I am not a James Bond fan. I don’t have anything against the movies at all, it’s just not my first choice in the long lineup of action-adventure franchises available to the modern fangirl. So I thought that I’d be going into Spectre without any expectations and that I could come out offering an unbiased outsider’s perspective.
I realized pretty quickly that idea was ridiculous. I actually have a lot of expectations about superspy movies, and most of them come from the Bond universe. I was looking for the tropes: car chases in increasingly preposterous urban settings, supervillains with sleek desert fortresses and improbable aspirations to world domination, and weak-kneed women swooning over a spy in a bespoke suit.
Spectre played fast and loose with every classic Bond trope I could think of, and probably many more besides. Fans and uninitiated moviegoers should not go into Spectre expecting Skyfall levels of narrative craft and character depth; Spectre doesn’t say much beyond, “Daniel Craig is still an awesome Bond, Bond is still awesome just the way he is, enjoy yourselves!” And maybe I’m just a sucker for trope-y popcorn flicks, but I did have a great time.
Spectre is Craig’s penultimate performance as 007 and operates as a kind of summary of all his plots so far. Having at least a little knowledge about Craig’s previous three Bond films would definitely help. Spectre picks up right where Skyfall left off, and makes numerous references to characters and plots in it, Quantum of Solace, and Casino Royale.
The movie opens with Bond doing the most Bond-y things imaginable: sauntering around beautiful Mexico City on an unapproved covert mission and stopping just long enough to kiss his date, grab a gun, adjust his cuffs, and blow up a building. Bond had been tracking a lead left for him in a video message from the deceased head of MI6 (Judi Dench, killed off in Skyfall), hoping to track down her killers.
After a stop-off in London for the requisite, “Play by the rules or I’ll bench you” speech from the new M (Ralph Fiennes) and gear upgrade from MI6 tech developer Q (Ben Wishaw), Bond follows the lead to Rome. After seducing the oldest Bond girl in the franchise’s history (a very beautiful Monica Bellucci), he infiltrates a shadowy conference with the leaders of a massive, powerful, somehow entirely unknown criminal organization. He’s spotted and forced to escape, kickstarting a cinematically gorgeous car chase through the streets of Rome (the Aston Martin DB10’s demise at the bottom of the Tiber was honestly the saddest death in the film).
From Rome Bond travels to snowy Austria searching for the Pale King, a name he heard mentioned by the criminal group’s leaders. There he picks up with Dr. Madeleine Swann (Lea Seydoux), the movie’s lead Bond girl, who is also mysteriously connected with this organization. She reveals that they’re called Spectre, and piece by piece, the information Bond collects on them proves that they have been orchestrating all the evil plans he’s had to stop since he joined MI6. In movie timeline terms, Spectre works really hard to draw out complex plot connections all the way back to Craig’s first Bond movie, Casino Royale.
Amidst of all of this there’s been a turf war in MI6 as the government works to merge it with MI5. The leader of the merger, C (Andrew Scott), wants to cut the Double-O program entirely. M, Q, and Moneypenny (Naomie Harris) must fight from the inside while trying to help Bond from a distance, and Bond has to prove that the British Government still needs his services, but also Spectre is threatening global digital security, and amazingly this all does get wrapped up pretty neatly by the end.
Spectre’s writing may not be anything extraordinary, but it’s tight and fast-paced and it suits the story. The cinematography is frankly breathtaking at points, taking full advantage of Bond’s worldwide travels and love for cars (if you didn’t earlier you really just need to look at this Aston Martin).
The film was in essence a tribute to Bond’s greatest hits, both for the classic Bond tropes and for Craig’s specific time as Bond. There’s a lot of nostalgia for both in Spectre. This keeps the film from making unexpected leaps in the story or innovative changes to its world and characters; near the end I kept waiting for a sudden twist that never came. But I still walked away satisfied. For my limited experience with Bond I got what I wanted from Spectre and what I think the film wanted me to get: I had a lot of fun.
General warnings about violence, drinking, sex, and mortal suspense, but no more than you’d expect from a Bond movie. Bond sleeps with two women. There’s the occasional curse word and one loud use of the Lord’s name in vain. A character kills another by putting out his eyes with his fingernails and the snapping his neck. Another falls to his death and we see his body from a distance. A character commits suicide by shooting himself in the head. That character’s death is shown again on tape to terrorize Bond and another character who’d been close to the victim. The villain tortures Bond, both physically and psychologically, out of revenge.
Jessica Gibson is a former intern with Christianity Today Movies and a student at The King’s College in New York City. She tweets only to fangirl and gripe @GibbyTOD.