Spectre is premium Bond. But it’s not quite the perfect film that the hype of the 5* reviews might suggest. We learn a few new things: some more of the back history of Bond; that switches in Bond cars don’t always work the way you expect; and that Ralph Fiennes really can’t run very elegantly!
The plot is – as Dr Evil might say – quite inconsequential. An heirloom and a cryptic message from the past sends Bond (Daniel Craig) on a rogue mission to Mexico City to do what he does best – kill someone. This is rather problematic to the new ‘M’ (Ralph Fiennes) who needs a double-O PR disaster like a hole in the head as he tries to fight internal organisational proposals (oh my, doesn’t that sound dull?!). Rather than have his passport confiscated, Bond hops around several exotic locations pursuing the enigmatic Franz Oberhauser (Christophe Waltz) building to a dramatic – albeit rather atypical – Bond finale.
As you would expect, the film has a number of stunning set pieces. The opening Mexico City scenes – during the ‘Day of the Dead’ festival – are spectacular with a glorious five minute tracking shot that gives “Birdman” a run for its money in the style stakes. And there are some very scenic locations visited, superbly photographed by Hoyte Van Hoytema (“Interstellar”). In particular the glorious (or perhaps I should say Piz Glorious – bit of a joke there for Bond trivia geeks) ICE Q Restaurant at the Sölden ski resort in Austria and a dramatic desert location (which I’m unclear whether is ‘real’ or created).
Craig is magnificent as Bond. He moves like a cat and has the steely edge of instability and danger that Bond needs. (I quickly forgot his rather petulant and unwise “slit my wrists” comments of recent weeks.) Fiennes also bites a great chunk out of the role of ‘M’ – a fine choice to follow the acting chops of Dame Judy. And Naomie Harris as Moneypenny and Ben Whishaw (like a cinema rash this month) as ‘Q’ gel brilliantly with the rest of the cast. Together with Bond long-timer Rory Kinnear as Tanner, the ensemble acts as a double-O support family you can genuinely believe in.
Christophe Waltz as the bad guy is as good as you would expect, oozing psychopathic juices from every pore, and Dave Bautista (“Guardians of the Galaxy”) plays the heavyweight henchman Mr Hinx, delivering the best train-fight since “From Russia With Love”.
Where I had bigger issues was in the casting of Andrew Scott as the new character Denbigh. While Scott (“Sherlock”, “Pride”) is one of my favourite character actors, he just doesn’t have the gravitas to be convincing in the job role he’s portraying.
The “Bond girls” (reverting to the sexist terminology of the genre) are Léa Seydoux (looking tidier than her role in “The Lobster”) and Monica Bellucci, making Bond history – albeit briefly – as the oldest Bond conquest (that he will let on to). Also decorous in the earlier scenes is Mexican beauty Stephanie Sigman.
The plot, by John Logan, Neal Purvis and Robert Wade, is rather patchy and vaguely preposterous in places. It doesn’t bear close scrutiny. Aside from the broader leaps of improbable survivability, ‘Q’s analysis of a Spectre ring seems to be a magic plot ‘McGuffin’ that doesn’t bear the same level of scientific analysis. The screenplay though (adding Jez Butterworth) is whip-crack smart in places, with some excellent laugh-out-loud moments. Note, for the squeamish, that as well as the lighter moments there are a few instances of extreme violence in the film that are in ‘peek through the hands’ territory.
The music by composer Thomas Newman is novel and striking, blending in his “Skyfall” themes nicely to a new and urgent electronic drum beat. And whilst I’m not a great fan of the rather whiny Sam Smith vocal (can we have a Muse or a Manic Street Preachers title song next time please?) it does work well over the impressive opening titles.
In summary, for me this was on a par with the excellent “Skyfall” and is a great swan song for Sam Mendes in his directorial stint at Bond.
Fad Rating: FFFF.
(By the way, I’m attaching the trailer below but if you’ve been lucky enough to avoid it to date I suggest you keep avoiding it before seeing the film. As always – one of my most common whinges – they give away too many of the money shots).