*Potential Spoiler Alert- You Have Been Warned*
I have never seen a James Bond film. There, I’ve said it. Up until this point my experience with the British spy was limited to brief glimpses of Skyfall (2012) when my brother had it on and the fact that I used to watch my uncle play the video game (before Call of Duty became a thing). I was, however, familiar with the basic tropes of the Bond universe, and I think I can say with a decent amount of certainty that this James Bond film is like every other James Bond film- fans should not be disappointed by content.
While on an unsanctioned mission in Mexico City, James Bond (played by Daniel Craig in his first film since Skyfall) uncovers a cryptic message about an evil organization operating around the globe. While he attempts to discover and thwart their latest scheme, M (Ralph Fiennes) is faced with the future as the new head of the Centre of National Security, Max Denbigh (Andrew Scott) challenges the relevance of MI6 and the 00 program. With the help of Moneypenny (Naomie Harris) and Q (Ben Whishaw), Bond seeks out the daughter of an old nemesis, Madeleine Swann (Léa Seydoux) to help him untangle the web that is SPECTRE.
As I mentioned above, there are certain tropes to the James Bond franchise, which are apparent even for someone who hasn’t seem the majority of it. James Bond will always sleep with the pretty girl, for example (though in this film it’s actually two girls). There will be chases, most likely more than one, and not limited (though not excluding) to cars. I think Spectre has about five, all with different vehicles, and some that go on just a tad too long, but they are full of Bond-worthy explosions. Between these almost flashback-like reminders of what James Bond has always been and the new allusions to Bond’s past and the future of MI6, it seems like the movie has one foot in both the past and the future of Bond, and who knows where the future is going. Because of these tropes, there is a certain predictability to the film that could either be seen as soothing and comfortable or as tired and overdone. It all depends on which end of the Bond spectrum you find yourself on.
Those who were unfamiliar with the Bond films, like me, should be aware when they walk into the film that while there is nothing directly related to previous films, it is still easy to feel a little lost. Characters throw around the words “skyfall” and “quantum” as if they have meaning (which they do, because these are the titles of previous films) but they expect you to be able to make the connection. Mentions of previous M (played by Judi Dench) are also common, but the most they’ll explain is that she’s dead and hasn’t been for too long, so if you want more information, watch the other movies.
The actors themselves were much the same as the film for me- not bad, but nothing particularly impressive. Craig’s Bond is fun to listen to as far as dry wit, and he does get interestingly emotional, but Seydoux’s character is more of a pretty face trying too hard not to be a pretty face. I knew how I felt about Andrew Scott’s character the moment he was onscreen, (not aided by my Sherlock-fan-roots, of course) and the movie did very little to try and make me think otherwise. I did enjoy Whishaw’s Q, but not enough to wish he had more screen time. And perhaps the biggest failing of the film of all was that despite the continual reference to the threat of the SPECTRE organization, I never was informed or aware enough to feel that they were remotely threatening. Sure I understood what they were doing, but as far as evil villains go, they seemed a little tame, especially for a film franchise known for its convoluted plots and escapes and dangers.
This is not to say that the movie is entirely uninteresting to watch- the first act in Mexico City, which takes place during the Day of the Dead festival, is colorful and vibrant and entertaining to just about anyone with fantastic costumes and sets that are just teeming with life. The sound was also very interesting for this film- not the score, per say, but the usage. During many pivotal fight scenes where most soundtracks would bust out the wild battle music, Spectre only required the background noises of the environment and nothing added to it. It was both jarring and amusing, and sometimes I think I could have just closed my eyes and enjoyed the film that way.
At the end of it all, I will go back and watch the movie again, but not because I enjoyed it immensely or anything like that. If I really want to enjoy it, I need to start at the beginning and understand why Bond fans love it like they do. Should they go see Spectre? Definitely.
Barely shaken, barely stirred, but hey. It’s all a matter of perspective.