Is it the end for Spectre? Or a new beginning?

I almost tingled with excitement to see the first full length trailer for Spectre.

It looks awesome.

It’s being directed by Sam Mendes, of Skyfall fame (along with American Beauty and Jarhead). And it includes many of Skyfall’s key characters. Many people regarded Skyfall as the best Bond movie ever made. I’ll stay clear of such hyberbole. It was excellent, but there are so many top 007 escapades that’s not easy to name a winner. In any case it’s hard to weigh up the incredible story of From Russia with Love (a Fleming faithful) or the innovations of Goldfinger with the technical mastery of the Craig-era movies.

Like many of the Bond movies, Skyfall was a standalone affair. It needs little context beyond a sprinkle of awareness of the series as a whole. And it’s pretty conclusive – there’s no cliffhanger. In general, that’s how they should be. Each movie stands alone as a contemporaneous reflection of the real world, in the James Bond universe.

A central plot theme of Skyfall involved data theft and the leaking of MI6 agent details. Against the backdrop of Wikileaks, this was very current in 2012, and typical of the series. Consider, for example, the Cold War themes of the 1960s, the global energy crisis referenced in The Man with the Golden Gun (1974), the Space Shuttles in Moonraker (1979), and 007’s short-lived alliance with the Afghan Mujahedin in The Living Daylights (1987).

Oh how the world has changed; and yet it hasn’t.

Much as I enjoyed Skyfall, three things bothered me.

  1. Casino Royale and Quantum of Solace naturally fell together as the first two parts of a potential trilogy. The latter movie resolved some personal issues for Bond, but left open the fate of the Quantum outfit. This is a far-reaching organisation that has “people everywhere” – according to the excellent Mr White, who’s still at large. I was disappointed not to see this storyline carried forward in Skyfall.
  2. Casino Royale & Quantum of Solace portrayed a young Bond at the beginning of his 007 career. Skyfall seems to portray a very different character, tired and disillusioned. It’s excused because Bond takes a stray bullet on the orders of M in the opening sequence, and goes dark for a while (a few months?) But, for me, the character leap goes too far in a single movie.
  3. There is still no gun barrel sequence right at the top. This was excusable in Casino Royale, less so in Quantum of Solace, and a real let-down at the top of Skyfall. Many of you may find this objection absurd, but for this Bond fan the opening tradition (born in 1962) is so important and builds audience tension ahead of the first scene.

Spectre cannot rewind the clock to fix my character development concerns in Skyfall, and whether it opens with the gun barrel sequence remains to be seen. But I’m pleased to see Mr White in the trailer. We haven’t seen enough of him, and he has the makings of a top henchman, delightfully urbane. Mr White’s presence at least implies that the Quantum storyline is not – entirely – abandoned. But Quantum falls short of the kudos, allure and history of Spectre – the Special Executive for Counter-intelligence, Terrorism, Revenge & Extortion.

In a welcome throwback to the Spectre era, the trailer brings in some of the theme music from On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (1969). It’s a nice touch. And there are plenty of other back references to classic Bond movies, as the Radio Times notes.

The big question for me is this: Does Spectre have a future after its rebirth in October, or will Daniel Craig’s Bond bring the the nefarious organisation to its demise?

The answer may depend on whether Daniel Craig will be back for another installment before he hands in his Walther PPK and licence to kill.

Spectre launches in the UK alongside the official premiere on Monday 26th October.