The image of a giant skeleton puppet smoking a cigar whilst casting its gaze over the surrounding masses, as it is ceremonially paraded through the centre of Mexico City, the Day of the Dead festival isn’t quite what you expect to be welcomed by. A silky-smooth, prolonged tracking shot ensues henceforth from the aforementioned opening frame – as we follow a masked 007 through the crowds and up to the rooftops – very much reminiscent of the recent work done on Birdman, by an esteemed colleague of Spectre’s undeniably brilliant resident cinematographer Hoyte van Hoytema. As are the gleamingly gorgeous colour pallets, with which, each element of the broad canvas of spectacular destinations we journey to, are presented – intertwined with several customary visits to good ol’ London town in various capacities. From Mexico’s sun-soaked capital to the Palazzos of Rome, a chilly stopover in the Austrian Alps, and an exponentially enlightening excursion to Tangier before heading deeper into the desolating dunes of the scorched Sahara.
This, what some might say; overly extensive, travel-logging should not come as a surprise though, taking into account the gargantuan budget that returning director; Sam Mendes, had to play with. Nor should the abundance of gloriously galvanised action sequences. A rip-roaring car chase through the Eternal City, a helicopter almost implausibly performing a corkscrew, mid-scuffle, through the humid air above the Zócalo, and an Alpine abduction rescue of sorts, to name a few – any modern espionage extravaganza would be lost without them.
In contrast, something that, by and large, hasn’t resided as much of a core part of the Bond ethos historically; is how the film strives to develop its lead characters almost as a concrete, conceptual component of the narrative, rather than as individual entities in their own right. For instance, the true ‘Bond girl’ of the piece: Madeleine Swann (Léa Seydoux) – not only does her introduction rekindle strands of Bond’s professional past, but also her presence throughout serves to unearth a side of him, of which we have not significantly seen since On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. However, before we even reach Miss Swann’s introduction, we are treated to the rekindling of an absent acquaintance, in the form of Mr. White. As a matter of fact, it is safe to say that without his presence in the depths of Bond’s recent memories, the events which have subsequently unfolded would’ve had a hard job finding their way. To that end, it is befitting of his purpose, for White to spin the analogy: “you’re a kite dancing in a hurricane’, in the direction on our onlooking secret agent. Which in turn makes his daughter, Madeleine, the one who’s well and truly holding the reel.
Elsewhere, dwelling quite possibly too deep within the shadows of his organisation is Christoph Waltz’s showpiece villain, Franz Oberhauser. Though complete with his ethereal familiarity and questionable dress sense, it would appear that maybe a tad too much of the film’s running time is spent on the chase, while it would’ve been better served, on the capture so to speak. Far less hidden, is a playfully unprofessional feud between Ralph Fiennes, in his first full outing as M, and Max Denbigh (Andrew Scott), whom 007 flippantly assigns the nickname ‘C’ to – which is incidentally the codename of the real head of MI6. The increasingly hostile, verbally confrontational rivalry these two share, provides more than its fair share of comic relief. This funnier side of the film is further expanded on, almost every time we see Ben Whishaw. His expert timing with each little quip, however dry or fleeting, is a refreshing far cry from Desmond Llewelyn’s uptight, no-nonsense embodiment of the character.
From the get go, it was always going to be an uphill struggle to create a picture that could match the brilliance of its predecessor, a fact that all involved will’ve been fully aware of – so why fight it? Instead, come up with is something that still holds the severity of its present situations at heart, while also being just what Daniel Craig’s Bond needed: a whole lot of fun – and that’s exactly what they’ve done. Sam Mendes may currently be standing by the proviso that Spectre is it for him, as far as helming the franchise, but with a considerable stack of unfinished business to tend to narratively, one would imagine the powers that be are aiming to convince him otherwise. The same approach must, presumably, go for the star himself, as far as the likelihood of him honouring his contract stands at present – as even though this one may not have outdone the director’s first foray, and Craig’s third bite of the cherry, it most certainly holds its own in comparison.
Words by Alex Graham