Spectre might be Daniel Craig’s last film as the enviable James Bond, but even if he returns, the film is part of an era of Bond that was transformative for the series. Films like Casino Royale and Skyfall were some of the better Bond films since the series inception in 1962. Sean Connery makes me giddy in a way none of the other Bond actors ever have, but goddamn if Craig didn’t come close to dethroning the king. Even if it Spectre isn’t as special as its predecessor Skyfall, it’s a bloody good Bond movie.
Even if you didn’t see Skyfall, you heard the eponymous track by Adele, which in my opinion, was one of the best songs of her career. How was the Bond series going to one-up the infallible Adele? With Sam Smith – duh. I’m not even that big a fan of the guy; I thought “Stay With Me” was un-inspired and boring.
But Spectre’s theme song, “Writing’s on the Wall” by Smith is a perfect balance of piercing falsetto mixed with epic operatics. The story hadn’t even started and this moving, tragic ballad had me tearing up.
Spectre is unapologetically sexy. Daniel Craig and Léa Seydoux are both in peak form. Seydoux, who plays Bond girl Madeleine Swann, is breathtakingly beautiful; she’s reminiscent of Honor Blackman in Goldfinger or Marilyn Monroe in The Asphalt Jungle. She’s a total badass as well, saving Bond’s life at least twice. The two look ravishing together.
Plus, Bond is dressed to the nines in every scene. I want every outfit, even if I’m going to go into debt acquiring just one piece from his wardrobe. Fashionistas, check out a bunch of the looks from the film, neatly organized here.
After they kill Bond-baddie Mr. Hinx – played by former wrestler Dave Bautista – Bond and Swann lie panting on the floor of a moving train. Catching her breath, Swan asks innocently “What do we do now?” Cut to them ripping each other’s clothes off in their sleeper. The flirtation is minimal, the passion is raw.
The stars and the clothes don’t hog all the sexiness though. The cars bring out the ten-year-old boy in me, perhaps as evidenced by my last semester review of Furious 7. Really, I might’ve squealed just a little bit when the Aston Martin DB10 first came on screen. Designed solely for the film, it leaves earlier Bond cars in the dust.
In a change for the series, the DB10 isn’t given to 007. Q, the tech guy who engineers all of Bond’s toys, builds the car for 009 as Bond is no longer to be trusted with expensive gadgets. Spoiler alert: he steals it anyway, making for one of Bond’s better chase scenes. The chase between the DB10 and a Jaguar CX-75 runs through the narrow, dimly lit streets of Rome. Think Bullitt, but in Rome. The chase trades the familiar big pointless explosions and monotonous machine-gun rounds for strong vehicle choreography, well-constructed tension, and some fuel-injected humor. Mom, Dad: I’m buying a stick-shift beater and I’m going to start entering street races and there’s nothing you can do to stop me.
Now for some of the not-so-great stuff. I had high hopes for Christoph Waltz who plays the main villain and leader of the evil organization Spectre. Maybe it’s that the calmness his character, Oberhauser, employs is very similar to his relaxed Hans Landa in Inglorious Basterds, Waltz’s breakout role. It could also be that Spectre never really gives Waltz a scene of his own. He doesn’t get the cliché but necessary grand, philosophical villainous speech. Oberhauser is too understated; the film puts for the notion that that each time he appears, his reputation should precede his presence. Oberhauser’s unfazed attitude is much enlivened by his sparse dialogue and generic characterization. Waltz’s much-proven acting chops don’t get much of a workout.
The film is also too long. Clocking in at just about two and a half hours, the pace of the film drags during the final act. But that’s partially forgivable as the film’s ending, Bond and his Swann alone on the Westminster bridge embracing after Bond chooses love over death, is gratifying even if it’s cliché.
The film features some beautiful set-pieces, taking us from Mexico City to London to Rome to Austria to Morocco and then finally back to London. But in the end, Spectre is a return to the roots of the series. It’s campy with little dialogue and a dry, subtly dark English sense of humor. For better or worse, this is a film that doesn’t shy away from the connection between sex and violence. Whereas Skyfall felt like a hi-fi art version of James Bond, Spectre is contemporarily vintage.