Spectre is the 24th film in the Bond franchise, following on from the critically and commercially lauded Skyfall. Sam Mendes and Daniel Craig team up once again – perhaps for the final time, if Craig's recent grouchy press tour commentary is to be believed. Spectre is inevitably headed for box office gold, but is the film itself a worthy possible send-off for Craig?
In the aftermath of the events of Skyfall, MI6 is struggling to argue for the continuing relevance of the 00 programme. M (Ralph Fiennes) has to contend with interference from the newly formed Centre for National Security, led by Andrew Scott's Max Denbigh (nicknamed “C”- the joke writes itself). In the midst of this, Bond goes off radar to investigate a shadowy organisation that may have links to his past.
James Bond 007 - Spectre Review
The film opens in Mexico City on the Day of the Dead, throwing us straight into a genuinely thrilling extended action sequence, complete with collapsing buildings and a freewheeling helicopter – the pace does not let up, at least until you're cast into the doldrums of Sam Smith's turgid opening song (though slightly enlivened by the Hokusai-esque title sequence visuals of women getting it on with oversized octopi. Lovely.) Unfortunately, the pace and vision of the initial set-piece isn't sustained throughout the film.
Spectre seems like an awkward attempt to lighten the franchise and harken back to the hijinks of earlier Bond. Daniel Craig's tenure as 007 has been marked by a particular introspection and grittiness, suited to Craig's flinty-eyed, no nonsense portrayal, which worked well in the likes of Casino Royale and Skyfall, but less so in the dour Quantum of Solace. Here, that attempt at introspection is paired uncomfortably with what is basically a throwback to classic Bond series hallmarks – improbable action setpieces, fabulous locations, gags, beautiful women, and a hero who moves through it all with stylish flair. The emotional heft that is aimed for can't easily be reconciled with the fizzy action film, meaning it all ends up being a bit of a mess, if a mostly enjoyable one.
Daniel Craig is effective and convincing as ever with the physicality of the role, but detached and oddly remote at points. It may do well to give the series a new leading man as Craig seems to have settled into a somewhat routine portrayal. The supporting cast are all well turned out, particularly Dave Bautista as a secondary henchman who commands attention in his opening scene with a memorably novel way of dispatching his foes (and pushing the boundaries of the film's 12A rating a little). Ben Whishaw's Q adds amusement in a beefed up role, though Monica Bellucci is sadly underutilised as an Italian widow Bond seduces information from.
Lea Seydoux (most recently seen in The Lobster) plays the female lead, a character named, in a clunky literary allusion, Madeline Swann. She does her best to add some nuance and defiance to the paper-thin characterisation, but Swann's primary function seems to be to tokenly resist Bond's charms for about ten minutes before giving in to him wholeheartedly, in classic Bond Girl style.
Spectre's main problem is its central antagonist, Franz Oberhauser, played by Christoph Waltz in his now familiar unctuous villain mode. He simply seems utterly without menace or effect. Throughout the film we are continually being told that he has major significance because of his connection to Bond's past, but it feels heavy-handed and rote. In fact Bond never seems to reflect upon this connection at all, and when various dramatic third act revelations occur the schematic nature of them barely raises the emotional equivalent of a shrug. In fact all the constant remembrances of things past mostly work to Spectre's detriment – there is an inelegant attempt to connect all the previous Craig films, and images of characters from previous instalments routinely appear - reminding us of how thinly Waltz's Oberhauser stands up against Javier Bardem's excellent work as Silva in Skyfall, or the vibrancy of Eva Green's Vesper Lynd to the one-note Madeline.
There's a lot to enjoy in Spectre; the excellently handled action, the impeccable visuals and the solid performances all combine to make this a perfectly passable Bond outing. However, the attempt to unite the retrogressive hallmarks of “classic” Bond with the grit of Craig-era Bond makes for an uneven film overall, not quite comfortable in either era.