The Bond franchise is one of iconic prowess. After 2012's acclaimed, smash-hit Skyfall, however, the pressure to deliver was on. This year, Sam Mendes returns to the helm for the 24th instalment in the franchise, Spectre, but does it shoot to success or is Bond now nothing more than a forgotten icon.

Frankly, any film that has the unenviable task of following up Skyfall has its work cut out for it for that was not only a near-perfect Bond film but it was just a near-perfect blockbuster and a damn fine cinematic achievement too - ticking all the boxes for what makes a film good: the premise was rich and riveting; the incredible action executed with finesse; the characters and acting was masterclass. With that film, Mendes remoulded the Bond franchise; he remoulded the espionage genre. Now, his task was to top that. And that's a lot to ask of anyone, let alone Mendes, and whilst, obviously, Spectre can't quite go blow for blow with Skyfall, it certainly is a film of quality and stands as a solid, entertaining and good Bond film, nonetheless. Of course, you can't escape the fact that comparisons to Skyfall is inevitable, for sure, by critics and fans alike, yet Spectre is a film nothing like it's predecessor - in many ways - and one that should be distinguished on its own and heralded for its own merits, of which there are plenty to be found.

Right from the get go, there's a wave of nostalgia as the iconic Bond gun barrel opening makes a triumphant return before we are greeted with the words, "the dead are alive" and a Mexico City setting on the notorious Dia De Los Muertos holiday, the day of the dead. Manoeuvring through the city, we see a disguised James Bond (Daniel Craig) on a mission that becomes relevant and makes more sense later on in the film. It's an exhilarating, action-packed and beautifully shot opening scene, made all the more impressive by the fact that the large majority of it is one long tracking shot, filmed using one camera. It sets the stage nicely for what's to follow and, as far as 007 film openings go, it ranks high as possibly one of the best. From there, we head to London where the MI6 body, being led by M (Ralph Fiennes), is in jeapordy due to the new head of Centre of National Security Max Denbigh (Andrew Scott), forcing Bond to go rogue in tracking down a mysterious organisation known as SPECTRE. Returning for the ride are Moneypenny (Naomie Harris) and Q (Ben Whishaw), who assist 007 in his endeavours. Heading to Austria, tracking down Dr. Madeleine Swann (Léa Seydoux), the daughter of a fellow nemesis, who has details relating to finding the organisation, Bond begins to uncover clues leading to a much deeper connection to SPECTRE as his past comes back to haunt him.

Honestly, without delving into spoilers or getting too detailed, the film has a difficult plot to describe, merely due to the fact that there's so much going on that things get really quite complicated. Of course, no Bond film is ever as simple as it seems but Spectre just tries to be too clever for its own good. There are so many different storylines running through the proceedings, all leading back to one thing and connecting in the most convoluted of ways. That's not to say that it's not entertaining as it certainly is engaging and intelligent enough to keep the audience on their toes but it gets a bit much. It doesn't help that the film has an overtly long runtime of two and a half hours. And, again, whilst Spectre is never boring, it does get a little tedious at times and I found myself in the frustrating position of checking my watch regulary during the middle and I feel as though it could've been a more solid, intense film had it been shorter - had some of the bloated plot points been trimmed down a little.
That's not a bad thing though as, for what it's worth, this is still a compelling and entertaining piece of film. For starters, the action was incredible and constantly had me on-edge. A chase scene through the snowy mountains in Austria and an encounter between Dave Bautista's Mr. Hinx and James, on a train, are amongst the highlights - most especially the latter; perhaps one of my favourite action sequences of the year. As he did with Skyfall, Mendes has shown, yet again, that he knows how to deliver intense, exhilarating and well shot action. Heck, this is a well shot file in general and the cinematography is absolutely breathtaking - from the sepia tinged Mexico setting giving a classic, old-school vibe, nostalgia to the early days of this franchise, to the crisp white snow setting giving a more contemporary feel. The dialogue and character exchanges are your typical Bond fare too, and highly interesting. A discussion between Bond and SPECTRE head Franz Oberhauser (Christoph Waltz) about death is an honourable mention - leading to a killer of a torture scene too. Honestly, in all other aspects, aside from plot, Spectre is fine. In fact, it's incredible.

The acting is great as always too. Daniel Craig gives a remarkable performance as our eponymous agent, bringing just enough suave and wit to the character to bring him to life brilliantly. He has certainly embodied the character a lot more since his first outing in 2006's Casino Royale - showing just why he is my favourite actor to have played the agent yet; if recent rumours regarding his departure are true, it'll be hard to see him go. Ralph Fiennes, Naomie Harris and Ben Whishaw all also return and have a lot more to do this time round and actually use their talents to their potential, with the foremost latter a true highlight and quite comedic too. Léa Seydoux is a real treat, an atypical Bond girl though. She plays a much stronger and more independent female lead here, her presence really feeling necessary to the plot, rather than just acting as candy for Bond. As far as antagonists go, Christoph Waltz is certainly by no means a bad Bond villain. However, he isn't quite as intimidating or fierce as Javier Bardem's Silva from Skyfall and Waltz isn't given much of a character arc to work with either. Although, it's Bond henchman Dave Bautista that steals the show. Straight from his introduction, in which he gouges someone's eyeballs out with his bare hands - a scene that will make any filmgoer flinch - he demands your attention and, even with only one word of dialogue, he is a badass. As is the case with Monica Bellucci's character and the Aston Martin DB10 and Waltz's Oberhauser, he is criminally underused and there's a lot more potential for his character to have been something more.

All in all, Spectre is a solid and entertaining new Bond film. The action is great, as are the characters and the writing and it is a gorgeous looking film too but, clocking in shy of 3 hours, it can feel long and bloated and an overly-complex premise doesn't help. Yet, despite this, the film never feels tedious and whilst things potter in the middle act, which isn't quite as gripping as the first and final acts, it's still an engaging enough picture to hold your attention and keep you compelled because there's always something to think about and just when there's not, Mendes throws a curveball to get us back in the game. If Skyfall was the glowing, contemporary Bond film then Spectre is a throwback to the classic days of Bond because, frankly, it's all very nostalgic, old-school and typical Bond fare with your typical Bond quips. It's easy to see why this film will split opinions and it's easy to see the comparisons to Skyfall, as this finally completes that story and makes it whole, but, whilst it's definitely not as great as Skyfall, it was never going to be in the first place. However, Spectre is a film that, despite some hiccups here and there, is entertaining and fun and damn good. If one thing is for sure though, it's that even over 50 years old, Bond is a franchise refusing to let up and one that is still fresh and full of fuel and one that still has a welcomed place in contemporary cinema.

Whilst never quite up to the standard of Skyfall, Sam Mendes' follow-up, Spectre, is still a damn fine and compelling film, nonetheless, that is everything you want from a good Bond flick and just a thoroughly entertaining, good time.

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About the Author

Awais Irfan
Founder of Oasis Awais, and avid lover of life, Awais Irfan's love of writing and film is unequivocal. Ever since he was a little kid, he has loved the cinematic experience; so much so, he is studying Film Production in Glasgow and hopes to be the next "big thing" in directing.

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