Having failed to go and see SPECTRE a couple of weeks back, we seized on the opportuity this weekend, prior to Thoughtbubble, to catch up with it. After all, we've seen every Bond film since Goldeneye together - even the bad ones - and it's important to keep these traditions up. Also, Ewan saw it with my dad already, and we can't have him seeing films we want to, but can't! Before we get onto SPECTRE, it's worth mentioning that we got the full Star Wars: The Force Awakens trailer on the big screen, and boy does it look pretty. And if the silent excitement from the audience anything to go by, it may as hard to get tickets for early on as the lastest Bond outage has been. So, Bond is again a big box office draw, but this far into an actors tenure, it's usually starting to creak. How is Daniel Craig's Bond doing? Warning - Spoilers.
This is Craig's last outing as Bond, right? It certainly feels like it. One of SPECTRE's most interesting ideas - albeit clunkily implemented - is to draw a line from the Bond of Casino Royale, to the burnt out Bond of Skyfall, and give him a chance to drive off in the end, having the made the choice to both not be a killer, and find some solace in a woman who may begin to understand him. These are a lot of problems with both these elements; but it's an interesting idea to establish an arc over an iteration of Bond, recognising a history and continuity explicit to that actor. SPECTRE also finishes the job started in Skyfall of refreshing the Bond mythos for the modern age, adding Blofeld to the roster of a M, Q and Moneypenny, all unchallengingly familiar, if moved on from too old-fashioned roots.
In fact, SPECTRE is a little too unchallengingly familiar for it's own good. It's starts promisingly, with a long tracking shot through Mexico's Day of the Dead, a shot so slick and charming I was disappointed when it didn't run all the way to the (terrible, terrible) opening credits. It's not a bad sequence, especially the careening helicopter, but the film never quite recaptures that effortless, just for the hell of it, flair. After whatever the hell those credits were about is done (tentacle porn, maybe?) we're onto a plot that is somewhat routine; Bond is off on a quixotic quest, M is huffy about it and tells him not to, he spars with Q and flirts and Moneypenny. And then we're off around the world.
It feels like the aim here is to make a "modern Bond" film. Casino Royale and Quantumn of Solace both tried to shake up the formula, Skyfall was, in some ways, a victory lap for the franchises big anniversary. SPECTRE, therefore is intent on being a Bond film, with all the hallmarks you expect, in the order you expect them. You have the first seduction, the car chase, the Bond Girl, the super-henchman, and the monologing super-villian. This is a movie made up of all the other Bond Movies, even when it's trying to get a laugh out of subverting them, relying on the audiences expectations to trip them up. And this is all good fun, actually, and moment to moment SPECTRE is a highly enjoyable romp.
But it's also a fragmented one, and one in which it feels like several script iterations are clashing within it. Bonds connection with Madeline moves far too quickly, because she's introduced to late in the film for that arc to work. The "reveal" of Blofeld's name suffers from the same problem as Khan in Star Trek Into Darkness, insomuch as the in universe characters react with "Who?". Little things, like the torture chair that should erase Madeline from Bonds mind just as he realises he loves her....doesn't. In fact it doesn't do anything. Was there a version where he forgets her? The attempted retcon to the earlier films is a strange attempt at franchise building within a franchise that has never needed it. The whole Rome - Switzerland - Tunisia transits are jumped and muddled. The movie feels like it needed about 15 minutes taken out of it to bring the important bits into focus.
But lets finish on the positives. The cast is excellent and do a lot of good work even when the script lets them down a bit. Dave Bautista is a memorable henchman, and I hope Christophe Waltz will be back for second round. Bond interrogating a Mouse (yes, really) was a great, character rich scene of a sort the franchise needs more of. I liked them getting the MI6 scooby gang out into the field. I liked the bit with the plane. SPECTRE is an safe entry in the Bond series; and as I said at the start, felt a lot like a goodbye to Daniel Craig, whislt resetting the series to a more modern update of an old paradigm. It's a lot of fun, but honestly, not much more.