Spectre: Sam Mendes Pushes The Limits

Daniel Craig in Spectre. Courtesy of MGM/UA.

Sam Mendes pushes the limits during his second James Bond directorial outing in Spectre to get James Bond back to the travelogue roots.

You know this is going to be a big film right from the Day of the Dead pre-titles sequence in Mexico City. It’s one of the biggest openings by far and it gives Mexico some proper representation on screen. By the end of the film, however, Spectre proves to be just one part of a larger story–one that sees LeChiffre, Greene, and Silva working for someone else. In this instance, it’s all a part of Franz Oberhauser/Ernst Stavro Blofeld’s master plan. It’s a retcon that Bond fans such as myself will appreciate. Again, this doesn’t happen without the rights coming back in house. All roads were leading to this point, which allows Sam Mendes to push the limits as far as the Bond franchise goes.

With the Spectre rights back in house, it was only matter of time before we saw the organization on screen again. The film sees Bond on a mission that doesn’t so much have anything to do with MI6 in as much as it has to do with the late M (Judi Dench). Bond brings in both Moneypenny and Q while disobeying M’s (Ralph Fiennes) orders. Oh, the joys of a power struggle between M and C (Andrew Scott), the Director-General of the new Joint Intelligence Service, which came about because of a merger between MI5 and MI6. C prefers his Nine Eyes Initiative to the 00 Section. As is the usual case, Blofeld has a plot that Bond must thwart. Easier said than done and judging by No Time to Die‘s cast, the story that starts here will continue for another film.

In terms of Bond women, Mexican agent Estrella Luna (Stephanie Stigman) is barely even in the film. We see her before the titles and that’s it. Lucia Sciarra (Monica Bellucci), the widow of assassin Marco Sciarra (Alessandro Cremona), becomes the oldest Bond woman because Bond seduced her. Dr. Madeleine  Swann (Léa Seydoux) is the major figure in this film. And again, it ties back to the larger Spectre picture because her father happens to be Mr. White (Jesper Christensen), first seen in Casino Royale. Her dad is dying a slow death and Bond agrees to protect her. The catch is that she must take him to L’Américain so that they can locate Franz Oberhauser.

One nice thing to enjoy about this film is the real return of the humor between Q and Bond. This was missing especially in the first two films and while Q did return in Skyfall, it was as a new character for the Craig films. Now that it’s been a few years, one can assume that they’ve worked together enough to build up quite the relationship.

In terms of music, Thomas Newman does another solid job and contributes a very lengthy score. He’s the third franchise composer to score more than one Bond film. Sam Smith contributes the Oscar-winning “Writing’s On the Wall,” which does not feature the film’s title in the lyrics.

Mass surveillance plays a role in terms of Spectre‘s plot. It’s interesting when you look at this film side by side with The Dark Knight. Both films have very different takes when it comes to such surveillance. This is something that should concern us all in the 21st century. Look at smartphones and how they can be used to track people these days. Or how easy can it be to use our smartphone media to find someone in a video or photo? Remember the debate between Lucius Fox and Bruce Wayne during the 2008 film? It’s what drew them apart because they had a different philosophy when it came to serving the greater good. But enough about Batman.

I like some of the approaches here. It’s different than what we expect especially with Oberhauser’s origin. They change both the Ian Fleming approach and the original film approach. I can understand wanting to get away from the Kevin McClory films. You certainly wouldn’t want to associate this film with the likes of Never Say Never Again, for instance.

With Oberhauser’s origin, it could feel like they borrow a line from the Austin Powers movies. However, they draw on Fleming’s source material to an extent. Mendes does get original here when it comes to Franz being the son of Bond’s guardian. More importantly, the filmmakers don’t take things too far in the fantasy direction. After all, the Daniel Craig films feel grounded in a form of realism where some of the previous films went too far in the fantasy direction. There’s a fine line in the Bond world and once you go too far down the fantasy path, it makes it harder to come back to earth. Where we leave is Bond driving away with Dr. Swann, presumably towards retirement.

Spectre never strays too far from the franchise formula but this action film is still a thrilling ride. It never quite reaches the same level as Casino Royale or Skyfall. As long as I’m having fun and it’s bringing the thrills and gadgets, I’d say that the film is doing its job.

DIRECTOR: Sam Mendes
SCREENWRITERS: John Logan and Neal Purvis & Robert Wade and Jez Butterworth
CAST: Daniel Craig, Christoph Waltz, Léa Seydoux, Ben Whishaw, Naomie Harris, Dave Bautista, with Monica Bellucci and Ralph Fiennes

Sony Pictures Releasing released Spectre in theaters on November 6, 2015.

Danielle Solzman

Danielle Solzman is native of Louisville, KY, and holds a BA in Public Relations from Northern Kentucky University and a MA in Media Communications from Webster University. She roots for her beloved Kentucky Wildcats, St. Louis Cardinals, Indianapolis Colts, and Boston Celtics. Living less than a mile away from Wrigley Field in Chicago, she is an active reader (sports/entertainment/history/biographies/select fiction) and involved with the Chicago improv scene. She also sees many movies and reviews them. She has previously written for Redbird Rants, Wildcat Blue Nation, and Hidden Remote/Flicksided. From April 2016 through May 2017, her film reviews can be found on Creators.