Ironically, the three kinds of movies that have always interested me the least are the three about which other filmgoers get worked up the most: comic-book adventures, the Star Wars series and James Bond films. That is, until Daniel Craig entered the picture.
For a brief, shining moment — which may already be over — those films became more than gimmicky cartoons. The four films in which Craig has played 007 have possessed something close to gravitas. Sacrificing none of the fun, they've added an existential dimension to the half-century-old series by giving us a character who fights not only evil but the ravages and realities of age.
I love the way director Sam Mendes took a moment in Skyfall to have Javier Bardem's character remind the agent that he's "barely held together by your pills and your drink." Likewise, in Spectre, Bond answers a doctor who asks how much he drinks with a matter-of-fact "too much." Maybe it's because I'm approaching the edge of middle age, but the film is enhanced for me by the admission that all this isn't as easy for Bond as it once was.
Every time this Bond chases a bad guy, his knees feel pain they didn't use to. After he endures a controlled tumble to the bottom of a building imploding around him — as he does in the bravura opening sequence of Spectre — every joint and muscle will scream for weeks. You can see it in his eyes. They reflect Bond's fast-approaching fate: obsolescence.
The agent is threatened from two sides in this 24th outing. On one side is the next generation of MI6, represented by a smarmy up-and-comer known as C (Andrew Scott), whose agenda includes a plan to replace double-0 operatives with drones. Moneypenny (Naomie Harris) and Q (Ben Whishaw) team up with our hero to alter his career trajectory.
On the other side is the shadow organization SPECTRE, which is based in Rome and orchestrates much of the world's crime, masterminded by a soft-spoken madman named Franz Oberhauser (Christoph Waltz) who goes way, way back with Bond. I mean way. Oberhauser has an evil plan to steal everybody's personal information and tells Bond all about it while torturing him at his lair in a Moroccan meteor crater. OK, so the part with Waltz is a tad cartoonish, the film's single misstep.
Indeed, Bond has a full plate — keeping his job, saving the world, dispatching a series of XXL assassins and, in the picture's second half, falling in what looks very much like real love with a French psychologist. Madeleine Swann (Léa Seydoux) is the ultimate Bond woman: gorgeous, super-smart and good with a gun. She even talks Bond into taking his martinis dirty.
Scripted by John Logan, Neal Purvis, Robert Wade and Jez Butterworth, Spectre has a running time of nearly two and a half hours. That's ample time for running through exotic streets, staging virtuoso set pieces such as a fight in a pilotless helicopter, and racing Aston Martins — not to mention making countless allusions to previous Bond films. While completely lost on me, those should prove fun for longtime fans to spot.
Will Craig slip into that tux once more? The jury is still out. The Internet Movie Database lists his participation in the untitled Bond 25 as "announced," Mendes' agreement to direct as "rumored" and the movie's projected year of release as unknown. The actor has stated for the record that he'd rather "slash my wrists" than play Bond again. For now, all we can say for sure is that, if he doesn't, it'll be a shame. As Carly Simon sang almost 40 years ago, "Nobody does it better."