“Spectre” Pits Bond Against Cyber Terrorism

Daniel Craig returns as 007 for a fourth time in “Spectre.”

I am aware I might be one of only a handful of critics to give a thumb’s up to the latest Sam Mendes-directed Bond film, Spectre. My expectations were lowered having read a couple unflattering reviews, which was just enough for them to be lifted upon viewing the film’s first few minutes.

The first of many action sequences looking every bit expensive as they ought to be for the film’s final budget ($245 million by the way), the opening scene comes across as either one of two things: a grabbing introduction for those experiencing Bond for the first time; or an extended, routine prologue unfolding through an optically stunning Day of the Dead display in an extra-infiltrated Mexico City. The inconsequential villain Bond hunts here figures into the plot somehow, but do not worry, for you might not be able to connect the freckled dots until much later (like after you walk out of the theater). What compels this scene is Hoyte van Hoytema’s stellar cinematography, bringing us up close to a cross between an aerial game of ring-around-the-rosie and helicopter Donkey Kong. The result is a colorful dizziness, effective and fulfilling the basic Bond action obligation.

Writers John Logan, Neal Purvis, Robert Wade and Jez Butterworth especially test Bond’s mortality in his latest outing. Mr. Bond (Craig) goes rogue to fulfill the final request of MI6’s previous M (Dame Judi Dench), during which he encounters a childhood friend (Christoph Waltz) who is revealed to be the “author” of all the pain Bond has experienced in the last eight or so years. Such a logline sounds simple enough until you factor into the equation all the extended plotlines from Casino Royale, Quantum of Solace, and Skyfall.

Christoph Waltz plays a recycled, predictably developed villain, Ernst Stavro Blofeld, but his delectable acting ability saves the character. I can’t speak so much for his excuse for a backstory, more like a last-minute relevance the writers glued onto Bond’s tail for superfluous interest. When a Bond story becomes reliant upon the outcomes of three previous plots, it is time to question why the studio wanted to mainstream the already interesting James Bond with a superhero complexity rather than take the approach of Skyfall. If 007 were trying to outsmart audiences in his most recent episode of international travel and impressive misses of death, he might try being a little less predictable when it comes to gadgets and women.

At times, the real-world parallels of terrorism feel relevant yet uncomfortable. Spectre was released in the United States November 6, exactly one week before the terrorist attacks in Paris, France. The film seeks to capture a sense of the state of terrorism in the world, and terror you will surely feel as Blofeld tortures Bond while Dr. Madeleine Swann (Léa Seydoux) is forced to watch.

The dawn of the Daniel Craig James Bond instituted a new tone for cinema’s ageless MI6 agent. Watch any of the opening credits for Craig’s Bond films, and it is undeniable the approach for this series is more artistically driven and developed. With the length of one Sam Smith song (an echo of Adele’s “Skyfall,” “Writing’s on the Wall”), we are visually informed of the significance of skull and octopi symbolism in the film. Bond is by no means a role model, and Craig plays him for a fourth time as cool and fluid as his wardrobe transitions. Then again, Bond is best digested without thinking too hard about when he has the time to brush his teeth in between train rides and kidnappings.

In an age where franchises have layers of backstory and practically infinite tie-ins, Craig’s Bond has gone through the same processing, making him the first 007 to venture into such interlinked territory. Rolling Stone Magazine wrote an interesting if slightly aggravated analysis of how Spectre failed its hero’s story specifically by forcing and rushing one lengthy, far-reaching plot string back through Casino Royale.

Other blockbuster franchises’ influences notwithstanding, killing Mr. Bond is as easy as resurrecting him, which is, after over twenty big screen excursions, about as easy as catching his eye in a cocktail dress. Keeping him dead is impossible. To quote The Princess Bride, “There’s a big difference between mostly dead and all dead,” and it is safe to say James Bond will never be “all dead” physically or materially in his unending installments. A pertinent protocol of any Bond film is he can do anything except die, a blessing when considering the pleasure that comes with watching him in Spectre, an enticing yet somewhat excessive addition to Ian Fleming’s franchise.