No one ever thought it would take four films to complete the James Bond origin story, but then no one counted on the return of Blofeld and Spectre, either. That’s what you get with the dynamic duo of Daniel Craig and Sam Mendes: it remains personal for this Bond, and what better way of tying up all of the loose ends than with the introduction of his nemesis as a doppelganger?
At the same time, the Craig era has swung back to the roots of the franchise where Blofeld/Spectre began. Having their cake, as it were. Yet despite a record-breaking UK bow and the anticipation of a successful one domestically this weekend, Spectre has already created a critical divide. While many enjoy the dark navel gazing that began with Casino Royale, and others prefer a more traditional approach, not everyone likes the lighter, more celebratory tone of Spectre.
But then it’s always been a delicate balancing act for the Bond franchise, and Mendes has pushed the creation myth as far as he could, echoing moments not only from the Craig era but also earlier ones for emotional resonance, reminding us that the journey’s part of a continuum. Call it Road to Perdition meets Remembrance of Things Past. Bond, the orphan, finds an extended, if dysfunctional, family with MI6, but is confronted with the final piece of his past that explains his existential crisis. Now, at least, he understands what he’s up against and why.
Yet the main difference between Skyfall and Spectre is that Bond’s now in control, and Craig has never been more relaxed and confident as 007. This is most evident in the brilliant Day of the Dead pre-credit sequence in Mexico City (“The dead are alive,” indeed). The long tracking shot following Bond (escorted by Stephanie Sigman) trailing an assassin (Alessandro Cremona), whom he eventually kills after a lot of mayhem, demonstrates Bond at his most powerful, while also introducing themes of disguise and voyeurism.
But there’s a sense of fun, which carries over to the rest of this cat and mouse between Bond and his creepy childhood chum, Franz Oberhauser (Christoph Waltz), the head of Spectre and the author of Bond’s pain. Information is power in this post-Snowden surveillance nightmare of a plot, only Bond has truly become the protege of Judi Dench’s M. He’s still “half-monk, half-hit man,” but gives a lot more than he takes.
And Bond endures a lot in definitively proving why both he and MI6 are as vital as ever. Remember the wonderful introduction of Q (Ben Whishaw) in Skyfall? Bond asks why he needs him, and Q says, “Every now and then a trigger has to be pulled,” and Bond replies, “Or not pulled.” It’s a lesson repeated often in Spectre, as Bond reclaims his sense of purpose.
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