Well if you’re following the most successful British film ever made, which also happened to be in the top 15 all time box office successes in cinema’s longest running film franchise you have some mighty big shoes to fill.
Skyfall felt like the breathe of fresh air that Bond fans had been craving. After years of the same old hat shooty, bang-bang with prerequisite mindless sex and equally mindless gadgets thrown in it felt as though 007 had finally tiptoed over the edge towards dramatic storytelling rather than a romp with a grimace. Spectre arrives not only with the weight of generations of Bond fan expectations but also cineasts eagerness to declare another triumph.
Things start wonderfully promising. As director Sam Mendes described, with Simon Mayo and Mark Kermode, the film opens with a continuous Touch of Evil shot. A seemingly unbroken take that takes us from the streets of Mexico City where we meet Daniel Craig’s Bond, in the already iconic skull face, through to a lift and up to an assassination attempt. It’s as bold an opening as has been seen in any film let alone this universe. The following sequence involving a helicopter flying upside down pales in comparison to the sheer scale of the extras Mendes has mounted on camera. If the opening mini-adventure does nothing else it tells us that the bleak shots of Bond and M stood on a foggy Scottish hillside are long-gone. Spectre is in it for the spectacle.
From thereout it’s difficult to discuss the film’s plot without giving away horrendous spoilers. I will tread careful. The short point are: Andrew Scott’s ‘C’ looks to dissolve the 00 programme in favour of drones and computers, there’s a spectacular car chase through Rome, Dave Bautista’s Hinx is an awe-inspiring henchman the likes of which has not been seen since Richard Kiel’s Jaws and Christoph Waltz plays… well Christoph Waltz. You know what I mean. Very chatty and smirky.
Spectre has the ingredients to potentially be the ultimate Bond film. But it ultimately fails. Craig and Mendes have both spoken about how they wanted to inject some of the Roger Moore humour into the film. This coming after three films of Craig playing it crushingly straight. It now comes across as forced. You can almost hear them shouting over the screen “and we thought it might be funny to put a shake of the head in that scene”. Daniel Craig has spent ten year cultivating his style of Bond and with Skyfall he seemed to hit his zenith. With Spectre he seems at ease for the first time but as he openly said himself during the making of Cowboys vs Aliens; he’s not a comedian. The lightness of touch in the dramatic scenes is just that… light.
Elsewhere Lea Seydoux appears in a long line of female protagonists who promise so much but ultimately deliver very little. Yes a backstory is drawn but her interaction with Bond makes little to no sense. Going from openly hostile to in his arms the next. Monica Bellucci’s much vaunted appearance is barely worth a mention with a love scene which verges on embarrassing.
The good things though: the super-car chase in Rome is tense and wonderfully choreographed. Same to for the plane/car chase in the Alps which just cried out for John Barry’s On Her Majesty’s Secret Service theme music. It should also be noted that Roger Deakins breathtaking photography is sorely missed.
Despite the looseness of touch the creative team obviously remember Skyfalls USP, that it tapped into Bond’s past. Spectre tries to introduce more mythology to the character. A history which is quickly mentioned and then never expanded upon leaving such revelations as redundant information between gunfights and never reaching the same level as using Bond’s childhood home as the climax or Silva’s relationship with Judi Dench’s M in Skyfall. Craig and Mendes clearly feel more at ease with Spectre and as such feel ready to embrace the franchise’s ludicrousness (eg. villainous layers, exotic locations for the sake of exotic). Whereas Skyfall felt like a story with a few set pieces, Spectre feels like a montage of set-pieces tied together by a vague plot.
Consider this Moonraker to Skyfall’s The Spy Who Loved Me.
Oh yes… Sam Smith’s theme song is still bobbins.
2 / 5
Dir: Sam Mendes
Scr: John Logan, Neal Purvis, Robert Wade, Jez Butterworth
Starring: Daniel Craig, Lea Seydoux, Christoph Waltz, Ben Whishaw, Ralph Fiennes, Dave Bautista, Andrew Scott, Naomie Harris, Monica Bellucci, Rory Kinnear
Prd: Barbara Broccoli, Michael G. Wilson
DOP: Hoyte Van Hoytema
Music: Thomas Newman
Run time: 148 mins
Spectre is available on Blu-Ray, DVD and digital now.