Review: Spectre @ HOME, Manchester

Sam Mendes brought us something rather special three years ago with Skyfall.

He executed cool, clear and crisp thrills, while weaving an audacious unique story which we had never seen in a Bond film before.

Right at the end there was a sense of nostalgia, as the closing epilogue gave the feeling of ‘we’re back’.

Returning to the franchise once again, Mendes is channelling the nostalgia of the Bond franchise, paying homage to many famous entries.

And although the dazzling heights of its predecessor could never be reached, Mendes and star Daniel Craig have delivered a solid instalment that has everything a Bond fan could wish for.

Opening in Mexico City, we see Bond, wearing the most elegant skull mask, following a man with a briefcase (the nostalgia is already strong), and prevents him from blowing up a stadium after a frenetic scuffle involving a helicopter.

From then on, whilst the new M battles a new political pressure that threatens the future of MI6 and the 00 programme, Bond goes rogue to crack open the truth behind the organisation of SPECTRE, headed by Christoph Waltz’s Franz Oberhauser.

What made Skyfall stand out as one of the finest Bond films to date was Mendes’ will to take the Bond theme in new directions, stray away from the goofy villains and gadgets, make M an official Bond girl and generate such a personal, intimate and thoroughly British story.

In trying to make Spectre better, they have embraced traditional Bond formula and attempt to retain the elegance and sophistication of its big sister.

In essence – Bond discovers a sinister bad guy(s), gets some gadgets, a nice car, meets a girl and menacing henchman along the way, and shoots up some stuff with dramatic confrontations with the main antagonist.

For the most part, there is absolutely nothing wrong with this, as it acts like a certain love letter to the long term Bond fans.

The set pieces are executed with reliable brilliance from the stunt-work team.

The opening in Mexico is a true delight – the camera walks in front of bond as he’s tailing his target, and it is filmed entirely with one tracking shot.

The scuffle in the helicopter echoes the opening of For Your Eyes Only, though Mendes dazzles with his eye for tension and rolling cameras.

The rest of the action doesn’t quite live up to the glorious thrills of this opening sequence, but several moments stand out – a plane racing down a mountain and hammering into armoured vans isn’t easy to forget.

A tough and brittle fist fight occurs on a train between Bond, Léa Seydoux’s Madeleine Swann, and Dave Bautista’s Mr Hinx, who acts as a modern day, less-comical Jaws, and the whole scene incidentally feels incredibly inspired by The Spy Who Loved Me.

Mendes is also a man known for taking the time to get his casting bang on.

He very successfully cast Ben Wishaw and Naomie Harris as the much loved icons of Q and Moneypenny, and wonderfully utilises them to new lengths in the traditional formula of which they were born in.

Wishew’s snappy and rebellious charisma generates some of the biggest laughs we’ve seen in a Bond film.

Léa Seydoux, riding on the acclaim she deservedly received in Blue is the Warmest Colour, holds her own against Craig.

Like most Bond girls, she’s defiant not to get too intertwined with him, but, as the trend goes, eventually succumbs.

It’s slightly more of a ‘damsel-in-distress’ role than some previous installments, but she’s given plenty to do, and takes advantage of every development she’s given.

Daniel Craig himself has never been better; gritty, raw, and relentless, scowling at every possible opportunity.

Reliably, Christoph Waltz is sumptuously sinister as a villain. There’s a lot of mystery surrounding his character, and we don’t fully get to see him until a good halfway through the film.

There’s always the fear that when a really skilled and likably star is cast they have a tendency to be underused, but it’s reassuring to see that Mendes didn’t want to neglect Waltz and his talents.

The one significant criticism the make of the film is that it falls slightly short of its ambitious story arc to link all previous Bond films that Craig has starred in.

By reverting to old school Bond, it’s no surprise that the plot is ridiculous, that’s not the issue.

We never really get to appreciate just how sinister the SPECTRE organization is – it nods and acknowledges threads from Skyfall,Casino Royale and Quantum of Solace.

But the whole notion of including them feels vague, as if it were only used to form a sense of complete closure just because it was possible.

Whilst the theme is the fear of surveillance and the fact that it’s watching everything, SPECTRE and Waltz do not feel as threatening or resourceful as Raoul Silva.  

Despite those few minor shortcomings, Spectre represents a director succeeding in retaining the well-loved elements of Bond’s legacy whilst creating something new.

Because it encompasses the formula, and in turn some of the sillier characteristics of classic Bond instalments, Spectre does not reach the pristine, fresh eloquence of Skyfall, but crafts a solid Bond entry that’s satisfyingly full to the brim with spectacle, professional action, and self-deprecating opulence.

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