Casino Royale pulled the Bond template apart to start fresh, giving us a raw and unpolished Bond in a world without gadgets and eccentric villains. The suggestion then was that this was the new Bond, the serious, semi-realistic and edgy Bond; the Bond for the 2000s. Then we got Skyfall, which ended on very familiar terms – we close with a confident Bond, M, Moneypenny and Q are all back in place, and the universe is re-established. Mendes was slowly setting the formula back up towards Spectre, which for all intents and purposes is a late 60s/70s Bond movie filtered through the grittier Daniel Craig format. It’s funnier, lighter and sillier, and suddenly you realise that Craig’s tenure has always been about Bond becoming Bond again. We were always coming back here. The character was dismantled in Casino Royale, and set back up over the next three movies. And there’s something nice about that, giving Craig’s Bond a sense of forward momentum and direction which most of the other actors were lacking. There’s always been a place for the gritty interpretations and the sillier ones – both The Spy who Loved Me and The Living Daylights are great Bond movies for example, though in very different ways, and there’s something soothing about Spectre’s approach – it’s nice that the Bond series can be Bond again.Yes, Casino Royale is a considerably better movie, but this pattern – gritty reboot sliding into silliness – isn’t anything new with the series. They tend to reboot as serious with a new actor and become increasingly over the top, and more ‘James Bondy’ over time – until things go too far and the series reboots again. From Russia with Love ended up as You Only Live Twice, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service was directly followed by Diamonds are Forever, For Your Eyes Only by Octopussy, and Goldeneye turned into Die Another Day. In short, this kind of progress is completely normal, and Spectre is by far the best ‘fourth Bond movie’ – Moore, Connery and Brosnan (with Thunderball, Moonraker and Die Another Day respectively) were in a much worse state by this point.Spectre is a fun movie, a confident victory lap after the success of Skyfall and it really feels like a love letter to fans. There are numerous references – from the On Her Majesty’s Secret Service style opening credits referencing prior adventures, skeletons costumes from Live and Let Die, and a very From Russia with Love train and fight – it’s like after Skyfall, the series is confident enough to celebrate its roots again. Obviously the clue was in the title – this was always going to be something of a throwback, and whilst you could criticise the return to basics, the movie is so well directed put together with a great deal of energy; it’s just fun, and despite being the longest Bond ever, the time flies by. There are newer updates to the old formula – we still get the ticking clock climax for example, but it’s to stop a post-Snowdon style intelligence program from launching. There’s great set pieces throughout – the torture scene for example is skin-crawling – and with the exception of a fairly sedate car chase through Rome and a poor climatic boat chase – the action is on the whole really strong. There’s a killer opening with an impressive long shot – which wasn’t actually one take, but it’s great to see the Bond movies step up and do something so cinematic, very Alfonso Cuarón, and Spectre looks beautiful throughout with some wonderful locations. There are some shots – such as when Bond and Swann get off the train – where you think when did Bond movies get so good looking? Roger Deakins really added to the look of the Bond movies with Skyfall and hopefully this cinematic new look will last. The Sam Smith song is surprisingly powerful in the context of the movie. The soundtrack has got a lot of grief for basically being copied from Skyfall, but its still strong – there’s some very tense moments of silence and strange, surreal gothic moments too.
Craig is great as usual and shaping up to be the definitive Bond; he’s so cool and collected in this role, and it’s nice he’s allowed to be a bit funnier here. His performance across the four movies is fantastic and hopefully he’ll come back for one more. Ben Whishaw is a great new Q, wisely playing the role very differently to Desmond Llewelyn to avoid that iconic shadow, and it’s nice that him and the rest of Mi6 – Naomi Harris, and Ralph Fiennes – are given more so much more to do. They make a solid and memorable ensemble. Dave Bautista is a great Oddjob style villain, though his send off is a little too sudden, and there’s a couple of great cameos throughout too.The downsides then. The plot can be a bit muddled, and why are all Bond movies revenge related now? He’s not been on an actual sanctioned mission since Casino Royale. Whilst Lea Seydoux is a great, capable Bond girl, we’re meant to feel that Bond falls in love with her, and that she’ll be set up as the new Tracy in the next film. The film doesn’t earn this at all. We felt Bond fall for Tracy and more so, Vesper, with whom he had an entire movie to fall in love with. Here we’re just kind of told this is more serious than it is – and it doesn’t fly really. It doesn’t help that Vesper is heavily referenced throughout. You’re expecting the movie to end with the death of Seydoux’s character like in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, but maybe they’re saving that for the pre-credits of the next, if she actually returns. Monica Belluci isn’t really given much to do and her role is basically a cameo, which is a shame because she’s great on screen. Why get Monica Belluci after so many years and waste her like this?As for Waltz as Blofeld? He’s great at the start in the boardroom, but when we meet him properly? He doesn’t quite sell it as Bond’s Big Bad – he doesn’t seem particularly different to any other villain, and does a lot of the same stuff Bardem/Silva did. It’s a shame because Waltz is an incredible actor – watch him in Inglourious Basterds, but sometimes the writers land a classic actor as the villain and then feel they don’t need to write the villain up; Waltz being Waltz will sell it, they assume, but this role is a bit lacking. There’s also the fact that the movie cheats – Blofeld takes credit for things that happened in previous movies – backing Le Chiffre and murdering M, for example, but does nothing in this film to justify his villainy. The character relies on the credit of the past movies, and like the Swann relationship, this feels unearned. Perhaps the hype – Waltz as Blofeld, Blofeld back after so many years – was a little too high. Perhaps he’ll do better in the next movie.On a similar note, it’s great to have Spectre back, though having them be the author of everything that’s happened makes Craig’s world seem a lot smaller. Silva should have been left as a random villain unattached, like Goldfinger was. You do also feel its a bit of a retcon – Skyfall for sure wasn’t planned with Spectre in mind – they didn’t even have the rights then. Quantum of Solace seems a little chunkier now And Casino Royale isn’t really even set in the same world as Spectre. Likewise, having Blofeld have a personal connection to Bond completely shrinks the universe – they’re going with a Batman/Joker two sides of the same coin thing, but its not needed. Can’t Blofeld just be an evil mastermind wanting world domination? Do we really need that history to make him threatening? This is really misjudged and hurts the character.For the most part though, this is a good Bond movie. It’s nowhere near as good as Casino Royale or Skyfall but It feels like a very good, go-to future Bond – when you want to watch a general Bond which does everything right without really challenging anything; a Sunday afternoon Bond. That’s not a bad thing at this point.