In 2015, director Sam Mendes returned to direct his second Bond film, the 24th official Bond film in the franchise, and the 4th to see Daniel Craig as the face of the fictional MI6 agent. Mendes returning sees him become the first director to do consecutive films since John Glen concluded his five consecutive films with “License to Kill” (1989) in the 80’s – the trend had become a new and exciting director for each film. Mendes was not initially interested in a return but after reading the plot and script for “Spectre” he admitted it was appealing.
The film kicks-off in Mexico at the Day of the Dead celebration. Bond is there unofficially, based on a post-humous message by the previous M. He stops a terrorist bombing plot and kills a terrorist leader called Marco Sciarra who was wearing a ring with an octopus emblazoned on it. On his return home, the current M, Gareth Mallory suspends him. He’s got troubles of his own as Max Denbigh, nicknamed C by Bond, (Director General to a private and joint Intelligence Service created out of the merger between MI5 and MI6) wants to retire the double-o field agents division. He also wants to sign Britain up to a global surveillance initiative called “Nine Eyes”.
Paying no attention to M, Bond attends Sciarra’s funeral and seduces his widow. He learns that Sciarra was part of an organisation of criminal masterminds and terrorist businesspeople. Bond uses the ring to infiltrate a meeting and hears the groups leader, Franz Oberhausen, say that the “Pale King” must be assassinated. While at the meeting Bond gets noticed by Mr Hinx, one of the organisations lead assassins. On leaving the meeting Bond contacts Eve Moneypenny who tells him that the Pale King is Mr White (see “Casino Royale” (2006) and “Quantum of Solace” (2008)). He asks her to investigate Oberhausen. Bond tracks Mr White down to Austria where he is dying. White tells Bond to protect his daughter (Dr Madeleine Swann) and in exchange she will be able to lead him to L’American which will help Bond find Oberhausen – then he commits suicide. Bond does just that, he finds Dr Swann, he rescues her from Hinx, and then they bump into Q. Q informs Bond that Oberhausen is linked to his previous targets; Le Chiffre, Dominic Greene, and Raoul Silva – they all work under the same organisation which is called SPECTRE.
Bond and Dr Swann go to Tangier and find Mr White’s evidence that tells them where to find Oberhausen’s base in the Sahara Desert. They make their way there and fight Hinx on route. On arrival they are escorted into Oberhausen’s base where he reveals SPECTRE has funded the Joint Intelligence Service that Max Denbigh/ C is part of, while simultaneously creating terrorist activity and events that lead to the need for the joint intelligence agency in the first place – cause and effect. On top of it, SPECTRE is also the Nine Eyes programme, so if the plan comes into fruition, SPECTRE will have power in all the modern countries of the world via an intelligence network. Bond is tortured by Oberhausen who confesses who he is; his father Hannes Oberhausen became a temporary guardian for Bond in his youth. Believing that his father loved Bond more ate Oberhausen up, he likens it to a cuckoo that forces the natural child out of the nest. He eventually killed his father, staged his own death, adopted the name Ernst Stavro Blofeld and went on to form SPECTRE and target Bond. Bond and Swann manage to escape after Bond throws an exploding wristwatch at Blofeld’s face (Despite Q saying in “Skyfall” that MI6 don’t really go in for exploding watched anymore!). They escape to London.
In London Bond tells M, Q, Bill Tanner and Moneypenny what is going on. They hunt down C and try to stop Nine Eyes. Bond and Swann are separated so Q manages to stop Nine Eyes himself. Bond must save Swann from the old MI6 building which is scheduled to be demolished. Blofeld however has made an elaborated maze in the building though, which forces Bond to save himself and potentially capture Blofeld or save Swan and lose Blofeld. Bond manages to save Swann and manages to take down Blofeld’s fleeing chopper. They confront one and other on Westminster Bridge where Bond has the option to kill Blofeld but instead drops his gun and walks away, leaving M to do the honours.
About the Film
The writing in this film brings back regular writers Neal Purvis and Robert Wade who have worked on five films in the franchise. Joining them again is John Logan who came in with Sam Mendes on “Skyfall” (2012). As well as the writing, all three of them worked on the screenplay along with British playwright Jez Butterworth who previously worked uncredited on “Skyfall” (2012). Also helping were Mendes himself, and Daniel Craig, who lent themselves to the scripting work. In the writing process concepts and names were taken from the “Octopussy and the Living Daylights” novel by Ian Fleming, so despite been stated as an original film, “Spectre” does take from the original source material. In particularly Hannes Oberhausen is lifted from the written pages, who is named as being a guardian to Bond in his youth. It was Mendes that conceived the “cuckoo” concept that motivates Franz to kill his father and become Blofeld.
The use of the Blofeld character, and SPECTRE came about because a settlement was reached with the McClory estate, MGM, and Danjaq (the sister company of Eon Productions). Previously Blofeld and SPECTRE had not appeared since Sean Connery’s “Diamonds are Forever” (1971)… okay, they kind of appeared in Roger Moore’s “For Your Eyes Only” (1981) but because of a legal issues the names or faces are never seen or mentioned. Eon Productions had long been forced not to use SPECTRE and all its associated characters, including Blofeld due to litigation. Ex-producer Kevin McClory owned rights to elements of the Fleming novel “Thunderball” (1965) that blocked Eon from using them. He [McClory] was the reason behind the unofficial “Never Say Never Again” (1983) being made under MGM’s banner too. After he died in 2006 work was started to work a deal out, and in 2013 a settlement was agreed meaning SPECTRE returned to Eon. This allowed a retcon to take place within the Daniel Craig reboots too. The “Quantum” organisation was turned into a branch of SPECTRE rather than the head of the organisation as it had been previously hinted at. This allowed all the Daniel Craig films, including “Skyfall” (2012) (which was heavily suggested as being a standalone film) to be linked under the SPECTRE being the mastermind concept – something the film delights in telling us.
The films budget was just short of $300 million and it grossed $880 million globally. It became the second highest grossing Bond film behind Mendes’s last outing with “Skyfall” (2012). It had a runtime of 148 minutes which meant it certainly had a lot to give its fan base. Beautifully shot and edited with cracking cinematography by Hoyte Van Hoytema that vibrant and engaging this film takes its audience hoping around the globe like typical Bond films do. The production team and crew on this film was massive, with over 1000 people in it according to an interview by Mendes. This is hardly surprising when you read that at least 7 visual effects companies/teams came into work on the film and title sequence – that’s before you even get to set designers, wardrobe, make-up, camera crew, stunt teams, and a whole host of other roles within the film.
The casting brought Daniel Craig back into his fourth Bond film, but more importantly for him, he was credited as a co-producer this time too. Over the last few films that he had been involved in he had been doing more and more work behind the scenes, especially in the writing departments. On “Quantum of Solace” (2008) for example, between 2007 – 2008 the Writers Guild of America went on strike preventing writers from working on films. It did not however mean that actors or other crew could not work on writing. Since then he has been using his pen skills to help in uncredited way. This time around however he achieved a co-producer shout-out, which he suggested is one of the highest points of his career. As far his acting performance in the film goes, if you have seen him in any of the other Bond reboots than the standards have not dropped. He is direct and blunt while being refined and reserved. He has quickly become a firm favourite as the grown up and darker version of Bond that I never knew I wanted. Admittedly in this film he gives the impression that active duty is taking its toll on him and his aches ache that little bit more these days.
Christopher Waltz comes in as Franz Oberhausen/ Ernst Stavro Blofeld, the SPECTRE mastermind. His performance is great, he is clinical in his delivery with a real hatred for Bond coming through. Whereas in the last film (“Skyfall” (2012)) Javier Bardem came across a little bit comical and camp with his delivery, Waltz manages his performance and comes across more unhinged and cleverer. Still light-hearted in moments like Bardem’s delivery, but never quite on the campy side like Bardem brought. Both however are criminally underused in their respective performances – but let us face it, the audience is coming to see Bond, not the villain.
Dave Bautista is the henchman Mr Hinx, who only gets a single word of dialogue in the entire film. When being cast, Mendes was worried that getting a single line would put Bautista off, but he really wanted him due to his size and presence, and because of his history in combat too. Bautista jumped at the chance as fan of Bond films in the history of cinema. He ends up being a good old-fashioned henchman much like what the 70’s and 80’s of the Bond franchise brought us. A silent assassin that is deadly, and whose presence alone could strike fear into his victims.
Andrew Scott plays Max Denbigh/C to great effect. He is wonderfully slimy and untrustworthy. He makes a good politician in the film, knowing that he should not be trusted but unable to do anything because he is protected, but ultimately being brought down by his own greed and desire for power.
Lea Seydoux plays Dr Madeleine Swann, Mr White’s daughter. Her performance is a great. She is stand offish and cold throughout, it is until she is worked out Bond and his vulnerability that she melts to him and begins to be warmer. While it is easy to say there was no chemistry between her and Craig’s Bond, it would be unfair. She believes he killed her father, or at least contributed to it – so her hands-off approach at first is a level of chemistry that shines through.
Ralph Fiennes returns as M/ Gareth Mallory – he proves that he is not just there for the dialogue and pay-check with yet another action-packed performance. Naomie Harris is once again cast as Eve Moneypenny, her involvement isn’t as much as in the last film, but she delivers her role well and proves she is more of an involved Moneypenny then previous incarnations gave Bond audiences. The same goes for Ben Wilshaw as Q, although Desmond Llewelyn did take the occasional trip out of “Q Branch”, especially in the 80’s Bond films, Wilshaw’s Q is very much involved in action, maybe not as much as he was in “Skyfall” (2012) but a lot more than the character would typically be. The Bill Tanner character makes a return too, played by Rory Kinnear. Tanner is the chief of staff at MI6, a character that appeared regularly in novels and was noticeably absent from early Bond films. Judi Dench does make a small cameo appearance via a video message that Bond has, appearing in this marks her twentieth year in the franchise having first appeared in “Goldeneye” (1995).
Right from the very beginning of the film at the Day of the Dead festival in Mexico, to Westminster Bridge in London at the end, this film proved to be a spectacularly epic action/adventure film. It is beautifully delivered and really packs a punch. It sparkles in all the right places and at times becomes a love letter to the Bond films of the past. I like to be entertained and this is really an entertaining film from start to finish – one that is laid out to the audience and does not really need to much understanding. Despite the positives though I do have some negatives, and they are centered around the story and the unfolding of the plot. The main negative being is that there is not really anything new or clever here. Bond is on a revenge mission that his superiors are not happy about. Somebody from the past wants revenge against Bond. The threat to the world once again is technology and information. While Raoul Silva in “Skyfall” (2012) was an out-and-out cyber-terrorist (although we never see him at a computer properly), this time we have the mastermind behind a terrorist organisation whose globally threatening plan is, (drum roll please) a spying/information network over the world – so yeah, he’s basically in charge of a cyber-terrorist organisation. Hang on though, hasn’t that been done? Hasn’t it been featured in a Batman film, a Captain America film, “Enemy of the State” (1998) as well as various other films over the years too? I am certain it has. There are other plot holes and issues throughout that, if you are fan of all the films, serve to confuse a little – for example: in “Skyfall” (2012) it’s claimed that Bond grew up with Kinkade in Scotland… but in “Spectre” he grew up on a snowy mountain being looked after by Oberhausen. In the last film Q claimed that MI6 do not really go in for silly gadgets like exploding watches… but guess how Bond escapes Blofeld… yeah, an exploding watch. I could rant on and on, but I will not, I will just sum it up by saying that this is a fun and action-packed film. It is not perfect by any stretch of the imagination. It is better than “Quantum of Solace” (2008) in my opinion, probably on par with “Skyfall” (2012), but nowhere near as good as “Casino Royale” (2006) which for me is the pinnacle in Daniel Craig performing as 007 so far. While he was initially going to hang up his tuxedo after this film he’s signed up to one more film in “No time to Die” (due for release in 2021), so I’m hoping that he gets an adequate send off in that, and he doesn’t end up getting a farewell like “Die Another Day” (2002) did to Brosnan.
Title Song: The Writing’s on the Wall – Sam Smith
In terms of Bond films this is an 8 out of 10.
In terms of movies in the long and illustrious history of film I would give this a 7 out of 10.
Bond, James Bond, 007 – Ranking
|1||007: Casino Royale (2006) ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐|
|–||007: Goldfinger (1964) ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐|
|–||007: Goldeneye (1995) ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐|
|2||007: The Man with the Golden Gun (1974) ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐|
|–||007: Spectre (2015) ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐|
|–||007: Skyfall (2012) ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐|
|–||007: License to Kill (1989) ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐|
|–||007: A View to a Kill (1985) ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐|
|–||007: Dr. No (1962) ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐|
|–||007: The Living Daylights (1987) ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐|
|–||007: Tomorrow Never Dies (1997) ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐|
|–||007: The World is Not Enough (1999) ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐|
|–||007: From Russia with Love (1963) ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐|
|3||007: Thunderball (1965) ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐|
|–||007: The Spy Who Loved Me (1977) ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐|
|007: Quantum of Solace (2008) ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐|
|–||007: Moonraker (1979) ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐|
|4||007: You only live twice (1967) ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐|
|–||007: On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (1969) ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐|
|–||007: Diamonds are Forever (1971) ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐|
|–||007: For Your Eyes Only (1981) ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐|
|–||007: Octopussy (1983) ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐|
|007: Die Another Day (2002) ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐|
|007 (Unofficial): Never Say Never Again (1983) ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐|
|5||007: Live and Let Die (1973) ⭐⭐⭐⭐|