At 148 minutes Spectre is the longest running Bond film to date. In a franchise with over fifty years of car chases, bikini clad Bond girls, chauvinistic spies and vodka martinis our expectations are high. With this in mind, director Sam Mendes also has the arduous task of positioning Spectre as a sequel to the previous Daniel Craig Bond films, but also as a prequel to the pre-Craig outings, something which the film seems too preoccupied in establishing.
Filled with exotic locations that one could easily ascribe to the franchise, Spectre takes us from the alpine heights of the Austrian Alps to the golden dunes of Morocco. Following M’s death in Skyfall, James Bond (Daniel Craig) is assigned a posthumous mission from his former boss to investigate an assassin, later discovered to be part of a mass criminal cartel known as Spectre. The idea of an all-powerful criminal organisation is a backwards nod to the films of the ‘classic’ Bond era, but it’s not the only link. Spectre is full of the terrible puns we loved in the Bonds of Sean Connery and Roger Moore, but coming from the steely and macho Daniel Craig they are incongruous and become cringe worthy as opposed to suave and sophisticated.
Moreover, there seems to be a regression in the portrayal of female characters in Spectre. The franchise seemed to be moving away from this limited portrayal of female characters, initiated by the 2006 makeover Casino Royale, with its intelligent and developed Vesper Lynd (Eva Green), and continued through to Skyfall’s Eve Moneypenny (Naomi Harris), a skilled field agent, upgraded from M’s administrator in the older films. But such expansiveness again seems reduced in Mendes’ move to have Spectre fit as a prequel. Yes, Moneypenny is still an interesting and competent character, but she is moved to the side lines, with forced humour as a disgruntled secretary that verges too closely on cliché.
However, the film does succeed in introducing one of the more loved aspects of the older films: the gadgets. Sadly lacking in Craig’s previous films, Spectre keenly embraces exploding watches and turbo engine cars, much to our viewing delight, as such moves also helps to organically integrate Spectre as a prequel in the Bond universe.
Also worth praising is Mendes’ direction and Hoyte Van Hoytema’s cinematography. The pre-credits scene is one of the best out of all the Bond movies. Opening like Orson Welles’ A Touch of Evil with an extremely long take and crane tracking shots, the editing is superb. Constantly moving, sometimes claustrophobically close, other times further away, as the scene progresses the tensions builds and pulses rise, ending, much like Welles’ opening, with a bang.
Sam Smith’s song is also worth mentioning as it is the first Bond song to hit number one in the charts, beating even the achievements of Adele’s Academy Award winning “Skyfall.” But didn’t he cheat? The song is undoubtedly Bond-esque, with its orchestral undulation, mirroring Craig’s more vulnerable and unstable Bond in its overpowering brass and swelling strings.
So, while not as good as Casino Royale or Skyfall (but unquestionably better than Quantum of Solace) Spectre in many ways succeeds as both a sequel, continuing with the idea of an emotionally vulnerable and sociopathic Bond, as well as a prequel. It is this tenuous ideal of fitting in with both the harsh modern age Bond and the clichéd tropes of the originals that pulls Spectre down. Perhaps it’s because in attempting a plausible prequel, we now find the originals outdated, farfetched and full of silly clichés, incongruous to the now loved and accepted universe of the more hostile Craig films. In order to keep producing Bond films at a high standard, the franchise must move forward and not keep looking back.