SPECTRE does start very well indeed, jumping straight into Bond just doing what he does without any emotional trauma getting in the way for a change. This time, he’s on the trail of terrorists at the Mexican Day of the Dead festival, and after a very lengthy, exciting, and very public chase sequence, Bond heads home with the MacGuffin that kicks off his quest for some familiar bad guys – an organisation that we haven’t properly seen since Connery hung up his wig.
If those pre-credits left you exhausted, don’t worry, as Sam Smith then gives you an excuse to nod off for a three minute power nap. Although, to be fair, his song Writing’s on the Wall is more palatable with the Daniel Kleinman title imagery (if you can get your head around a messianic Daniel Craig stripped to the waist, and being worshipped by hot ladies - it’s good work if you can get it!). Sadly yet again, we have different talents producing the theme song and soundtrack. Long gone are the days when the theme song mattered and would reoccur within the movie itself, except for a carefully agreed token few bars.
SPECTRE sees the core cast from Skyfall all present and on top form. Naomie is again great as the fun but strictly business, modern day Moneypenny. Ralph Fiennes excels as the new M; an M who is not afraid to get his hands dirty whilst similarly delivering the best comedy moment in the film. However, the real star (other than Craig) is Ben Whishaw as Q. With SPECTRE, he makes the role his own and manages to step away from the shadow of Desmond Llewelyn, whilst giving us an extremely likeable Q that a modern audience will soon find irreplaceable. His scenes really helped to make this feel like a modern Bond movie, and not just some dreary Bourne clone. The return of SPECTRE as the main nemesis was clearly also intended to help in this regard. Needless to say, Craig was on top form throughout a movie that has an onerous mission of its own – to be as well received as Skyfall!
With Skyfall being the runaway box office hit it was, Bond was once again popular with the mainstream moviegoing public, (not just Bond aficionados), and Craig is currently at the peak of his popularity. So with the legal difficulties that had prevented these characters from appearing since the early '70s having been recently resolved, many were ecstatic at the return of SPECTRE, and the possibility of Ernst Stavro Blofeld being somewhere in the mix. The casting of Christoph Waltz as the main villain also boded well, but although his character name of Franz Oberhauser seemed to quash him being Blofeld, many were left wondering whether this was a similar smokescreen to the one that cloaked the appearance of Khan in Star Trek Into Darkness. This is indeed resolved, but not in a way that dedicated fans are likely to appreciate. Dave Bautista also furthers the retro vibe by playing a very Jaws-lite henchman, and his Mr Hinx is a credible physical challenge to Craig’s Bond when fisticuffs ensue. Physicality has been a hallmark of this era, and this is still wisely carried over into the set pieces; the emphasis is still kept on stuntwork and practical effects with a bare minimum of CG effects work. This helps to cement that Bond feel that was clearly sought. In fact, there are many Bond moments throughout, and this trip back into its earlier mythology does provide regular jolts of nostalgia, although we had already seen the best of this in the trailers. The shadowy SPECTRE meeting is the high point of the film when it comes to channelling the best of the 60’s Bond movies. Unfortunately, this is where the good news seems to run dry.
The story itself is flimsy and gossamer thin; merely acting as a loose framework to provide an ending to the previous three instalments. This never comes across as anything other than forced, especially with regards to Skyfall; there had been literally no foreshadowing of this unconvincing connection. Even the title sequence gets in on the act, and unlike the Lazenby handover in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, the flashback imagery serves no real purpose. Despite this urgency to resolve everything neatly, it is handled with little or no explanation, which renders the initial build-up in the first half rather pointless. What actually is SPECTRE? Were Quantum part of SPECTRE (bad guys fronting for slightly worse bad guys)? And most importantly, is SPECTRE even an acronym anymore? No answers are to be found here. It’s all atmospheric intrigue with no payoff.
Similarly gossamer thin is the treatment of the two leading ladies, Monica Belluci and Léa Seydoux. Belluci is in, bedded, and gone within a few short scenes, and Seydoux just does not cut it as Mr White’s daughter Dr. Madeleine Swann (although it was great to see Jesper Christensen again). Unlike the credible romance that blossomed between Bond and Vesper in Casino Royale, you simply get no insight as to how Bond could ever fall for this woman, or make any sacrifice to be with her.
As an action movie, SPECTRE does zip along initially until the halfway mark when the mythology and the intentional nostalgia trip pull on the handbrake. What you are left with may well be of interest to seasoned Bond fans, but the average moviegoer would probably have preferred more of the easier-to-follow antics of Skyfall than paying visits to supervillain lairs that resemble holistic retreats. Therein lays the inherent weakness of SPECTRE. It is too self-indulgent (and at two and a half hours, VERY long) for a mainstream audience, yet also takes liberties that Bond fans will probably baulk at. Those fans are likely to hate the ending, and the key reveal that is not only a shocking misjudgement by the filmmakers (bearing in mind their efforts to distance themselves from Bond clichés and parodies), but is delivered as such weak sauce that it’s almost pointless. This effort to inflict the closed universe approach (where everything and everyone is connected) upon the Bond franchise leads to an awful culmination. The reason revealed for everything that has happened in Bond’s life since Casino Royale is downright laughable, and actually harms the credibility of the previous three movies.
Out of Daniel Craig’s tenure, Casino Royale remains the most true to the Bond legacy, whilst still managing to carve out a new approach. Whereas SPECTRE feels the most like a traditional Bond movie, is occasionally awesome to watch, but simply doesn’t feel authentic, and is further sabotaged by a needless, silly, and damaging backstory. Which is a shame, because with this amount of zeitgeist, so much more could have been achieved here than making you want to finally pony up and buy those Connery Bonds on Blu-ray.
SPECTRE / CERT: 12A / DIRECTOR: SAM MENDES / SCREENPLAY: NEIL PURVIS, ROBERT WADE, JOHN LOGAN, JEZ BUTTERWORTH / STARRING: DANIEL CRAIG, CHRISTOPH WALTZ, LÉA SEYDOUX, BEN WHISHAW, NAOMIE HARRIS, DAVE BAUTISTA, MONICA BELLUCCI, RALPH FIENNES / RELEASE DATE: OCTOBER 26TH
Expected Rating: 9 out of 10