out, that is exactly who Waltz's character turned out to be, complete with fluffy white cat and scarred face by the end of the film.

- Not only does Blofeld make an appearance, he is also revealed to be James Bond's adoptive brother.  The Oberhauser's took James in after his parents died, and in Blofeld's eyes, became his father's favorite child, leading to Blofeld's hatred of James.

- Considering the history of 'Bond' girls, I probably shouldn't have been surprised by how small Monica Bellucci's part was.  I incorrectly assumed that she would play a more integral part in the film when the cast was originally announced.  

- I liked the relationship built between James and Madeleine, although I did feel that her telling him that she loved him was a little forced considering what we had actually seen on screen at that point.  

- I also liked the dynamic between Bond and the new M, and the loyalty of Moneypenny and Q to Bond despite his being reprimanded.

- As I mentioned above, Spectre touches on a number of threads from Casino Royale and Skyfall.  There didn't really seem to be any connective tissue to Quantum of Solace aside from the inclusion of Mr. White.  If there was anything beyond that, I missed it.  I admittedly have not seen Quantum of Solace as often as either Casino Royale or Skyfall, which are two of my all-time favorite Bond films.

- It will be very interesting to see where the Bond franchise goes from here.  Spectre provides enough closure to the story told over the last four films that if Craig were to return, he'd almost have to sign on for multiple films again in order to properly cover a new arc. On a similar note, it has been widely rumored that someone like Idris Elba may be being considered to take over the reigns, which would be very compelling in and of itself as James Bond has always been a middle-aged white man.  


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