Spectre – Another day, another Bond. (Film Review)
The whole Bond thing does have a longevity one can’t deny, but this is the first of the films that imagines humans exist around the agent with a licence to kill, beyond the fulfilment of his own reason d’être. Spectre doesn’t rescue Bond from being that talisman for a ludicrously fictionalised masculinity but it does give one the sense of how his behaviours effect those around him. It all starts with a marvellous tracking shot that isn’t really a tracking shot, taking its que from Birdman last year, but using Hitchcock’s Rope for inspirational nuance. Like Rope, another film that emphasises death and the right (or licence) to kill, the tracking shots break draws attention to and away from the continuity in the film. Spectre begins watching Bond walk through a crowd, his trademark black suit decked out with skeleton bones, on Dia de Muertos in Mexico, mixing pursuing a super villain with erotically stimulating a female. The shot “lasts” a full four minutes, but makes its “invisible” transitions in closeups of Bond’s jacket, change of rooms and the like. These all heavily reference Hitchcock’s Rope, and point to a film that, as M (Ralph Fiennes) insists, highlight the trigger moment, when the licence to kill is equally a licence not to kill. Bond will go on to chase his villain over rooftops, the dancing skeleton bedecked crowd beneath him, and end up on a helicopter that dips and dives precariously into the crowd, terrifying and almost killing thousands of civilians. This signals the first Bond film where the deadly chaos that surrounds Bond is palpable and from the citizens point of view.
This is different, particularly from Skyfall, that enmeshed Bond in a kind of robotic fantasy world where his behaviour as controlled by M (Judy Dench) was an automoton-like response to external commands. Skyfall’s Bond was a robotic continuum of the previous Daniel Craig films but with the Mendes touch which amounted to a semi-ludicrous plot that took him back to his roots in every way except emotionally. In retrospect it was gimmicky in the wrong way, and horribly misogynistic, including a now mature child sex slave who is pointlessly shot immediately after Bond has sex with her. None of that thoughtless stupidity exists in Spectre, which in many ways is the most back to basics of all the Daniel Craig inclusions in the franchise. The spectre that hovers over Bond, also exists around him in a world haunted by more than his own imminent demise. Mendes is never one to be subtle with his metaphor, but with Spectre, he manages to sledge-hammer us with his point, while equally forcing us to feel for the innocent around Bond. It’s a nice twist.
This connection extends to the (in)famous “Bond girls” of the film. From the widow Monica Bellucci to the deliriously lovely Léa Seydoux Bond’s famous virility is leant a touch of warmth, something missing from previous Bond films and reversed in Skyfall. If Bond is such a vulnerable creature turned cold-blooded as the previous films suggest, it makes more sense that he crumbles, even slightly, under a woman’s touch. This treatment references of a modern-day truth and complexity forcing the cold-bloodedness of Skyfall into childish retro land, and giving the Bond of Spectre a much-needed dose of depth even the Vesper Lynd back story failed to provide. This Bond is actually interesting. Something he hasn’t been for quite some time.
This in a Bond film that revisits a lot of its past, and not in the clunky, over-the-top way Skyfall did. Those who love their Bond films will have a marvellous time playing spot-the-reference in a film that rewards the true believers. Spectre does suffer under the weight of the spectre of previous films, and its a fine line it walks between homage and parody, but in the case of Spectre, the lightness gives the film the sense of irony of the earlier Sean Connery Bond’s. Spectre is very much an old school Bond, with the silliness being kept for impossibly huge sets, phenomenally evil villains and gorgeous scenery. Cinematographer Hoyte van Hoytema who did a majestic job on Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy and Interstellar retains the death theme through too shiny whites and brownish haze that disavow the sweeping panoramic of the very early Bond films in love with location, but the all important reference is there with enough of a twist to indulge in that all too cheese Bond aesthetic that we’ve grown to love. Skyfall took itself a little too seriously in this department, and its great to see a Bond that doesn’t try to answer all the questions about who this man is (lets face it, he’s never been the worlds’ most complicated man) and what makes him tick, rather it examines who those are around him and how he interacts.
Despite liking Skyfall initially, I was turned off after watching it a few times. I doubt a repeat viewing of Spectre will suffer in the same way.
Oh and PS – Daniel Craig looks amazing in a Tom Ford suit!