Sam Mendes brought a degree of depth to Skyfall which we've not seen in a Bond movie for a long time. SPECTRE continues in the same vein as its predecessor with an involving plot, fully rounded characters and some finely honed set pieces. I like this approach to Bond and feel that a more cerebral interpretation of the character is not only beneficial for the franchise but to the genre itself. If SPECTRE does turn out to be Daniel Craig’s swansong as James Bond then it will be a fitting epitaph.
Much has been made of SPECTRE’s running time, which at one hundred and forty eight minutes makes it the longest entry in the franchise since On Her Majesties Secret Service. However none of that time is squandered and the production balances the pace well between action scene and narrative exposition. The plot is straight forward but allows for moments of introspection. MI6 is under threat of closure and replacement by surveillance and drones. Bond goes AWOL after receiving a posthumous message from the previous M (Judi Dench). The tip leads him to the nebulous crime organisation SPECTRE and a face from his past in the guise of sockless villain, Franz Oberhauser (Christophe Waltz).
Daniel Craig once again shows his total ownership of this role, bringing nuance and subtlety. Bond is a complex man and not just a hired assassin. He has convictions, loyalties and weaknesses. SPECTRE also affords an opportunity for the supporting cast to do more than usual. Ben Whishaw excels as Q and has the lion share of the movies amusing quips. Ralph Fiennes again shows that M is more than just a bureaucrat. But it is Léa Seydoux as Dr Madeleine Swann who adds weight to SPECTRE. It makes a change to see such a well-crafted female lead in a Bond movie. Christope Waltz is suitably menacing although his evil propensities are somewhat telegraphed by his Nehru jacket.
SPECTRE benefits greatly from concise action scenes. The opening helicopter fight is gripping and impressive without being bloated or excessive. The production once again uses minimal CGI FX work, relying on superb miniature and physical effects. The demolition of the MI6 headquarters at Vauxhall is particularly impressive, maintaining a sense of scale and mass. It should be noted that SPECTRE pushes the limits of the 12 rating (UK). It is tonally very bleak and has two scenes that contain surprisingly unpleasant violence (all of which is justified). Bond movies have never been family films irrespective of what some viewers may erroneously think.
If I have a criticism with SPECTRE then it lies with Thomas Newman’s score. The soundtrack is perfectly functional and provides an adequate ambient back ground track. But it is no more than an accompaniment and never asserts any personal identity upon the proceedings. John Barry wrote cues that not only embellished the Bond franchise but which stayed with you when you left the movie theatre. I enjoyed SPECTRE a lot but remember nothing of Newman’s score.
Skyfall set a new benchmark for Bond and although SPECTRE does not necessarily exceed that standard, it most definitely provides more of the same. Where many film makers are hamstrung by the perceived constraints of the PG-13 action movie market, Sam Mendes proves that it doesn't have to be an artistic or creative handicap. SPECTRE is a robust and entertaining entry in to the canon, tempered by a healthy streak of gallows humour. It will be very interesting to see where Bond goes from here.