Spectre (2015) Director: Sam Mendes
“A license to kill is also a license not to kill”
Sadly Christopher Nolan declined to direct the twenty-fourth James Bond film, and Spectre was mired in development hell for years. The fourth Bond film featuring Daniel Craig (one which he hoped would be his last) and it has flashes of Sam Mendes’s greatness as a director (he is one of the few Bond directors who directed back-to-back Bond films), however the film faced ongoing script changes and turnover and ultimately Spectre is a disappointing film in contrast to its magnificent predecessor Skyfall. Spectre was one of the most expensive Bond films ever made, more than double the budget of Skyfall, and when there was a hack on Sony Productions it was revealed what a chaotic production went into the making Spectre. The central theme of Spectre is the way in which ghosts of our past are actually living among us, even if only as mere “spectres.” Apparently, the film was initially intended to feature James Bond’s long lost brother, but when a long-standing legal issue was finally settled, the studio haphazardly inserted Blofeld and S.P.E.C.T.R.E. into the movie.
The films opens with one of the best James Bond intros ever made. Bond receives a somewhat contrived posthumous note from M (recall she died at the end of Skyfall) telling him to disrupt a criminal deal in Mexico at the Dia de los Muertos festival. In a vast, seemingly uncut scene that has become the signature of Sam Mendes’s recent films, Bond strolls over rooftops, through crowds, and into a tense helicopter battle before he kills his target and he confiscates a mysterious golden ring with an octopus on it. Continuing from the last film, there is an internal power struggle back in London as the new M (Mallory played by Ralph Fiennes) is being overshadowed by new bureaucrat named “C” (Andrew Scott). The “00” program is commanded to be shut down in favor of new technological international surveillance. Bond travels to Rome anyway in disobedience of the new policy and he discovers an underground crime organization. He meets Madeleine Swann, the daughter of the villain “Mr. White” from Casino Royale (Léa Seydoux) but she is an entirely forgettable character who is sadly brought back in the travesty of a finale for Daniel Craig No Time To Die. As it turns out all the villains of the previous three Bond films: Le Chiffre, Dominic Greene, and Raoul Silva were all part of the same criminal organization: Spectre (this is another contrived attempt to thematically unite the previous films from the Craig era). Predictably, Bond is captured and taken to the lair of Spectre, located inside a huge crater, and Bond learns that Spectre is behind the international intelligence coup back at MI6 somehow. The leader is a man named Oberhauser who took the name: Ernst Stavro Blofeld (a character from the early novels and films who has not appeared in a Bond film since Diamonds Are Forever in 1971). Bond is tortured until he sets off an explosive wristwatch in Blofeld’s face, causing his signature scar. He escapes only to be captured again and taken to the ruins of the old M16 building from the bombing by Silva in the previous movie, which is scheduled for demolition after the explosion. In the end, Bond escapes with his love interest and shoots down Blofeld in his helicopter and confronts him before leaving Blofeld to be arrested by M and the intelligence crew, rather than killing him.
Tragically, Spectre is a film devoid of tension or even a consistent script. It’s a sad film to watch when it could have otherwise been a brilliant Bond installment with the re-introduction of Blofeld, who was surprisingly underwhelming and boring. I would have liked to see the movie Sam Mendes wanted to make instead. Even the theme song by Sam Smith is just terrible (for some reason the team at Eon rejected Radiohead’s inspiring song “Spectre”). At least the opening scene during the Dia de los Muertos celebration in Mexico is far and away the most amazing scene in the movie, perhaps a pre-cursor to Sam Mendes’s follow-up masterpiece 1917, but much of Spectre is slow and drawn out. It is over 2.5 hours long and is filled confusing cliches and troubling plot-holes.