Keeps the Bond Spirit Alive
3 & ½ popcorns
By Michael S. Goldberger
Special to the Observer
Director Sam Mendes’s “Spectre,” the twenty-fourth James Bond film produced by Eon Productions, is a snazzy, action-filled hoot…a nearly $300 million extravaganza that pays dutiful homage to the franchise’s past while passionately bringing 007 into the techno-charged present. It is a grand synthesis of all things Bond…a blend of man, machine and moral heroism again sublimely evinced by Daniel Craig.
Perhaps a tad more anticipatory than the two teen-aged boys to my right, I was there not just to be entertained, but to see that right was done by my man…the secret agent every guy wants to be, and every woman wishes to be romanced by, or so I’m told. I mean, I was there for “Goldfinger” (1964), man. Thus I was gratified when the absorbing excitement quelled the kids’ chatter and brought them into the fold. The baton successfully passed, our future is safe.
Gosh knows there’s always work to be done, what with evildoers forever popping up all over the planet, determined to strip us of our inalienable rights. In this particular go-round, Max Denbigh, a.k.a. C, head of Joint Intelligence, seeks to close down the 00 program and merge everything into “Nine Eyes,” an international information sharing hub. You know: Big Brother. It’s a metaphor for what threatens our sovereignty and ails us in the pocket, and as scary an example of outsourcing as our poor, travel-weary chickens going back and forth to China for processing.
But don’t worry, at least not too much, for our James is on the case, even if he’s once again under strict orders by the new M (Ralph Fiennes) to stay put, stop leaving an expensive trail of destruction behind him and quit meddling in world threats his sixth sense perennially foresees. Alas, 007 knows the drill. But first things first, the methodic separating of the good ladies from the treacherous ones. Someone’s got to do it. That accomplished, the noble mission is afoot.
Added to the familiar template of deceit, corruption and derring-do, there’s a personal tie-in. For me to know and you to figure out, supervillain Ernst Blofeld, architect of the global crime syndicate, Spectre, and James have history. Never mind that the malevolent archenemy diverges significantly from previous appearances. Portrayed with notable aplomb by Christoph Waltz, he is the distilled essence of evil, an unfathomable scourge who, if he went to college, doubtless majored in making people’s skin crawl. Put him on the short list of great Bond adversaries.
All these elements, spread across the travelogue-like landscape that is 007’s playground make for an opulent eyeful. But our interest stretches beyond adventure and the mere saving of humanity. You see, while he’s our hero, Daniel Craig’s James is more than ever an enigma wrapped in a paradox. Surely slaying bad guys simply can’t be enough for a man. It’d please our vicarious sense to know he’s found fulfillment in something other than his license to kill.
Okay, so he’s not Sean Connery. Well, I’ll confide I’m still uncertain whether Taffy, the perfectly black-eyed mutt of my childhood, or Muffin, the family’s Yorkie of recent years, was my favorite dog. Both were great. But it’s time we moved on and, truth be told, while Connery’s good looks and élan set the tone, orthodox Bond aficionados will tell you that Mr. Craig more correctly embodies the cloak-and-dagger fellow Ian Fleming conceived. Possessing a rugged handsomeness, he’s a bit angry and, per the script here, we get a peek into why that is.
Christoph Waltz’s villain extraordinaire, in one of those self-justifying soliloquies the classic bad guys inevitably feel a need to deliver, explains his utter loathing for the storied champion of democracy. That the devil-may-care cause of Blofeld’s long-brewing ire couldn’t give a darn about his hateful obsession only angers the bum more. There’ll be no mercy. So, it’s somewhat heartening to know that, in traditional Bond fashion, there’ll be a pretty love interest to help James through some of the more difficult patches.
She is Dr. Madeleine Swann, sweetly evoked by Léa Seydoux. Granted, she’s the daughter of a former enemy. Still, one imagines that James’s mom, may she rest in peace, would be happy to know that her son was seeing a nice doctor. It also doesn’t hurt that the psychologist is a quick study when it comes to learning weaponry and other things that help a fellow plying a hazardous occupation.
Equally stellar supporting players extend across the thespic spectrum, from Ralph Fiennes as the steadfast M, to Ben Whisaw as the appropriately quirky Q, to Naomie Harris’s ever-loyal Eve Moneypenny, and right down to Dave Bautista as Blofeld’s chief goon enforcer, Mr. Hinx. The gang’s all here and in fine fettle, fully credentialed to grant “Spectre” its license to entertain.
“Spectre,” rated PG-13, is a Columbia Pictures release directed by Sam Mendes and stars Daniel Craig, Christoph Waltz and Léa Seydoux. Running time: 148 minutes