I’m going to stick my neck out here and say that Sam Mendes is a big Bond fan.
Of course, the fact that he’s directed the last two Bond outings is the big give away, but it’s how he’s done it which is the most telling thing.
Mendes’ first outing, Skyfall, was arguably the best Bond film for many a long year and although his latest attempt possibly lacks the depth and subtext of its predecessor, as a pure, two hour slice of vintage James Bond, Spectre possibly even tops that.
Although it’s now become increasingly difficult to sum up Bond without coming over all Alan Partridge, Spectre is slick, chic, cheeky, sultry, amusing, dynamic, sexy, global, ridiculous and effortlessly cool.
There are tips of the hat to historical James Bond everywhere in Mendes’ casting. From the Dr No-esque instigator of all of the world’s evils (Christopher Wlatz playing Blofeld), to a vocally-stumped ape of a baddie (Dave Bautista plays Mr. Hinx), to not one, but two Bond love interests in the ever so shapely shape of Monica Bellucci – playing Lucia Sciarra – and Lea Seydoux of the very excellent Blue is the warmest colour fame, portraying Dr. Madeleine Swann.
The plot, bizarrely, comes from beyond the grave. A video message left by M (Judi Dench) prior to her demise in Skyfall, instructs Bond to track down and eliminate an assassin, Marco Sciarra, in Mexico, and to then follow up on this by attending his funeral in Rome. The trail and course of action will apparently become obvious from there…
As ever, Bond jets off around the globe in search of the links and connections that will ultimately lead him to the source of much evil-doing – in this case, a mass conspiracy by way of orchestrated ‘terrorist’ events, to install and control global surveillance of a nature and scale beyond the imagination.
The difference on this occasion is that Bond’s solo mission to track down Sciarra is unauthorised and these antics, combined with an overhaul of MI6 has left both he and M’s replacement, Ralph Fiennes (also M) surplus to requirements. In M’s place enters the slippery new head of security, C (Andrew Scott).
Is C just an eminently unlikable character or is there more to his devious nature? It’s all larger than life and very tongue in cheek. Just the way Bond should be.
From exhilarating helicopter and plane stunts to high octane car chases through the streets of Rome, pitting Aston Martin against Ferrari, the action set pieces certainly come thick and fast as Bond races around the globe from Mexico to England and Rome to Austria, in his bid to out-fox and see and end to the wrong-doings of an assortment of villainous types.
Sam Smith’s voice is excellent and deserving of better material, for what is in all honesty a fairly weak title song – it’s a shame that the relatively recent trend for poor Bond songs has not also been addressed – and Thomas Newman’s soundtrack borders on being over-the-top at times, but given the film’s content, probably just gets away with it, adding greatly to the film’s relentless velocity.
It’s hard to know where to go next for Mendes, if indeed he is at the helm for the next one? Given that he’s made such a good fist of these last two, I sincerely hope that he is.
Great fun, and a reverential approach from Mendes in the continued revival of the long running James Bond story.