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Thursday, 12 November 2015

Spectre

(M) ½

Director: Sam Mendes.

Cast: Daniel Craig, Christoph Waltz, Léa Seydoux, Ben Whishaw, Naomie Harris, Dave Bautista, Monica Bellucci, Ralph Fiennes.

Dinner at her parents' place had not gone well.

THE sixth Bond is back for his fourth outing and the world of 007 has never been so liberated.

Since effectively rebooting the series with the arrival of Craig in Casino Royale in 2006, Eon Productions have been able to do whatever the hell they want with the films.

If they play things straight and do away with the quips and gadgets, it’s a new Bond for a new era. If they throw in some quips and gadgets, it’s a nod to the past. They can’t fail.

Well, actually, they can fail. The confusing mess of Quantum Of Solace proved that, although that can be largely attributed to the 2007-’08 writers’ strike apparently.

But after the outright victories of Casino Royale (the most un-Bond-like of the series yet also possibly the best) and Skyfall (somewhat more Bond-like and also great), the filmmakers find themselves in the position of being able to do whatever they want and have it called “Bond”.

So here we have Spectre, a movie that continues in the super-serious vein of Craig’s previous outings yet throws in some typical Bond wit, that delves deeply into the psychology and history of its characters but can’t resist a gadget and a tricked-out car, and that has a visual style unlike any previous Bond film but 007 is still unable to resist shagging a woman he’s just met.

Plot-wise, the movie’s catalyst is a message from beyond the grave telling Bond to kill a terrorist named Marco Sciarra (Alessandro Cremona) and go to his funeral.

The funeral leads him to Sciarra’s wife Lucia (Belucci, making headlines as the oldest ‘Bond girl’ to date), who in turn points Bond in the direction of Spectre, an organisation that appears to link many of the most recent Bond villains.

But who is the Big Bad behind them all (hint: he looks like Christoph Waltz) and what is he up to?


Following in the footsteps of 23 predecessors makes it hard to avoid some obvious throwbacks. A mountaintop health clinic smacks of On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, a relentless colossal henchman played by Bautista is like Jaws from The Spy Who Loved Me and Moonraker but without the dental work, a torture scene tries to outdo Casino Royale’s ballbuster, the “go rogue” subplot was Timothy Dalton’s bag, and there’s a villain and a villainous organisation we’ve seen before.

These are not criticisms. Spectre revels in the opportunity to be new and old (Bond orders a vodka martini shaken not stirred and a dirty unshaken vodka martini!) and it largely works well when both are mixed together.

Case in point is a mindbogglingly brilliant opening tracking shot that goes through a crowded Mexican square, into a hotel, into an elevator, up a few floors, into a room, out a window and along a rooftop. It’s a bravura moment and something we’ve not seen in a Bond film before - it's more like Orson Welles’ Touch Of Evil opening shot or one of Scorsese's signature tracking moves.

It’s then topped off by a fight in a helicopter that is one of the ballsier stunts seen in recent times and which is typically Bond, but dialled up to 11.

Sadly, Spectre can’t keep up the pace of its pre-credits sequence forever and the momentum slowly drops away, unaided by a two-and-a-half-hour running time. It’s almost a relief when we get to the final stand-off on a London bridge, having been to Mexico, Italy, Austria, and Morocco already.

Things get particularly wonky in the deserts beyond Morocco, where the villain seemingly welcomes Bond with open arms, despite having sent a henchman to kill him just moments earlier. The film fully leaps off the rails and from then on it is a struggle to get back on them.

Most disappointing is Waltz, who has habit of stealing movies. He couldn’t even steal a shot in this film. His character is never imposing or scary or intimidating or dangerous or charismatic or unhinged or psychotic (even when he’s torturing Bond), and every Bond villain needs to be at least one of these things. He plays his Big Bad like a benevolent uncle, which would be fine if there was a hint of menace underneath, but there isn’t. This is Waltz’s most disappointing performance since his breakout in Inglourious Basterds.

Holding it all together is Mendes and in-demand cinematographer Hoyte van Hoytema, who give the film a visual style that is beautiful to behold, and Craig, who has achieved the difficult task of creating a fresh post-Brosnan Bond that still somehow feels like Bond.

Spectre really impresses early on but loses its way and struggles to a satisfying conclusion. Still, it’s great bits are truly great and at least it’s better than Quantum Of Solace.


My wife and I watched and discussed every Bond film in positively riveting fashion in BlogalongaBond, which you can read here.

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