Finally, I took the time to see the new James Bond film SPECTRE. I understand that I’m a bit more than a week behind the curve when it comes to this movie review, but in the following, I will give you what few reviews on this film have been able to give… a good review. That’s right; I liked this film. It wasn’t the best Bond, but it was a good Bond. In the following, I will give you my brief impression of SPECTRE, but first let me write the obligatory warning: spoilers!
SPECTRE is being touted as the finale of the previous films done with the most recent incarnation of Bond, Daniel Craig, who is also rumored to be departing the role. Throughout his tenure as 007, Craig’s Bond had been fighting the unseen hand of a criminal organization at the heart of all of his adventures. In this current film, that organization is given a name: SPECTRE. Against the backdrop of a new multinational intelligence gathering program going on-line, as well as the impending obsolescence of the double O program, Bond strives to solve the mystery behind the ring he took from terrorists in Mexico, one bearing the symbol of the octopus. His search leads him into a strained relationship with MI6, and also into a strange alliance with an old enemy. As Bond enters the world of SPECTRE, and that of its leader, Ernst Stavro Blofeld, he discovers that in this game, the stakes he plays for could never be higher.
In the world of Bond, SPECTRE (which stands for the Special Executive for Counter-intelligence, Terrorism, Revenge and Extortion) holds the chief role as antagonist, but it wasn’t always the case. When Ian Fleming first began his books, the original heavy was a Soviet organization called SMERSH, which is a reduction of the Russian words that mean “death to spies.” Fleming later developed SPECTRE, a sort of third-party, non-nation-state organization whose focus was profit as opposed to the Marxist ideology of the Soviet SMERSH. Once SPECTRE’s introduction was a success, Fleming apparently saw no more use for SMERSH as they were relegated to mere references in later books. When the movies came out, the producers went a step further and completely substituted SMERSH with SPECTRE at every opportunity, robbing SMERSH of a single cinematic outing even though it figures largely in several well-known Bond stories, such as in From Russia With Love. The new Bond series continues this tradition, making the rogue Le Chiffre from Casino Royale, and all the villains that followed employees of SPECTRE. However, different from the books and the original films, this newest film transforms the back story of SPECTRE’s founder, intimately connecting him to Bond’s childhood as well as making the deaths of the women in Bond’s life over the years as some sort of intentional retribution on the part of Blofeld against Bond. While this was slightly interesting, it ended up feeling a bit forced, less like a master plan put in place back in Casino Royale and more like an afterthought to make the film seem grander.
As a story, SPECTRE holds up well, but you can’t escape that feeling of de je vu that hovers over the film. In watching, I couldn’t help but hear the echoes of Thunderball, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, You Only Live Twice, or even Goldfinger. On prominent display are the Blofeld accoutrements such as his high-collared tunic, volcano (crater) lair, white cat, and facial scar; it’s clear that the producers wanted to pay homage to Bonds previous to the reboot. However, I felt that these homages were welcome friends as opposed to annoying guests. I especially liked the naming of the safe house as “Hildebrand”. For those who are not fans of the Bond books, there are few Bond stories that have not been adapted to film, or at least haven’t lent their name to a Bond film that bears little resemblance to its namesake. One of those stories is that of The Hildebrand Rarity.
SPECTRE has what we’ve come to expect from a Bond film: plenty of intense action, exotic locations, menacing villains, and beautiful women. The film work and editing were very well executed. The opening scene features a sustained steady-cam shot that was quite skillful. And, of course, the opening credits were very imaginative. And even though there were some moments were you felt like they could have done something more, it was nonetheless satisfying. For those of my audience that are libertarians or conservatives, there were even a few moments of applicability. The surveillance state looms over the plot, with a new spying apparatus created by unprincipled men. There’s even a moment when one of the film’s villains almost mirrors in dialogue President Obama, Hillary, and Rahm Emanuel’s ominous sounding phrase about never failing to take advantage of a crisis. I don’t know if that’s what the film-makers had in mind when they wrote this, and I certainly doubt that they would admit it if it were so, but it certainly works along those lines.
In conclusion, if you like the Bond series, spy thrillers, or merely action movies, SPECTRE is not one to miss on the big screen. I give it three and a half out of five.