You can’t help but watch the opening ten minutes of the latest Bond outing, Spectre, and beam with admiration. Easily one of the best introductions to a Bond movie ever made, the film opens with a tracking shot that takes us through the streets of Mexico City, celebrating Día de Muertos, all the way to a hotel rooftop turned vantage point for 007.
The ambition and effort that has gone into this opening shot, combined with the striking cinematography from Hoyte Van Hoytema, sets up Spectre as something more than trilling entertainment. This isn’t just your usual spy film; this is brilliant filmmaking on a technicial and thematic level, unlike anything that has come before in the Bond franchise.
It’s no coincidence that the film’s opening takes place during Día de Muertos (Day of the Dead). This is Sam Mendes and his writing team throwing us straight into the central themes of life, death and ghosts that run throughout the film.
The story itself is set in motion when Bond recieves a cryptic message from beyond the grave. He’s given a lead which sets him on the trail of Spectre, a mysterious terrorist organisation that is responsible for much of what has happened in the previous movies. Linked to Bond’s past, 007 has to face the ghosts of those he’s lost, of which there are many.
It’s a culmination of the three previous films in Daniel Craig’s era as James Bond. The seeds that have been planted over the course of Casino Royale and Skyfall – the much maligned Quantum of Solace is largely ignored here, for obvious reasons – finally come into fruition here, as the arc of Craig’s Bond is brought to a neat close.
Suitably, the majority of Spectre’s admittedly long runtime – at two and a half hours, it’s the longest Bond film to date – is devoted to character and narrative, over spectacular set pieces; a brave move by the film-makers, which ultimately pays off.
The action is still there of course, and typically Bond. A car chase around the streets of Rome; a roller coaster helicopter ride over Mexico; a plane chase over the snowy mountains of Austria; it’s all there and enough to keep any action junkies satisfied. But there’s no denying that Spectre is, first and foremost, a continued character study into James Bond.
The introduction of Madeleine Swann, played perfectly by Léa Seydoux, is integral to the development. Her ‘Bond Girl’ is the most interesting to date. She challenges Bond on his way of life and as their relationship grows, it becomes one of the most interesting and important elements of the picture.
Whilst the ‘Bond Girl’ role still proves problematic in my eyes, the fact that Swann has more to do than usual suggests that, hopefully, even the Bond franchise could have strong female characters in the future, who serve a purpose to the story.
With a history in theatre, Mendes is quite clearly an actor’s director, and allows breathing space for his stellar cast to shine. Craig proves Ian Fleming proud once again, with his thuggish yet suave depiction of Bond proving the closest to the author’s vision of the character.
Considering the media backlash Daniel Craig had when he was announced as Bond, it’s hard now to think how anybody could have ever doubted him. His performance is brutal and charismatic in equal measure, and there’s a great deal of nuance in there too.
What’s particularly great to see is the supporting players who were set up in Skyfall, getting their individual moments in the spotlight. Ralph Fiennes, Ben Whishaw and Naomie Harris are given more to do this time around, and it’s a lot of fun watching ‘Team Bond’ in action. Whatever Craig’s future in the franchise may be, I hope we see more of his supporting cast regardless.
In a way, Spectre proves to be a bittersweet experience. What Sam Mendes and Daniel Craig have achieved together is astonishing; they’ve taken one of the world’s most popular franchises and turned it into something of depth and great filmic artistry, in the same way Christopher Nolan and Christian Bale did with Batman.
With Spectre, the pair have taken everything we’ve come to expect from a James Bond film and given it a contemporary update where Bond has to deal with his age, his mortality and his place within a modern world. That’s wonderful to watch. It still has the gadgets, girls and action, but Mendes and Craig have gone beyond the call of duty to make it so much more.
There is a sense of conclusion to Spectre that implies that their partnership has come to an end – after all Craig isn’t getting any younger, and Mendes has finished telling the story he wanted to tell. But still, it’s hard to not wish they were just getting started.
Image credit to http://www.empireonline.com