Review by David Paul Hellings
“A cryptic message from the past sends James Bond on a rogue mission to Mexico City and eventually Rome, where he meets Lucia Sciarra (Monica Bellucci), the beautiful and forbidden widow of an infamous criminal. Bond infiltrates a secret meeting and uncovers the existence of the sinister organisation known as Spectre.
Meanwhile back in London, Max Denbigh (Andrew Scott), the new head of the Centre for National Security, questions Bond’s actions and challenges the relevance of MI6, led by M (Ralph Fiennes). Bond covertly enlists Moneypenny (Naomie Harris) and Q (Ben Whishaw) to help him seek out Madeleine Swann (Léa Seydoux), the daughter of his old nemesis Mr White (Jesper Christensen), who may hold the clue to untangling the web of Spectre. As the daughter of an assassin, she understands Bond in a way most others cannot.
As Bond ventures towards the heart of Spectre, he learns of a chilling connection between himself and the enemy he seeks, played by Christoph Waltz”.
James Bond is back, which is great news for 007 fans around the world. “Skyfall” was always going to be a hard act to follow in terms of box office and critical response, so how does “SPECTRE” hold up compared to its excellent predecessor?
A superb opening pre-title sequence set on the Day of the Dead in Mexico City begins with a very sexy tracking shot and then utilises the scale of the celebrations to create a visual feast and a cool action sequence. Is it as great as the Parkour of “Casino Royale” or the chase to the train of “Skyfall”? Not quite, but it’s still highly entertaining.
Then we’re into the famed title sequence. Visually, it looks as amazing as you’d expect. There’s only one problem: Sam Smith’s song. “Writing’s On The Wall” was always going to be compared to Adele’s superb “Skyfall” and, sadly, Smith’s effort (supposedly written in twenty minutes) doesn’t hold up well. It’s dull, dreary and frankly boring. Any hope that it was going to sound better accompanying the title sequence than it did on the radio are dashed. It’s better than “Die Another Day” and most of the Daniel Craig era forgettable efforts, but you leave the cinema humming the “Skyfall” theme, and that’s not good.
The look of the film is, of course, beautiful. Sam Mendes follows up his excellent directorial work on “Skyfall” to bring depth and pathos to the characters. Daniel Craig continues to excel as 007; so much so, it’s hard to imagine who could step into his shoes when he does eventually hand over the tuxedo to the next actor. Craig continues to show what a fine actor he is and emotionally and physically he now matches Sean Connery as the best Bond ever. The supporting cast are also allowed room of their own. Ralph Fiennes is already proving to be a first rate choice as M, making the character his and very different to the excellent Judi Dench; Ben Whishaw’s Q is also allowed more screen time and adds great humour to the proceedings; Naomie Harris’ Moneypenny continues to interest; Andrew Scott as Denbigh (or C) is good, but underused and underwritten. On the “Bond Girls” front, Monica Belucci is far too brief and underused in what could have been a stronger part, but Léa Seydoux makes up for it as Madeleine Swann, who is smart, feisty, and sexy.
Bond is only ever as good as the villain. Javier Bardem’s off the wall, spurned agent with a mission to kill M was a centrepiece of “Skyfall” and gave 007 a serious run for his money. The casting of Christoph Waltz in “Spectre” raised audience expectation, especially with the rumours that his character was actually Bond’s historical nemesis Ernst Stavro Blofeld. Does he deliver? Well, now we’re into the problem areas of “Skyfall”: the script.
If pre-production rumours are to be believed, John Logan delivered a mirthless script with third act problems. Bond regulars Neal Purvis and Robert Wade were brought in to lighten the script, and Jez Butterworth also did a polish. The script falls into the same traps as “Quantum of Solace” by trying to keep the shady organization angle going. It was Quantum, but it’s now SPECTRE and they were linked, as were the events of the previous Craig era films. Waltz, yes he’s Blofeld, should be a great villain, but the jealous pseudo-brother of Bond’s rationale for hating 007 so much seems like a fairly pathetic reason that should have been ironed out with therapy. The script takes the best parts of “Casino Royale”, “Quantum of Solace” (yes, there were some good bits), and “Skyfall” and recycles them in “SPECTRE”. Blofeld never seems like a threat or even full of hate. It all seems very light and the supposed torture scene never comes close to that of “Casino Royale”. The third act seems a rush without the mood and tension of “Skyfall” and all falls a bit flat.
The resolution of “SPECTRE” may well be a set up for what’s to come in the next Bond film: a Blofeld return with an “On Her Majesty’s Secret Service” piece of revenge against the now loved-up and seemingly retired 007 that will set Bond up for a return to service and the need to hunt down his arch enemy no matter what the cost.
Overall, “SPECTRE” is a fun watch for Bond fans and is better than “A Quantum of Solace”, but not as good as either “Casino Royale” or “Skyfall”. It’s an 8/10, but it could have been better if they’d sorted the script out well in advance of the shoot. Hopefully Daniel Craig will be back in the next film, as there’s currently nobody better for the role. There are great moments in “SPECTRE” and it may be stronger on second viewing, but it just misses out on being as good as it could have been. If this is Mendes’ last outing as Bond director, surely Christopher Nolan is the clear and logical choice to helm the next?
Recommended with reservations.
Image: © Danjaq 2015