It’s exciting to see Shyamalan on such confident footing once more, all these years later.
James Bond films are, and always have been, more imitative than innovative. Even in the 1960s they were essentially superhero movies starring an indestructible character who wore street clothes (and the occasional wet suit) instead of tights and a cape. He ran, jumped, drove and flew through loosely connected setpieces that borrowed whatever cliches happened to be popular in action cinema at that moment and amped them up with more beautiful locations, bigger explosions, cornier jokes, and lush, loud music by John Barry. Given the franchise's lineage, it was only a matter of time before the producers went the extra kilometer and started modeling the Bond films on the Batman and Marvel franchises. The new superhero films featured fussy world-building and onion-layered subplots doled out over many films and many years. Their conception owed quite a bit to comic books and to serialized television like "24" (James Bond by way of "Die Hard"). The last three Bond films drew on all of those traditions, plus Bond's own distinctive set of cliches, and set the stage for this fourth Craig outing, "Spectre."
The second Craig Bond, "Quantum of Solace," built a convoluted narrative scaffolding atop 2006's "Casino Royale"—the best movie in the fifty-plus-year-old franchise, and the only one that would satisfy even if the main character were named Oswald Chutney. The final act of "Royale" killed off Bond's one true love, Vesper Lynd (Eva Green), which set the stage for an emotionally burned-out, extra-icy Bond investigating a global conspiracy in "Solace" that turned out to be connected to the bad guys he fought in "Royale." "Spectre" occurs in the aftermath of MI-6's decimation in the last Bond picture. It retroactively forces connections between "Royale," "Solace" and "Skyfall," by way of a video-recorded warning sent to Bond by his old boss M (Judi Dench) right before her death, urging Bond to follow the trail from Mexico City to Italy to Morocco and beyond, and dig to the bottom of the conspiracy that claimed so many agents' lives.
The movie feels
like a culmination of everything the franchise has been building toward
since Craig stepped into the part in "Casino Royale." The
most recent incarnation of Bond doesn't just have stunts and
quips and gadgets and curvy women with porno names. Courtesy of "Skyfall," it has a
mythology that turns Bond into Batman minus the cape and cowl, and boasts a Bond version of Stately Wayne Manor; an Alfred-the-butler figure (Albert Finney in
"Skyfall"); a tragic orphan back-story (repeated via the death of Dench's matriarchal figure, who's even called "Mum"), and
a Joker-type bad guy (Javier Bardem's fey torturer).
If you loved all
that stuff, you'll adore "Spectre," which revives the titular organization
from the Sean Connery era Bond flicks. It has subplots, characters and incidents that amount to what genre fans would call "ret-cons." And it introduces us to a new big bad, Franz Obenhauser (Christoph Waltz)—aka Ernst Stavro Blofeld; please don't act surprised, neither of us were born yesterday! This new (old, really) villain makes
Bardem's character in "Skyfall" seem like a junior Joker at best, if that. He even lures Bond into a ruined building that he's transformed into a combination haunted house and gallery installation, and by the end, he acquires a scar whose gruesomeness rivals the Joker's mouth disfigurement.