With the establishment of SPECTRE, "Bond 24" seems determined to put the finishing touches on the bridge connecting the rebooted, new-attitude 007 (Daniel Craig, of course), the high-adventure superspy typified by Sean Connery and the original literary creation of Ian Fleming. (For trivia completists, the Special Executive for Counter-Intelligence, Terrorism, Revenge and Extortion was originally created for the movie script that became the novel THUNDERBALL, but by the time DR. NO hit the theatres, it was already well-known by readers and so it became part of the film series from the beginning.) For all that, it might be the last hurrah for Craig and director Sam Mendes. But let's worry about that later.
In a long-overdue gesture to fans, SPECTRE finally allows a Craig movie to actually OPEN with the traditional gun-barrel sequence and lead into a terrific pre-credits salvo set in Mexico City during the Day of the Dead festival (believe me, between the soundtrack and the visuals you're going to be compelled from the first second). Bond would seem to be on a tryst with a lovely lady, but of course he excuses himself for just a moment... this is as "Bond" as anything comparable in the Connery canon. This is followed by an excellent title sequence (if not the best song in the series, sorry).
Long story short: Bond has gone 'rogue' on the posthumous advice of the former "M" (Judi Dench cameo). This doesn't sit well with the new "M" (Ralph Fiennes) or anybody else at MI6, especially as the department is facing a merger and the imminent dissolution of the 00 section thanks to new head "C" (Andrew Scott), who feels that modern surveillance technology has rendered field agents obsolete. But Bond knows perfectly well that he's on to something huge (in other words, proof that CASINO, QUANTUM and SKYFALL were all pieces of a larger puzzle) and as long as there's a "Q" (Ben Whishaw) and a Moneypenny (Naomie Harris), there's a way, no matter how much trouble Bond gets the rest of his compatriots into.
As Bond travels the picturesque globe in search of the mysterious head of SPECTRE, he encounters the typical supporting cast--which does NOT always behave in typical fashion. Monica Bellucci has an all-too-brief sequence as the widow of Bond's opening hit... her own life is in extreme danger, and she's exactly the character you assume Bond's going to find dead before the movie's halfway over (because he needs info from her whether or not he's signing her death warrant). Again, too little Bellucci, but the sequence is masterful while it lasts. Lea Sedoux is the "real" one-shot female lead this time out, and Bond needs to rescue HER from a remote and snowy health clinic (I'd say 'shades of OHMSS' but if I kept pointing out the old-school Bond references this review would go on forever). Another spectacular chase/escape sequence, and even the field-green "Q" gets to play...
Okay, two more major ingredients required. We need an "Oddjob." We get WWE/MMA superstar Dave Bautista as Mr. Hinx, and, well, he's easily the best Oddjob since Jaws, and he doesn't even need his mic skills. He's just great at what he does and he's a very legitimate threat to Bond either behind the wheel or mano-a-mano.
And... the villain. Of course it's Christoph Waltz, and of COURSE it's Blofeld. It wouldn't be SPECTRE without Blofeld. The refusal to say the name reminds me of the STAR TREK: INTO DARKNESS nonsense where they didn't want to say the name "Khan" in front of the fans too far in advance. Well, of COURSE it was Khan, and Waltz is playing ERNST STAVRO BLOFELD. Going to skip the movie because of the spoiler now? I don't think so. Waltz is one of those actors who can do wrong in a villainous turn (though not even he could save THE GREEN HORNET), and he makes the most of his opportunity to re-create the iconic role (though Blofeld has never been played by the same actor twice, this new movie provides a new opportunity to establish his origin and motives, if not his fondness for fluffy white cats).
Notice how I'm trying to say as little as possible regarding what actually HAPPENS even though this is turning out to be one of my longer reviews? I'm just going to give you a few more examples of SPECTRE'S hits and misses.
One of the best thwarted attempts to order a vodka martini ever.
Finally, a look at what would most likely REALLY happen if Bond attempted to liberate a Q-car without permission.
As suggested earlier, great continuity tying the Craig series together while paying respect to the entire series. And you'll love the visual nod to Donald Pleasence.
The misses? Curiously, they're related to the "misses" (which is no reflection on the talents of the ladies who play them). I already said that the film needed a bit more Bellucci; and while Seydoux is a fine actress given a strong character to play, the script forces her to announce a plot contrivance the likes of which you'd expect in a far lower grade of thriller just so we can get yet another fifteen minutes of climax... the sort of contrivance for which the expression "About your timing?" was invented.
But I saved the biggest bombshell for last... SPECTRE also features a special reward for voracious Bond READERS, and not those who stopped at the end of the Fleming output, either. Numerous authors have taken up the reins since Fleming's passing, but before John Gardner rebooted the novels in the 1980s, there was only ONE non-Fleming Bond book. Have any of you read COLONEL SUN (written by Kingsley Amis under the pen name "Robert Markham," a pseudonym meant to be used by a succession of new Bond authors but only invoked once)? That particular book contains the single most fiendish and excruciating torture sequence ever suffered by Bond in print, preceded by a long, deliberate and clinical explanation of the imminent agony by the title villain. Imagine my surprise during SPECTRE when Bond awakens from being knocked out... the words of his torturer are just becoming coherent--and they are quoted from COLONEL SUN nearly verbatim! What follows on screen is far more high-tech (and mercifully briefer) than the horrors of the novel, but it more than gets the point across (sorry). And yes, I scoured the end credits and was most pleased to see an acknowledgement to the estate of Kingsley Amis.
If not a "perfect" Bond film, SPECTRE still boasts the results of thorough, diligent homework and serves as a highly respectable and recommended post-SKYFALL cocktail.
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