The opening scene of the latest James Bond adventure, Spectre, is a beautifully done, long tracking shot of Mexico City during the Day of the Dead festival celebrations showing a skull-masked Bond making his way through the revelers and ending up in a hotel room from where he makes way to his target, Mr. Sciarra. There’s an incident involving Bond which includes a crowded street chase à la Octopussy and the spectacular helicopter-flipping sequence shown in the trailers. The whole set-piece is brilliantly choreographed and shot and keeps pushing up the adrenaline levels until, quite naturally, Bond comes up trumps,having thrown Mr. Sciarra from the helicopter and laid his hands on a mysterious ring, which, as Bond keeps gazing on it, morphes into the dazzling title sequence.
Monica Bellucci and Daniel Craig in a still from the film.
Bond goes to the funeral of Mr. Sciarra in Rome where he meets the widow, Lucia Sciarra (Monica Bellucci) and in typical Bond fashion, seduces her and gets the information which takes him to a meeting of the evil group called Spectre, also the title of the film. Longtime Bond fans will recall that the organisation was a staple of the early Bond films, debuting with Bond himself in 1962’s Dr. No and last seen on the silver screen in 1971’s Diamonds are Forever. A lengthy car chase in Rome ensues in which Mr. Hinx (Dave Bautista) pursues Bond. The story then goes to the Austrian Alps, where Bond meets Mr. White (from Casino Royale and Quantum of Solace) who asks Bond to save his daughter, Dr. Madeleine Swann (Léa Seydoux). As Bond goes to save Ms. Swann, another chase ensues, this time with a single-seater plane and cars. There’s a parallel plot in London involving the British intelligence agencies, MI5 and MI6, which are being merged with the controls going to Max Denbigh (Andrew Scott of Sherlock), also called C. C is pushing for an internationally-coordinated mass surveillance program called Nine Eyes and closing down of the 00-section. The bureaucratic machinations add a touch of real-world drama to Bond’s otherworldly stunts and machismo. So far so good. Where the movie loses focus and gets a tad slow is in the second half. I would not divulge what happens when but some of the things that happen are, quite frankly, idiotic and preposterous. For the villain who tells Bond in the trailers that he is “the author of all your pain” to do what he does, entertaining Bond and Ms. Swann in the villain’s style is very classic Bond, not to say outdated and ridiculous and something that will definitely be used to great effect by the Honest Trailers team at Screen Junkies, as they very entertainingly did for Skyfall. Spectre’s lair in the middle of the Moroccan desert reminded me of the Spectre headquarters in Dr. No. The climax sees Bond, M, Moneypenny, Q and Tanner all racing against time to stop the villains .
Christoph Waltz and Léa Seydoux in Spectre
The film serves as a connecting thread to the whole James Bond saga starting from 2006’s Casino Royale to 2012’s wildly successful and critically-acclaimed Skyfall, creating an overarching storyline. With Skyfall, director Sam Mendes took a path slightly different from the generic Bond formula and showed us a glimpse of Bond’s past. With Spectre, he tries to complete the whole story thread and finish his stint as the Bond director on a sort of a concluding note. While its appealing to know that the evil organisation Spectre has returned to the franchise, along with its mastermind (now called Franz Oberhauser), the film generously uses the classic Bond tropes and tricks – the exotic locales, the car chase, the snow chase and the gadgetry. It also uses the themes of mass surveillance and individual privacy that became a major plot device for Hollywood following the Edward Snowden whistleblowing episode, also used in last year’s Captain America : The Winter Soldier. But by and large, this is a Bond in the classic mould. The action is thrilling, the witty one-liners spot-on and the various romantic liaisons and booze at the ready.
The cinematography by Hoyte Van Hoytema of Interstellar fame is magnificent. Right from the opening set piece in Mexico, there are some gorgeous aerial landscape shots. I absolutely loved the one right after that sequence when Bond goes to report to M. The overhead shot with Bond in the middle of a circular maze-like walkway is a brief, but marvellous. The story by the Skyfall team of John Logan, Neal Purvis and Robert Wade, plus screenwriter Jez Butterworth , could and should have been tighter. There have been rumblings and disapproving voices about the movie running time but I personally didn’t find it overstretching, if a bit lethargic in the second and third acts. The music score by Thomas Newman is good too, never overwhelming and using the Bond theme in abundant quality as and when required. Sam Mendes, in possibly his last turn as Bond director, has crafted a film that will appeal to the Bond faithful but is weaker than his previous work, Skyfall, which was, in my opinion, one of the best movies of 2012 and certainly one of the all-time best Bond movies. Daniel Craig as the protagonist is charming playboy and cold-blooded killer in equal measure. Léa Seydoux as the main Bond girl plays her part well and Monica Bellucci shows no signs of her considerable appeal and allure dampening despite having touched 50, making her the oldest actress to play the Bond girl. The rest of the cast, including Bond regulars and newcomers, fill out the plot nicely. Two-time Oscar winner Christoph Waltz as the head of Spectre and main antagonist is a bit underwhelming, nowhere near as menacing as he was in Inglorious Basterds. The film has allowed for his and the organisation’s return in future installments and don’t be surprised if you see them again as soon as the next Bond film.
P.S. – A word regarding the censorship surrounding the film. The CBFC reduced the length of a couple of kissing sequences by 50% and asked the filmmakers to change the cuss words, all to make the movie more friendly for family audiences. Evidently, that’s absurd. Wonder what the criteria for reducing the kissing scenes would have been? But just blaming the censor board wouldn’t be right. The filmmakers did this because they wanted a U/A certificate. They could probably have kept the original version for an adults only (A) rating. But they didn’t. And Indian cinema’s hypocrisy continues.
Spectre is 148 minutes long and rated U/A. It is now playing in cinemas.
Rating : 3.5/5.