Spectre (2015) – reviewed by George

Right up front, this is one of the best Bond movies ever. A super opening sequence, a lot of suspense, secrets about Bond’s past revealed, the biggest explosion ever in a movie, a montage of the dead during the opening credits, striking performances by the regulars and also by some newcomers to the franchise, particularly Andrew Scott as C, Lea Seydoux as Madeleine, Monica Bellucci as Lucia, and Christoph Waltz as Blofeld, in probably the most nuanced and least stereotypical performance in that role.
The opening sequence first. It takes place in Mexico City on the Day of the Dead, and Bond, wearing a skeleton costume, is tailing bad guy Sciarra (played by Alessandro Cremona), who is wearing a normal white suit with a molded plastic skeleton mask. The extras in the crowd swirling around them (1500 extras according to the make-up crew) are mostly wearing skeleton masks or skeleton make-up too. Now, I have maintained for some years that the very best Bond opening sequence is the mind-boggling ski-chase in the Roger Moore film “The Spy Who Loved Me”, which ends with Bond displaying the British flag. This newest opening might have become number one for me except that the most eye-popping part of the sequence was used in the TV ads for the film. Killing the surprise, guys? Not very smart. At any rate – I trust Sam Mendes, who directed this so wonderfully, and he says the helicopter stunts in the opening were real – really done above Mexico City with extras below. I’m assuming that he means all the long shots and the medium shots with two stuntmen doubling for Bond and Sciarra. I think the closeups were surely green screen.
New performers next. Andrew Scott is appropriately slimy as Max Denbigh from MI-5, code-name C, who was instrumental in the merging of MI-5 and MI-6, and who now has convinced the Minister to disband the Double-O program, and I guarantee you will hate him on sight. After all he played Moriarty in “Sherlock” with Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman.  And as I said, Christoph Waltz is a revelation as Ernst Stavro Blofeld in a completely new take on the evil mastermind of Spectre. The women in this film are, as expected, both beautiful and talented. They are Lea Seydoux as Madeleine Swann, and Monica Bellucci as Lucia Sciarra, and both make deep impressions. Dave Bautista is memorable as Mr. Hinx, a  mountain of a man and a worthy opponent for Bond – he played Drax the Destroyer in “Guardians of the Galaxy”.
Now the returnees. Daniel Craig has carved out an original place for his iconic Bond: the taciturn Bond, who is always visibly thinking and considering, a man whose feelings are so deeply buried as to be almost unreachable by himself, not to mention others. I said, “almost”, because he has firm loyalties and he genuinely cares for his cohorts. As an actor Craig has made excellent choices. Ralph Fiennes is fine as M, an M now threatened by obsolescence. You may not be favorably disposed toward this M, since as Gareth Mallory in “Skyfall” he was trying to get rid of Judi Dench as M, and then after her death he got her job. Ben Whislaw is very good in his return as Q, and he is not just the youngest Q, but the most active. Here he does field work for 007, in a wry, representative-of-the-audience way. Naomie Harris is quite wonderful, being helped by the fact that she is away from the desk and out in the field for a good chunk of the time. This is her second Bond film – she played Eve Moneypenny in “Skyfall”. The wonderful Rory Kinnear, who plays Bill Tanner in such a modest, back-seat sort of way, is as good as he was in “Skyfall” and “Quantum of Solace”. He is one of my favorite actors, especially in “Penny Dreadful” where he plays Frankenstein’s monster. Jesper Christensen makes his third quietly menacing appearance as Mr. White – here also called The Pale King.
The dense and action-filled screenplay is by John Logan and Neal Purvis & Robert Wade and Jez Butterworth, from a story by Logan and Purvis & Wade. The theme song, “Writing’s on the Wall”, was written and performed by Sam Smith.
The MGM lion has a new logo, with the camera starting in the lion’s left eye and then zooming out for a regular view of this new lion roaring within the Ars Gratia Artis circle of film stock.
After 2:28 (a tad too long and a tad too complicated, but I still loved it) I was rewarded with this news, which I do not consider a spoiler, but a great relief, because the movie ends with such a note of finality: “James Bond will return”.

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