Director: Sam Mendes
Major Players: Daniel Craig, Christoph Waltz, Lea Seydoux
Out Of Five: 3.5
What with the first trailer and the snowball that’s been the past week, it was a relief to actually see Spectre. For me, that level of pre-publicity is a turn-off or, at the very least, it makes me sceptical. It was nigh-on impossible to avoid what the main critics had to say so, by the time I took up my seat, I felt I’d almost seen the film already. The good news is that I hadn’t.
There was still plenty to see, so take a bow all you spoiler-free critics. It worked. Although I’m not sure I agree with some of what’s been written about this 24th outing for the nation’s favourite secret agent (Daniel Craig).
As storylines go, it’s probably one of the more straightforward Bonds. He’s following a trail left by M (Judi Dench) to track down the organisation behind both her death and a lot of his most recent enemies . He’s under pressure from HQ as well, not just because he’s doing his usual rogue thing, but because a move to co-ordinate security internationally means the 00 programme is being closed down and the new M (Ralph Fiennes), as well as Bond himself, could be out of a job.
A lot has been said about Bond looking jaded, tired of the whole espionage shenanigans, although I didn’t think that was especially evident until the very end. There is, however, the very strong sense that he’s haunted by ghosts: the original M, of course, Vesper Lynd and his past enemies, all defeated. And that sense of harking back to the past appears in another form, his original Aston Martin, although it has seen better days.
So with Bond, the expectations are action, gadgets and women. Cue the checklist and first it’s action. The opening sequence in Mexico City is initially filmed as it if it’s one long shot – a la Birdman and Touch Of Evil – and, with its skeletal costumes and explosion in the middle, it looks great. You almost wonder if the exploding building has triggered an earthquake. But part of the sequence involves a helicopter and it’s here that you see the join. With all the money that’s been spent on the film, I expected something more consistently impressive, but it’s not. The sequence at the end is pretty good as well, making effective use of real time. And in between, there’s car chases and punch ups. But this is a comparatively talky Bond and, for me, that’s not a disadvantage because it’s nicely written with plenty of the characteristic flippant Bond humour.
So action gets a tick. Gadgets? They really belong to the loveably geeky Q (the perfectly cast Ben Whishaw) and the count is unusually low, but that’s because the emphasis is on computer technology, especially of the surveillance variety. In fact, security in the post-Snowden era is one of the major themes of the film: the theory of global co-operation sounds fine, but what if there’s something more sinister behind it that doesn’t have public safety as its aim?
That’s half a tick for gadgets. Finally, there’s the women – a much better way to describe them than “Bond girls”. They’re still decorative, although Lea Seydoux’s Madeleine Swann does have her fair share of the action. Unfortunately, she has a damsel in distress moment as well. Monica Bellucci only has a couple of scenes and really doesn’t have that much to do, even if she does look fabulous. Which makes half a tick for women and a well above average score overall, but not an outstanding one.
Putting aside the less impressive elements of the opening sequence, the film is a visual spectacle of style and grandeur, from the Day Of The Dead procession to the funeral, played in monochrome with white columns and people in stark black, sunglasses included. Very Italian, very chic. And there is, of course, more as the itinerary also includes Tunisia, the Alps and London itself.
As an action thriller, Spectre is a good one. As a Bond movie, there’s lots of classic elements but it didn’t quite get there for me, even though I’ve always liked Craig’s take on 007. I really could have done without quite so much hype, not just before the film was released but also at the screening itself, where at least three commercials were linked to the movie. Take note, Sony. It’s possible to overdo things.
Spectre is currently on general release around the UK and will be reviewed on Talking Pictures on Thursday, 29 October.