Review: Spectre (2015)

Daniel Craig and Léa Seydoux in Sam Mendes's 007 adventure Spectre.

By its title alone, the twenty-fourth James Bond picture in the long-running film series announces its ambition. Primarily, Spectre is the name of the nefarious organisation that 007 encounters in many of his cinematic adventures. However, in the context of this film, the title takes on a double meaning as it alludes to the thematic exploration of the picture.

Death is a constant presence in the film. The first thing we see on screen is a message that says, “The dead are alive.” The statement could be interpreted as applying to the opening scene, which depicts Bond (Danial Craig) hunting down a man in the midst of the Day of the Dead festival in Mexico City. However, it applies to individual characters who have recently passed away or have used death as a ruse to live out their life as an entirely different person.

In the first case, the recently deceased M (Judi Dench) gets the plot in motion by asking Bond to track down a man in Mexico City, kill him and then go to his funeral. Early on in the picture, Bond quips to Moneypenny about his former boss by stating that “She would never let death get in the way of the job.”

The second and perhaps most prominent advocation for the opening statement has to do with the character of Franz Oberhauser. In the film, it is stated that he died in an accident along with his father. However, this turns out to be false as Oberhauser faked his death and then rose up to become Ernst Stavro Blofeld, who is the head of the criminal group Spectre.

Even death pervades the film in visual terms as Hoyte van Hoytema’s shots for the movie looks ghostly with its harsh black and browns fusing together to create an all-encompassing unearthly feeling. This strong thematic exploration is fascinating territory for a James Bond picture.

Nevertheless, the rest of the film fails to be as interesting. Despite the abundance of action sequences, ideas and interactions, Spectre ultimately feels deficient. A big part of this comes from a lack of dramatic weight, which has been an indispensable cornerstone of the Daniel Craig era.

While the screenplay presents some intriguing points such as James Bond meeting a kindred spirit in Madeline and confronting an aspect of his past. None of these fundamental ideas feels satisfactory at all. Part of this problem stems from the execution of these established elements in the screenplay.

For example, we find out in the final act of the picture that Ernst Stavro Blofeld is Bond’s step brother who killed his stepfather because of jealousy due to the attention being paid to the young James. Christoph Waltz’s performance lacks any danger or venom; it feels like a casual shrug at best. Waltz’s usual polite demeanour does not work for this character. As a result, the revelation seems like a pointless addition.

Additionally, while Madeline conceptually feels like a good match for Bond, their chemistry never illustrates why Bond would walk away from his life as a 00 agent. Moreover, their love story feels incredibly rushed and takes an awkward, melodramatic turn when she declares her love for Bond in the midst of witnessing him being tortured. In the context of Casino Royale and On Her Majesty Secret Service, the love story feels like an unnecessary element that is used as a device for the audience to believe that Spectre represents Daniel Craig’s swansong.

About Sartaj Govind Singh

Notes from a distant observer: “Sartaj is a very eccentric fellow with a penchant for hats. He likes watching films and writes about them in great analytical detail. He has an MA degree in Philosophy and has been known to wear Mickey Mouse ears on his birthday.”
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