Watching tinted spy films in our day and age is a bit of an indulgence, an escape into a period in the past, where not every possibility of fantasy was yet watered down by the availability of too much information. Watching the new Bond film then, is not very different from switching on a re-run of Mad Men on the telly, while hoping no one notices. The new Bond film Spectre is aware of this, and while the story has been updated well so modern audiences may relate to it from their perspective, they haven’t touched details that keep the past alive. It is 007 who gives us meaning when we hold that glass of martini, when we take that trip to the Swiss alps, and walk into that posh hotel. The James Bond culture is also one of subtle commercialization — tenets of which had been established then and marketed as taste, results of which this generation reaps.
The plot incidentally, also touches on 007’s past battles. In a play of heavy metaphors, the film begins with the dramatic Day of the Dead festival in Mexico City, a beginning that would most certainly have been disqualified as too cheesy in a modern novel or film script. 007 in a skeleton mask, courting a beautiful lady in a vintage lift to Mexican music — minutes before it is blown up — there is ample presence of Fleming’s post war exoticism in this film, that comes alive with Mendes’ dexterous storytelling. However, while it may have exoticism and sex appeal in ample amounts, Spectre disappoints with its straight forward narrative (the biggest buzzkill for a thriller), with hardly any plot twists that make us sit up in surprise or shock. Had it not been for Daniel Craig, and his version of James Bond that we are thoroughly familiar with (and fond of) by now, the flatness of all characters would have let us get bored in the beginning half of the film itself. Craig and his wham-bam-thank-you-ma’am style of shooting pulls us through what can be called a rather limp plot. Continuing on the upsides, Ben Whishaw makes for an adorable Q, Dame Judi Dench cannot resist coming back (in a short video clip, from her meaty role in Quantum of Solace as M) and Madeleine Swann as Bond’s latest arm candy is feisty, fighting hard to make her presence felt in an otherwise — as Craig calls it — “misogynist” film.
Monica Bellucci’s blink-and-miss role, made shorter by Indian censors is a waste of her immense talent, as well as a missed opportunity for the Bond franchise. What could have added complexity to Bond’s character is cut short by her much hyped but eventually brief and abrupt presence in the film. It’s a pity that the franchise did not have the license to sufficiently veneer towards other Bond girl pairings, imagine a woman past the conventional sexual prime, as decided by the society to be given the space to be desirable for too long. Christoph Waltz is a fine choice for Oberhauser; in this film he warms up to being 007’s arch nemesis. The rivalry between both is palpable, only in his presence does Craig’s otherwise stiff upper lip quiver a little. Oberhauser and Bond’s enmity is the stuff of legends; Craig and Waltz have done justice to it. What happens eventually between them shall not be disclosed (like you do not know already) but then Oberhauser manages to keep our attention from drifting. The music and background score like in most Bond films is adept, except for a Sam Smith ballad, a huge fall in standards from Adele’s all-consuming voice in Skyfall.
Overall, if you are looking out for the latest Aston Martin, the guns and the toys that this urban hero smashes in his pursuit of glory, it isn’t likely that you would come back disappointed. However, if you want to look beyond the overall trims of Bond merchandise, into a real escape into the world of spies, it is possible that this film won’t live up to your expectations. While it may look very ’70s during the Cold War, the nature of its surveillance is closer home than can be expected. The vague attention to the geo-political background that the plot is centred around makes it secondary to all beautiful women, the machismo of Bond, M’s (played by Ralph Fiennes) very British wit and Q’s nerdiness after which scores of television sidekicks of detectives have been modeled. We aren’t complaining, what we got made for an entertaining two-and-a-half hours, but we weren’t satisfied; just like the kiss between Bellucci and Craig rudely cut off by the too delicate sensibilities of our censor board, that left us exasperated.