SPECTRE (2015, all rights to image with current holder) takes the pseudo-gritty down-to-Earth Daniel Craig style of Bond and combines it with the classic Bond elements. In the opening, for example, Bond goes with a beautiful woman up to her Mexico City apartment, but it’s primarily to set him up for exercising his license to kill. That’s a classic Bond set-up, but unlike Connery or Moore, Craig walks away afterwards and forgets the liaison. Later he’s driving a gimmick-laden car, but it turns out the guns aren’t loaded. We get SPECTRE but instead of nuclear terrorism, it’s involved in sex trafficking (among other nastiness)
The Story: A video message from Judi Dench’s M some time ago set Bond on the trail of the mysterious Sciarri, which culminated in the Mexico City shoot-out. Typical for Craig’s Bond, the collateral damage is spectacular, much to the displeasure of M (Ralph Fiennes): ambitious intelligence overlord C (Andrew Scott) is plotting to absorb MI6 and shut down the 00’s—what can they do that a drone can’t?—while forging the world’s intelligence services into a level of privacy-violating, illegal joint surveillance run by him (hmm, is it possible C has a hidden agenda?). Despite being warned off the case, Bond doesn’t back after. After seducing Sciarri’s widow Monica Bellucci leads Bond to the meeting of Spectre’s heads, including the sneering Blofeld (Christopher Waltz). He then moves on to confront the dying Mr. White of Quantum of Solace, and in return for information, promises to protect the man’s daughter, Madeleine (Léa Seydoux), who becomes the main Bond girl.
It turns out Blofeld is Bond’s foster brother, sort of—his father took James in after the death of Bond’s parents, and Blofeld resented it. A lot. So he killed his father, faked his own death and built up Spectre as a counterpoint to Bond’s MI6 world. His ultimate goal is to destroy Bond—Blofeld takes personal responsibility for setting up the deaths of both Vesper Lynd in Casino Royale and Dench’s M in Skyfall. Now he’s going to put Bond in an agonizing deathtrap, then once C gets his way Spectre will have full access to world-wide intelligence (as with previous Bond films, there’s not really an imminent threat Bond has to stop, just the villain getting too much power/money).
The good: It’s just a damn good Bond thriller, with a lot of nods to the past. And the ending, if this is Craig’s final film, works well for that.
The bad: The Craig films have consistently provided villains who are either bland, annoying or both, and this is no exception. Waltz’s giggling fiend simply isn’t strong enough to be the big bad, particularly when he’s retroactively the big bad of four movies, and the existence of Spectre is primarily to work out his sibling-rivalry issues.
As I mentioned back in 2012, The Spy Who Loved Me shifted the emphasis of the film from the villain to the female lead. In the Craig movies, it’s switched back. After Vesper Lind, there’s no Bond girl of consequence in Quantum or Skyfall (I don’t count Moneypenny as a Bond girl in the classic sense) and for all she gets her man, Madeleine doesn’t particularly stand out here, even if she does know how to shoot a gun. It’s Benicio del Toro in Skyfall and Waltz here who are the opposite number to Bond, just as in the early Connery films … only they can’t hold up their end. For me that’s a huge weakness.
The neutral: There’s a lot of talk in this film about Bond’s role as a double-O, a man with a license to kill, and it made me realize once again (I discussed this in the Casino Royale post) how hard a killer Bond is. Sean Connery killed, but the film treated his “license” as just part of the job, not his primary directive. Roger Moore’s Bond emphasized his duty to Queen and Country in contrast to mercenaries such as Scaramanga or Octopussy. Pierce Brosnan seemed to fit in the same mold while Dalton’s Bond was just a rogue action hero. Craig’s Bond seems to just do his job because it’s his job—I’m not sure he’d dispute Scaramanga’s claim they’re flip sides of the same coin.
Despite the flaws, overall this is an excellent addition to the canon.