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Monday, November 9, 2015

Still On Her Majesty's Secret Service

James Bond goes fabulously retro in 'Spectre,' the 24th installment in the venerable British secret agent franchise that began with ‘Dr. No’ way back in 1962.  007 was very much a product of the Cold War, in which the spy games between the CIA or MI6 on one hand and KGB on the other were mirrored in popular media by MI6 versus SPECTRE, SHIELD versus HYDRA and even CONTROL versus KAOS.  So when it was announced that ‘Spectre’ is to be a throwback homage of sorts to the early James Bond films of the ‘60s and ‘70s, color me intrigued.
 
Director Sam Mendes and the screenwriters were well aware that the sinister and all-powerful SPECTRE (acronym for Special Executive for Counter-Intelligence, Terrorism, Revenge and Extortion) criminal organization which appeared in such Bond classics as 'Dr. No,' 'From Russia with Love,' 'Thunderball' and 'On Her Majesty's Secret Service' would be an anachronism in our contemporary post-9/11 era, but that didn’t mean they can’t reinvent it for the modern audience.  As such ‘Spectre’ turned out to be a compromise which, while not as campy or infused with self-parody as the early Bond films that informed it, is nonetheless much lighter in tone than the previous movies starring Daniel Craig.  And not only did ‘Spectre’ tie in to ‘Casino Royale,’ ‘Quantum of Solace’ and ‘Skyfall,’ it also paid tribute to the early Bond films in some of its scenes, like the one where Dave Bautista’s Mr. Hinx did a decent Jaws (RIP, Richard Kiel) impression fighting Bond in a speeding train à la ‘The Spy Who Loved Me.’  Providing much food for thought, ‘Spectre’ also fuels public debate with its warning of an all-seeing "Big Brother" police state that threatens to render the Double-O program (i.e. human spies) obsolete.  It is a highly relevant topic considering how satellites and drones have made killing in far-off places so easy at the push of a button.  As Ralph Fiennes' “M” succinctly put it in one memorable scene, the use of field agents like 007 is indeed a license to kill, but it's also a license not to kill because he still has to look the person in the eye before he pulls the trigger.  
 
‘Spectre’ has garnered mixed reviews, with the detractors citing its uneven pace, forgettable Bond girls and uninspired action scenes (except for the fast and furious street race through Rome between Bond’s Aston Martin DB10 and Mr. Hinx’s Jaguar C-X75, that is) among the reasons not to embrace it.   They're dead wrong.  'Spectre' not only possesses the old-school charm reminiscent of those early Bond flicks starring Sean Connery and Roger Moore, it is also a solid and respectful addition to the 007 canon bridging the past and present.
 
Grade: A
 
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