Matt Bai, a national political columnist for Yahoo News, asked on NBC’s Meet The Press a little over two weeks ago what, “historians of the empire,” might one day make of Western ideological inversions.
Those historians might as well start with the 24 James Bond films; aside from displaying incredible pop-cultural staying power, the films are eerily accurate indicators of their era’s definitions of masculinity and femininity, geopolitical strife, and western anxieties, with the latest adaption of Ian Flemming’s work, Spectre, continuing the trend.
Daniel Craig’s fourth performance as Bond retains the danger and hard-edges that have come to set him apart from those before him but still embraces classic 007 wit and swagger; he’s a modern Sean Connery who can throw a right-hook – a talent that Craig utilizes in an incredibly shot fight sequence, for which Craig gave an ACL to shoot, aboard a wood-paneled train, a clear allusion to From Russia with Love (1963), the series second installment. Craig’s Bond, as seen in the beloved Casino Royale, also displays a greater sense of a fractured inner world, though Spectre at times presents moments of personal reinvention and then jumps without proper character exploration to the next scene in the film’s wildly convoluted plot.
Aside from including Monica Bellucci as one of the first Bond girls to be in the lead’s age range, Spectre includes Lea Seydoux as Madeleine Swann, entirely 21st century take on a Bond lover. A French doctor and daughter of a former Bond villain, Swann acts as a strong romantic foil to Bond and can believably fire a pistol. Some of the most interesting non-action sequences in the film are Swann’s questioning conversations with Bond though the movie would have been aided by expanding those small bits of dialogue. The name of Seydoux’s character is actually an allusion to a 1913 novel The Way by the Swann’s, in which a character remembers his past when eating a madeleine.
Spectre brings back Bond’s archenemy Ernst Blofeld, portrayed by the sinister Christoph Waltz, whose introduction is possibly the best of any Bond supervillain ever. The character suffers from a major lack of screen time, but his plan and organization, both stateless and vague, are a great mirror of the threats that Western powers face today.
The film also includes the series’ best pre-credit sequence, a single-shot scene through the streets, roofs, and airspace of Mexico City; in addition the film utilizes an Aston Martin DB10, designed for the movie, and sends the car smashing through the streets of Italy in one of the series’ most entertaining car chases. Unfortunately, Spectre, creating a series of events that forces MI6 underground to make way for a digital NSA-style surveillance program, wastes screen time on sub plot straight out of rival blockbuster Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation.
So how does Spectre stack up against other Bonds? The film, definitely a must-see in a rather lackluster fall movie season, combines the action and personal exploration of Casino Royal with some of the darkness of box-office breaking Skyfall, and, if it turns out to be Craig’s last, is a great final chapter for an actor who allowed 007 to survive in a new century. At its worst, Spectre lacks a properly developed villain. At its best, Spectre is both a beautifully-shot action film with classic Bond swagger and a somewhat revealing examination of masculine fantasy within the boundaries of modern social mores.
The opening title card declares, “the dead are alive.” Hopefully Eon Productions can convince Craig to complete his contract and shoot one final performance as our favorite double O for release in 2017.