The following review contains spoilers for Skyfall (Sam Mendes, 2012)
EXPECTATIONS can be tricky things. Any audience brings a whole pile of them, and how they perceive the film will, to an extent, depend on how the film interacts with them. Break too few and your film will be formulaic and uninteresting, too many and your film can become zany, unpredictable and at an extreme, incomprehensible. This is especially challenging if the film in question is part of a long running series, particularly one which began more than 50 years ago, as certain elements of the culture of the time when the series started may not translate well to the present day.
This can be a daunting task for anyone, especially when setting out to make a Bond film, with all of the history and conventions that series possesses. As such, I am happy to report that Sam Mendes’ Spectre deals with its expectations amazingly well. From the first few minutes onwards, one becomes aware that this is a movie that more than willing to play around with the Bond formula to excite, amuse and keep you interested, but everything you would expect from a Bond film is still present and done as well as possible. Expect colourful villains, exotic locations, fight scenes, chase scenes, expensive cars and more, all expertly done.
Given the unparalleled success of Skyfall (it still stands as the most successful British film ever made), referring back to the less successful and critically panned Quantum of Solace could be seen as tempting fate. However, Spectre is even more concerned than the last film with delving into Bond’s past, taking him from Mexico City to Rome in pursuit of the titular organisation, which has had a hand in the plots of Craig’s previous Bond films, and a confrontation with the sinister Oberhauser (Christoph Waltz).
Like Skyfall before it, Spectre seems to be rooted in a profound mistrust of technology and the prevalence of surveillance; touted by agent Max Denbigh (Sherlock’s Andrew Scott) who is presented in opposition to the one-man, one-mission way that Bond has operated since ditching the outlandish gadgets and orbital superweapons present in the Brosnan era especially. In addition to its broader theme, Spectre manages to be a little thoughtful, despite its strong nature as predominantly an action film, offering a view on the importance of individual decision making as opposed to decisions made in rooms miles away by people far removed from the situation.
As a Bond film, Spectre has a lot of baggage to deal with. Fortunately, in terms of objectification, it attempts to avoid the issues the series has had in the past, and this entry feels fairly reasonable in its portrayal of women, though it’s not without its worries. The film caters to the male gaze in a very noticeable way, and a scene in the first half of the film where Bond is attempting to get information from a woman who he literally backs against a wall, and then kisses, in particular gave me the creeps.
For some reason in Bond films it seems, for the most part, that the only possible character change for women is from being an active to a passive participant in the world. It’s a trend that can be seen from Dr No to Christmas Jones in The World Is Not Enough. More details than this, especially in relation to how the relationship of female characters with Bond changes over time, would venture into spoiler territory; suffice it to say that Spectre does not present the best portrayal of women, although it certainly does try to be an improvement on the past. One cannot help but wonder if this may be an inherent element of a Bond film, that the character and conventions of the series would need to be radically remade to avoid this issue. However, one lives in hope, and I’m willing to give Spectre credit for trying to improve.
Overall the production is a solid, well-oiled machine, doing what it does exceptionally well. Bond movies have been a thing for 50 years, which has resulted in a large body of work to examine to determine what works, what doesn’t and what can be improved on, and the team behind Spectre seem to have put it to full use. Whether it’s a fight scene, a chase or some good old fashioned villainous gloating, every element seems is finely tuned to be the best version of itself. It is exceptionally well made, and a definite candidate for best Bond movie thus far.
Spectre screens until the 12th of November at the Commodore Cinema and from the 20th of November until the 3rd of December at Aberystwyth Arts Centre