Year Released: 2015
Directed by: Sam Mendes
Starring: Daniel Craig, Christoph Waltz, Lea Seydoux
(PG-13, 150 min.)
Genre: Action and Adventure
“Nothing great was ever achieved without enthusiasm.” Ralph Waldo Emerson
Most all the pieces are on the chessboard – the exotic locales, breath-taking car chases, M, Moneypenney, Q, and a Bond girl or 2. But – dare I say it – they seem hollowed out, empty vessels without substance, spark, or soul.
Of course that doesn’t mean you won’t enjoy this polished spectacle. It’s probably worth the cost of admission for the first scene alone, a fabulous 4 minute long take of an super elaborate Day of the Dead parade in Mexico City. The audience feels like we are right there as we follow a dark suited figure wearing the traditional skull mask through the crowd, vaguely recognizing the set of the shoulders and familiar swagger in the step. This particular scene in Mexico required 1,500 extras, 10 giant skeletons and 250,000 paper flowers, by the way.
Then his sniper shot turns on 007, creating an explosion that just about swallows him. That and a brutal fist fight on board a pilotless helicopter remind us of all those other Bond adventures that have taken our breath away before the opening title sequence even lights up the screen.
Even if the rest of the film fails to quite live up to this exhilaration, the production values and set pieces that follow in Rome, Austria, Morocco, and London are up to the high standards we have come to expect from the franchise. Yes, the eye candy is there all right, and yes, again, we are spoiled, taking all this derring-do for granted.
A chase through the rain slicked streets of Rome, where 007 (Daniel Craig in his 4th outing) gets to try out the latest souped up Aston Martin is heart-pounding, especially along the narrow edge of the famous Tiber River.
A similar chase across the snow peaked Austrian Alps ups the ante with Bond systematically destroying the small plane he pilots, shearing off wing parts and landing gear, but somehow continuing the reckless pursuit nevertheless.
And this brings up an important point. Credibility. Of course we are perfectly happy to suspend our disbelief for 007’s adventures. We accept that he runs through a filed of machine gun blasts without even a flesh wound, that he somehow comes up with a fresh tux at the drop of a hat, but what always aided us here was the humor that made us swallow this rubbish without a blink.
Sean Connery teased us along with killer quips; Roger Moore said it all with his raised eyebrow. A kind of self-aware irony that reminded us not to take all this too seriously.
And that is the problem with all of Daniel Craig's forays into 007 territory. He, his directors, and scriptwriters seem to take themselves way too seriously. Where has all the fun gone? Perhaps November is a fitting release date, seeing as how the weather is as dour and grey as our hero.
Daniel Craig, on screen and off, seems to ooze evident disdain for his part. Somehow he is above all this crass commercialism, except, of course, when he is cashing the very large check for his services.
Asked whether he’d be back for the 25th installment of the franchise, Craig replied
Now? I’d rather break this glass and slash my wrists. No, not at the moment. Not at all. That’s fine. I’m over it at the moment. We’re done. All I want to do is move on.
Which brings us to some other inconsistencies. Let’s face it. Whether the audience wants it that way or not, these recent films have really been about Bond himself rather than his missions. He is starring in his very own psychodrama, and you’d think he would relish the attention on the exploration of his character. He is more emotionally vulnerable here, falling for the Bond girls instead of keeping his distance, but at the same time his one expression throughout is a stoic, squinty-eyed grimace. If you want to show your acting chops somewhere else, Mr. Craig, start showing some range here in the part you are given.
Dare I say that in some ways, in spite of Bond’s emotional attachment to his female co-stars, this film is in some ways more misogynistic than the love ‘em and leave ‘em predecessors? We really miss Judi Dench’s M here, the grown up in the room. The new M, Ralph Fiennes, is a fine actor, but you would never know it from his performance as the rather effete new M. Perhaps it’s the script.
That same writing relegates the Bond girls to almost walk on roles. But it is not just the screen time and script, I think. From her performance here, you would never think Lea Seydoux, playing Dr. Madeleine Swann, Bond’s love interest, is the critically acclaimed actress that her bio suggests. Does she, too, somehow think this role is beneath her?
On the other hand, Monica Bellucci, at 51, the oldest of the Bond girls ever, makes every moment of her cameo count. There is chemistry between her and Bond that is definitely lacking in screen time with Seydoux.
Finale gripes: Why even have Moneypenney (Naomie Harris) and Q (Ben Whishaw) if you intend to make them such flat characters? Gone is the love-stricken Moneypenney, whose ritualized flirtation with 007 complemented the films. Her longings were futile, her interactions with Bond a lone dessert of chastity for the bed-hopping spy, treated with equal doses of humor and empathy. Bond might be a rogue, but he would show a special tenderness for Moneypenney that he usually kept hidden from his female conquests.
In Spectre Moneypenney becomes just one of the guys, so to speak, a loyal colleague, but nothing more. Her inclusion in the franchise looks more and more like the appendix, a residual organ that used to have a purpose, but now is just a vestige of an earlier time.
The same goes for Q. John Cleese could never replace Desmond Llewelyn, that wonderful fussbudget who mother henned Bond through all those marvelous and cheesy gadgets in his 17 films, but he did his best and we loved him for trying. The new Q, Ben Whishaw ushered in 2012’s Skyfall, is a computer geek who even Bond noted at the time, looked like he hadn’t yet got beyond adolescent spots. He adds little to this film, and his array of gadgets is pretty sparse as well.
Complaints aside, I still enjoyed the film. Perhaps my long history with this franchise – my first date with my husband was seeing Thunderball in downtown Chicago – makes me more critical.
My very shrewd 8-year-old granddaughter, who has seen just about all the Bond films on weekend sleepovers at our place, thinks Spectre is the best Bond ever.
You can find the original Bond Cocktail, a Vodka Martini, shaken not stirred here.
Many enjoy Eggsy’s recipe for the drink from the recent Kingsman spy spoof, too.
But for this film Different Drummer finds a more exotic drink, one that fits in perfectly with the spectacular opening scene in Mexico City during its Dia de los Muertos parade. It is appropriately named The Skull Crusher, and the recipe features 2 different versions as well.
The Skull Crusher, Version 1
Memories of the dead come to life during the Mexican holiday known as Día de los Muertos (Day of the Dead) on November 1–2. Celebrations throughout Mexico often center around food and drink to honor the dearly departed. Now United States restaurants and bars have borrowed the idea, decorating with symbols of the tradition (papel picado, or paper banners, sugar skulls, altars with gifts to the beloved) and serving up spirits. Give it a try at these locations:
Recipes courtesy of Vbar, in San Antonio, Texas
1½ ounces Grey Goose L’Orange vodka
Club soda, to top off
Cranberry juice, splash
Lime wedge, for garnish
In a cocktail shaker filled with ice, combine vodka, club soda and a splash of cranberry juice. Pour into a highball glass filled with ice and garnish with lime.
The Skull Crusher, Version 2
1½ ounces of 360 Mandarin Orange vodka
¾ ounce Cointreau orange liqueur
1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lime juice
Orange wedge, for garnish
In a highball glass filled with ice, combine the voda, Cointreau, cranberry juice and fresh lime juice. Garnish with orange wedge.