One of the themes central to SPECTRE is the question of whether the 00 Section of MI6 is still relevant in the 21st century, particularly in the wake of the literal and figurative explosions that rocked the British secret service following the events of Skyfall. It’s a question highly relevant to the James Bond franchise itself, a series that has now racked up 24 films and has proudly worn its misogyny and Cold War politics on its sleeve for over half a century.
On some levels, SPECTRE treads over some old territory, despite an incongruous and wailing opening song by Sam Smith and more tentacles groping naked women than an erotic Japanese anime film. A rogue James Bond (Daniel Craig) defies the orders of new section head M (Ralph Fiennes) and “C” (Andrew Scott), the head of a new privately-backed intelligence organisation that aims to merge MI5 with MI6 and eliminate the 00 agents, tracking down his own leads on a network that connects all of the world’s terror organisations.
Bookending the ‘origin story’ that began with Casino Royale, SPECTRE recreates one of Bond’s most famous villains, and in the grand tradition of all reimaginings, gives the bad guy (Christoph Waltz) a personal connection. All of the giant tick-boxes that you’d expect in a 007 film are there, from lavish locations to women (this time, Léa Seydoux and the age-appropriate Monica Bellucci) falling for the suave agent’s piercing baby blues.
The opening sequence around the Mexican Día de Muertos is absolutely stunning, with impeccable costuming (via the award-winning Jany Temime), and Hoyte van Hoytema’s photography gets to linger long on London, Rome, and the gorgeous Sölden region of Austria. What might surprise some is how measured the film’s pacing is, with long scenes paying great attention to the mise en scène, allowing director Sam Mendes and the cast to play with the expected.
It’s not an entirely even experience, but the film gives us enough thrills to answer its own question: there is still room for James Bond, especially one that has more than two dimensions.
2015 | UK/US | Dir: Sam Mendes | Writers: John Logan, Neal Purvis, Robert Wade, Jez Butterworth | Cast: Daniel Craig, Christoph Waltz, Léa Seydoux, Ben Whishaw, Naomie Harris, Dave Bautista, Monica Bellucci, Ralph Fiennes | Distributor: Sony| Running time: 148minutes | Rating:★★★¾ (7.5/10)