|'Whilst it may be Craig's first film to follow the "Bond formula", Spectre is perhaps the most successful and enjoyable the formula has been since Roger Moore's heyday'.|
If Skyfall is the film which finally reset the clock on the Bond franchise after three instalments of the rebooted Daniel Craig era - particularly through its conclusion - then Spectre is the natural progression from that point. All of Craig's previous outings have, for better or worse, offered something considerably different to what is expected when compared to 007's cinematic back catalogue. But, with pretty much every element of the franchise back in its rightful place, his fourth film does something just as bold in returning to the unofficial "Bond formula", first seen during the days of Connery but shunned since Brosnan's tenure as the secret agent. The result is a film that feels in some ways less distinctive than Craig's previous films, but also does a great deal to prove that the formula still works if used in the right way.
Four films in, it's perhaps a bit too easy to take Craig's continually solid version of James Bond for granted. Whilst Spectre never challenges Craig to innovate in the same way as he has previously, there are also plenty of opportunities for the actor to demonstrate exactly why he's now held by many fans of the franchise as one of the very best Bonds. The strength of the supporting cast established over recent entries pays off again here. Ben Whishaw as Q is given plenty of scope to develop the good work he began in Skyfall, and Naomie Harris as Eve Moneypenny also does well with the handful of key scenes she's given. Ralph Fiennes delivers an admirable performance following Judi Dench as M, wisely opting not to emulate his predecessor and instead carving out a satisfyingly driven, hands-on version of the character which both harks back to classic Bond whilst also taking the role into new territory.
Whilst Fiennes' task may be unenviable, Christoph Waltz's role as primary antagonist Franz Oberhauser is arguably almost impossible. Oberhauser is in many ways the first truly classic Bond villain seen during the Craig era, inextricably linked to the heritage of the series whilst also needing to exist within the rebooted 21st Century universe. Oberhauser is tinged with Moore-era exaggeration, but Waltz ensures the theatricality and authenticity are for the most part balanced well, drawing his performance from influences as varied as Anthony Hopkins' Hannibal Lecter and Heath Ledger's Joker. There are points throughout Spectre at which Oberhauser could have transformed into parody - or much worse, metaparody - from which the character would doubtless have become unsalvageable, and it's to Waltz's considerable credit that this never happens.
Becoming the first director to helm consecutive Bond films for over a quarter of a century, Sam Mendes eases back into the spectacle of the series with aplomb. Mendes' Dia de los Muertos opener delivers a pre-titles sequence as expertly shot and constructed as anything seen throughout Craig's tenure; the director also punctuates Spectre with several action sequences, each of which has at least a hint of the series' past about it. Mendes is happy to keep things fairly traditional when unfolding both the central plot following Bond's discovery of the SPECTRE organisation, and the slightly more thinly developed subplot of M's power struggle with his new superior C (a pleasingly slippery Andrew Scott). Spectre also delivers the most straightforward Bond girl of the rebooted franchise in Dr. Madeleine Swann (Léa Seydoux), a safe but sensible choice following Dench's unique coda which saw her take the position as the primary female character in Skyfall.
Whilst it may be Craig's first film to follow the "Bond formula", Spectre is perhaps the most successful and enjoyable the formula has been since Roger Moore's heyday. Where Skyfall paid tribute to the legacy of Bond, Spectre slots itself pleasingly alongside the best of the series' past instalments. It may not quite achieve the heights of Mendes' previous film or of Casino Royale, still Craig's best outing as Bond. But, even at its undeniably bulky two-and-a-half hours, Spectre is consistently a solid and entertaining continuation of what is arguably becoming the most successful period in 007's cinematic history.
Have a look back at Film Intel's Bond series retrospective, The Road To Spectre.