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Reviews

Daniel Craig's James Bond Doesn't Break a Sweat in 'Spectre'

The 24th (official) James Bond film delivers with sleek, sexy cool and better realism, to the degree that Bond can really be "real".


Spectre

Director: Sam Mendes
Cast: Daniel Craig, Dave Bautista, Christoph Waltz, Léa Seydoux, Ben Whishaw, Naomie Harris, Andrew Scott, Monica Bellucci, Ralph Fiennes
Length: 150 minutes
Studio: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer/ Columbia Pictures
Year: 2015
Distributor: 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment
MPAA Rating: PG-13
UK Release Date: 2016-02-22
US Release Date: 2016-02-09

From the very beginning there has been something undeniably cool about James Bond to the point that after over half a century in pop culture, Bond is practically synonymous with cool. But, of course, the man still has that same action tempered with humor that defines the character as much as his cool.

Take the beginning of Bond’s 2015 release, Spectre. James Bond (Daniel Craig) finds himself in a rapidly disintegrating building. Bond casually slides down a floor (which has become vertical) and calmly hangs out on a newly created ledge as the building continues to tear itself apart. Looking at his face he appears to be only mildly annoyed or actually amused by the situation. This is all before he falls to the bottom floor and lands comfortably on a soft couch with a look of complete calm.

Of course, he also takes out a few bad guys and manages to take down an enemy agent while executing a pretty incredibly set of helicopter aerial loopity loops, but after that he commandeers said chopper and takes a relaxed joyride over Mexico city.

I didn’t employ the freeze frame feature on the Blu Ray, but I’m pretty sure he never actually even broke a sweat. His tie sure never came undone.

Mind you, this is all before the now ubiquitous (and increasingly complex) sexy opening credits sequence.

Moments like this can only be James Bond. In that Spectre is Craig’s fourth outing as James Bond since Casino Royale (2006), almost a full decade prior, Craig feels remarkably comfortable in the skin of Bond and embodies the character wonderfully. There's just a bit of each predecessor in Craig’s Bond, but not enough to turn his role into a pastiche. Indeed, it would seem that the naysayers have been silenced by the time of this fourth film and Craig simply is James Bond.

Spectre also brings us the latest actor to play the iconic villain Ernst Stavro Blofeld in Christoph Waltz and he, too, makes his role his own. As the name might imply, Spectre marks the return of the super villainous organization SPECTRE, led by Blofeld. This could only happen due to legal settlements over both the character and his organization, which have been in contention for decades. For more on that story check out my article James Bond's Bitter, Decades-Long Battle... with James Bond.

As with the rest of the series, SPECTRE has become much more realistic and worldly than it was in years past. Instead of the standard, cartoonish world-domination and megaweapons plot, SPECTRE is now getting into the domestic spying game and collecting data on everyone through legal and illegal surveillance. Of course, said surveillance is quickly becoming more legal, as SPECTRE is also controlling the terrorist attacks that inspire each nation to open the doors to monitoring. This is a timely change and significant of the fact that unlike previous incarnations, this Bond hasn’t become a parody of itself after a few movies.

Instead, Spectre is the wise culmination of many 007 storylines. While the series, since its reboot a decade ago, has repeated and even cancelled much of the continuity of the saga at large, there's a remarkable continuity within the four Daniel Craig films. Many of the themes that began in and spider-webbed from Casino Royale come to a head here in an engrossing and believable way. One may be hard-pressed to reconcile the canonicity and continuity between Spectre and, say Thunderball (1965) or On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (1969), but everything works well with the overall mythology of the decades-long series.

That said, all of the standard tropes that make Bond Bond are here. The cool cars engaged in flashy car chases, the Bond Girls, the Walther PPK, the Aston Martin, the identification of "Bond, James Bond" and the request of a Vodka Martini (shaken, not stirred) and yes, even then impossibly cool (yet somehow much more believable) gadgets and technology are all here. Yes, Spectre is both modern and cutting edge as well as classic, vintage James Bond.

This film is packed with brilliant 007 classicism and exciting new twists but director Sam Mendes (who also directed the previous James Bond film, 2012’s Skyfall) keeps the narrative intelligent and flowing without becoming a clumsy collage of varied formulaic historical references and modern mores. While the film itself is packed to the rim, the 2016 Blu Ray is not quite as rich with bonus features. Although far from "bare bones", there's no audio commentary or promotional extras. The disc does contain a documentary (not about the film but about the opening sequence alone) along with a gallery and a collection of video blogs. With a movie this big and this mysterious one might be forgiven for expecting a little more for one’s hard-earned dollars (or pounds, as the case may be).

The flaws in the film are found in its repetition and predictability. Skyfall was a mystery from start to finish. Spectre deals with yet another time that Bond has to go rogue because it’s the right thing to do while MI:6 and, in fact, British Intelligence in general might be facing its collapse from the inside. It's a familiar row and one that Bond fans might embrace as part of the film’s classic/ current mashup or might consider to be derivative or formulaic.

However, this is all based in the assumption that this is, indeed, a flaw. Just as SPECTRE is shown to have orchestrated events in the back story of the Bond films, the smart men and women who are in control of the franchise have carefully planned and plotted from the time of the reboot to bring us to this point (and perhaps a bit farther) and just a little bit of seeing this coming might actually be a part of this design. To be sure, this is a wise culmination of years of work and luckily the end product is not a disappointment.

I, for one, waited through the credits until I saw the familiar words "James Bond Will Return". That slogan was once of dubious promise during the lesser days of 007. With the recent quality of the saga, that promise is enticing to say the least. Bring on "James Bond 25".

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