Review: Spectre is the Best of the Daniel Craig Bond Movies

Spectre is a good old fashioned spy movie souped up with superb cinematic majesty that we expect from a James Bond film, along with an equally magical score, (save the title song.) In this era where content is king, taking Marshall MacLuhan’s “The medium is the message.” to heart, the sophisticated underworld gang has gone high tech, with infiltration and ISIS tactics as an added threat. Where Marvel Comic’s The Avengers have H.Y.D.R.A., Bond has had S.P.E.C.T.R.E. and here with the ominous name it distracts the viewer from the underlying theme, that cutesy names like Yahoo and Google make their harvesting of our information, even this very blog, more dangerous than Osama Bin Laden hijacking a couple of planes ever could be. Spectre combines the recent threats of Al-Qæda and ISIS blowing things up and combines them with the potential threat of Google knowing your every move, before you make that move.

Spectre is the best of the Daniel Craig Bond movies, Craig being my least favorite 007 actor with his android, cold robotic movements. The human Craig/Bond is more stiff than former N.E. Patriots quarterback Drew Bledsoe; he makes Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Terminator versatile and endearing by comparison, which, of course, means that the machines in Terminator did a better job of building their Trojan horse. A frightening prospect.

Yes, Google, Yahoo, Microsoft and their ilk – all Trojan horse in makeup, cooking you slowly in warm water and harvesting your very soul before they turn up the heat, are not hidden from view as components of Bond’s main adversary. The filmmakers just take the artistic license (to kill) and bring Ian Fleming deep into the new millennium.

The face of Spectre needed to go into that arena more richly and doesn’t, but what we do get of glimpses into their hideouts and lairs is sufficient. Of the non-Sean Connery, Roger Moore and Pierce Brosnan 007 films, Spectre comes in third behind George Lazenby’s stellar On Her Majesty’s Secret Service and Timothy Dalton’s License To Kill. These three films, in particular, portray the better side of Bond on film and there’s a good reason for that. They get right down to business and stay focused.

When Spectre veers off of its mission, getting Law & Order SVU cutesy trying to tie the 12 year old James Bond as a quasi step-brother to Blofeld, it falls flat. Christoph Waltz (Benjamin Chudnofsky in 2011’s The Green Hornet) is hardly Max von Sydow or Donald Pleasance (the best of the Blofelds,) but he is a decent modern-day super villain with the trademark Chinchilla persian cat.

The photo of Donald Pleasance as Bond’s main adversary on Wikipedia proves my point. More malevolent in this iconic black and white photo than any of the on-screen moments Waltz has. Anyone can be a sadistic torturer on film, it is being “certifiable” as Sean Connery called Maximillian Largo – the protege of Max von Sydow’s Blofeld (Klaus Maria Brandauer’s interesting but not convincing crazy madman from Never Say Never Again.) If Brandauer had the psycho look of Donald Pleasance, or the dark mastermind approach of Von Sydow, Connery wouldn’t have to describe it for us. Always better to have the actor channel Tony Perkins as Norman Bates or Glenn Close as the wench, Alex Forrest, in Fatal Attraction to get the point across. Nothing needs to be said when you see and feel pure mania in action.

There are a few holes in the plot, Bond having a license to kill isn’t going to leave the thug that’s trailing him alive, and they do so here for the sake of car chases and recreating Steven Segal going after Tommy Lee Jones in the kitchen in Under Siege while on a train a la Under Siege 2. I kid you not. The great Monica Belluci who was the wife of the digital gangster “The Merovingian” in Matrix II and III is the wife of, you guessed it, an Italian gangster, Marco Sciarra. Why her featured performance feels more like a cameo is problematic for the film down the line for repeated spins on cable, but right now, as a part of one of the most expensive films ever made (With a budget between $245–300 million) and having generated one hundred and eight million plus worldwide before even opening in America on November 6, it has a chance to pass Skyfall and, with huge references to the old MI6 building and a cameo from Dame Judi Dench, Spectre being more than a nod to the previous film. It’s an official sequel overlapping -something not done in previous Bond films, to my recollection – and a reawakening of Bond’s most ruthless foe.

The scenery is gorgeous, the action is intriguing – you’ve experienced it all before, but it is done in spectacular new ways. Even the one humorous moment of Bond being chased by the bad guy and some old Italian singing in his car getting in the way, kind of sort of works. We’ll give them that one brief comedic bit for it’s only when the film stays true to its nature and remains serious that it works.

You’ll see elements of the most recent Tom Cruise Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation movie in this, even the stark white of George Lucas’ early THX1138, but these are subtleties (except for the Under Siege double moment,) and less in your face than, say, the Matrix.

License to Kill and O.H.M.S.S. work because they are serious on every level. It is serious art, serious film making, a serious embrace of the essence of author Ian Fleming’s intent. Sean Connery and Roger Moore, as much as they are the beloved duo that launched 007, become a nostalgic foundation, which is driving the purists crazy. Where 2012’s Skyfall is the #13 movie of all time in worldwide revenue at one billion one hundred and eight point six million! Box Office Mojo predicts Spectre will top Skyfall.

Sam Smith’s theme song, “Writings on the Wall” is one of the weakest of any of the James Bond themes. It’s a bore and has nothing to do with the film itself.  It is not as inviting as Duran Duran’s “View to a Kill,” or Paul McCartney’s classic “Live and Let Die” and certainly it can’t touch Dame Shirley Bassey’s “Diamond’s Are Forever” or the finest of all the theme songs, the immortal “Moon River” …I mean “Goldfinger.” When put up against the best of the Bond themes, Smith’s could be the worst. When listening on its own, it’s a complete drag. What were they thinking? The images of a nude, gold Daniel Craig afire a la Al Pacino in Devil’s Advocate. What they should have done was licensed Elton John’s “Written in the Stars” especially with “Writings on the Wall” having little or nothing to do with the film itself.