It’s fortunate that the success of Mike Myers’ “Austin Powers” franchise did not wash out the best features of the James Bond series. Had it done so, we wouldn’t have been treated to the outstanding production of Daniel Craig’s latest film, “Spectre,” with an opportunity to face off against a reinvented Ernst Stavro Blofeld played perfectly by Christoph Waltz. One of my few complaints however, is that we didn’t get enough material from the two time Oscar winner. (SPOILER ALERT: here’s hoping Waltz is game for another go round.)
Director Sam Mendes returns following “Skyfall” to reinvigorate the original traditions and blueprints that attracted audiences to 007 in 1962 with “Dr. No.” Blofeld lays in wait in his secret fortress of a lair housed within a desert crater (an upgrade from the volcano in “You Only Live Twice”), ready to offer exquisite hospitality to Bond and his love interest before providing an unrequested guided tour of his technology and hideous plots. No, he never had to show Bond anything. Yet Blofeld was never bashful, with or without his cat. Waltz is the right choice for this 21st century iteration of the staple villain. Gone is most of the camp presented in the character during the later Connery films. Most of the camp, actually he does still have the cat after all.
Craig remains a great 007. The role is not a mimic of past Bonds. Craig is everything of the “blunt instrument” that author Ian Fleming described. Thanks to his physique and some great fight choreography, a marvelous fisticuffs scene occurs between him and brutish Dave Bautista aboard a moving train. Craig always looking great in the white dinner jacket tux, even while he’s getting pushed around.
Lea Seydoux is serviceable as the Bond girl, Madeline Swann, daughter of an old enemy of Bond with information necessary in the pursuit. Seydoux is not the best Bond girl. Others have offered more intellect beyond the beauty. Still, that might only be due to the limits of the script. She’s a good actor nonetheless.
Ben Whishaw and Naomie Harris are great as Q and Moneypenny. The roles have stepped up in frankness and skills that stretch out more than a traditional one scene cameo. Whishaw as Q is more of a know it all and Harris as Moneypenny reminds the audience that she has a life outside the office.
Ralph Fiennes is good too as M. Though I do wish his storyline was better here where he is dealing with an over abundant policy in complete government surveillance. The antagonist against Fiennes is nothing special and as quick as this storyline started, you knew how it was going to end. Still, I like watching Fiennes in the role.
“Spectre” has great scenes, most especially the signature opening taking place on the Day of the Dead in Mexico City that culminates in the destruction of a city block before Bond disables two bad guys aboard a spiraling helicopter. Steady cam and very clear edits make this a knockout.
I also appreciate the gag that not all things work accordingly for Bond. He orders his signature Vodka Martini, shaken not stirred, and is denied as he is at a bar located in an isolated strict health retreat. As well, his Aston Martin is not as reliable thanks to empty hidden machine guns hidden behind the logo in the trunk. Not everything comes as easy for Craig’s Bond, and that allows for some tongue in cheek humor.
I liked “Spectre” more on a repeat viewing. Mendes shot a gorgeous looking globe trotting picture of Mexico City, Rome, Austria, Tangiers and clear evening London.
Considering the next installment is likely to be Craig’s last film is disheartening. With “Spectre,” a summation of all the prior Craig films is assembled leading to what has been a great miniseries within the storied franchise. I’ve liked following this James Bond. There are revelations about the character including his orphan history, his faults and his coldness that only serves to protect the Queen’s country. The Daniel Craig Bond is the best following the very different albeit wry interpretation of Sean Connery.
Still, I’ll take what I can get and once again happily look down the target scope aimed right for 007 before the blood comes pouring down.