Reviewed by GREG KING
Director: Sam Mendes
Stars: Daniel Craig, Christoph Waltz, Lea Seydoux, Ralph Fiennes, Naomie Harris, Ben Whishaw, Dave Bautista, Andrew Scott, Rory Kinnear, Monica Belluci, Jesper Christensen.
I thought that Skyfall was one of the best Bond movies of the past fifty years, so I was eagerly looking forward to the latest instalment in this long running franchise. After all, Skyfall director Sam Mendes was back at the helm. But Spectre was a little disappointing by comparison. At 148 minutes, it is over long and there are a few spots where the pace flags. However, there are a couple of spectacular stand out action sequences which are well staged, and Mendes certainly brings a strong visceral approach to these scenes. Highlights include a bruising fight on a train that is the most destructive since Emperor Of The North (which starred Ernest Borgnine and Lee Marvin), and an exciting car chase through the streets of Rome.
Spectre gives us an origins story for one of the more iconic Bond villains, Bond’s nemesis Ernst Stavro Blofeld, who is the head of an international organisation that foments terrorism across the globe. Christoph Waltz is the third Oscar winning actor to play a Bond villain, after Christopher Walken and Javier Bardem, and he is the fifth actor to play Blofeld, following the likes of Donald Pleasance, Telly Savalas and Charles Gray. Waltz brings an urbane quality to his performance, but he hardly makes him the most menacing or memorable villain in the Bond canon. Waltz also brings his usual mannerisms and fruity menace to his performance, and he appears in only a few scenes. Maybe the producers plan to bring him back in an expanded role in the next instalment.
As is often the case, the main henchman is more memorable – think of the likes of Oddjob or Jaws – and here we get former wrestler Dave Bautista as a muscle bound and silent hitman known as Hinx, who has a strong physical presence.
The opening pre-credits sequence is one of the best moments of the film and is quite spectacular and gets things off to a great and exciting start. Set in Mexico City during the annual Day Of The Dead festivities, we see Bond carrying out an assignment from the previous M (Judi Dench) before her death, which results in a city block being destroyed in a massive explosion, and Bond being reprimanded by the exasperated new M (Ralph Fiennes) and suspended from duty.
This is a brave new world for MI6 with a new intelligence body being set up in collaboration with security forces from other allied countries, with the aim of controlling the flow of information. This new organisation all falls under the stewardship of the ambitious and unctuous Max Denbigh (Andrew Scott), who goes under the codename C, who also wants to phase out the 00 program. He believes that these government assassins like Bond are obsolete in a world that relies heavily on technology than brute force.
On his own and without official support Bond investigates a number of leads that eventually brings him to the secret underground organisation Spectre, its enigmatic head Blofeld, and its ties to C.
Lea Seydoux (Inglorious Basterds, etc) joins the long line of sultry European beauties who have played Bond girls and she brings a feisty mix of intelligence and beauty to her role as Madeleine Swann, a doctor who is the daughter of one of Bond’s former enemies in Mr White (Jesper Christensen). She provides the key to identifying the sinister Spectre and its world wide tentacles. And I quite like Ben Whishaw, who brings a suitably nerdy quality to his role as Q. He gets a bigger role to play in the action this time out as well, and he gets some of the best one-liners. There is also some sexual tension between Bond and Miss Moneypenny (again played by Naomie Harris).
The action moves between a number of great exotic locations, from Mexico City to London, Rome, the snow bound slopes of Austria and on to the harsh deserts of Tangiers and Morocco. Dennis Grassner’s production design is superb and often reminiscent of the work of the late great Ken Adams, who designed some of the great Bond villain lairs. There is a mountain top base that will remind fans of Blofeld’s lair in the underrated On Her Majesty’s Secret Service.
As written by regular writers Neal Purvis and Robert Wade, with solid contributions from Oscar nominated John Logan (Gladiator, etc) and playwright Jez Butterworth (Edge Of Tomorrow, etc), Spectre is a reworking of the Bond mythology that includes some clever and knowing winks to past instalments that will tease fans of the series. There are some quaint anarchic touches as well, such as the use of dymo labels to identify the various gadgets in Bond’s new car, which is a throwback to Goldfinger.
Cinematographer Hoyte van Hoytema (Interstellar, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, etc) replaces the great Roger Deakins here, and his visuals are a bit darker, which suits the tone of the material.
This is Daniel Craig’s fourth outing as Bond, and he brings a more dangerous edge to his performance as the debonair spy with a licence to kill, but, ironically, also a hint of vulnerability. Craig’s Bond has also been more conflicted with his role as government assassin, and his more serious approach to the role also lacks those one liners and throwaway gags that characterised the Connery and Moore years in particular. The Craig Bonds have been reestablishing the whole mythology of this iconic screen hero, giving Bond lots of personal baggage to deal with. Here Bond has to face some of his past demons as he learns that Blofeld has been the author of his pain and responsible for the deaths of so many people in his life.
Unfortunately, Spectre features one of the blandest and most forgettable theme songs in the franchise’s history, courtesy of Sam Smith. But for the most part Spectre delivers plenty of grand action and thrills, and will be more than enough to satisfy fans of the series.