29th October 2015

Spectre (Running Time: 148 Minutes)

As M.I.6 goes into meltdown and a new spying technology threatens our civil liberties, Bond goes on the search for a shadowy cartel that appear to be behind it all. With his support network in the Secret Service unable to assist, he must strike out alone. But time is running out…

When Daniel Craig took over the role of Bond, the writers cleverly took the opportunity to change gears for the franchise too. Gone were the seemingly unconnected missions that made up the previous movies, gone too were the snappy quips, the over-the-top henchman with prosthetic hands, metal teeth and deadly headgear. The new Bond would be set in a much more realistic way and each movie would thematically link to the previous one.

It was a bold move and one which divided some Bond fans who enjoyed the fantastical gadgets, pop-star cameos, crazy situations and outrageous one-liners. The new Bond had character arcs and each encounter with a nefarious villain and every love interest would leave their mark indelibly upon him. In this, Daniel Craig’s fourth outing as everyone’s favourite misogynistic spy, we see many of the things which make this modern Bond series so great but occasionally, glimpses of those campier elements cast their shadow over proceedings.

As with previous entries in this long beloved franchise, we are taken on a globetrotting adventure in stunning locations starting in Mexico City before hopping to London, Tangiers, Tunisia, Austria and Rome. The backdrops are gorgeous and the whole film feels much warmer and lighter in tone to director Sam Mendes’ last feature Skyfall.

The stunts are, as you’d expect, wonderfully executed and in a world full of blockbusters full of computer generated effects, it’s great to see so much of the spectacle being shot for real - car chases through cramped city streets, helicopters losing control over heavily populated cities and an extremely visceral fist-fight in the third act which leaves you wincing in your seat as Bond slowly realises he may have met his match all go to make this one of the most action-packed movies of Craig’s career so far.

It’s often said that the hero is only as good as the villain he faces and this is where the film may divide its audience. For quite a large portion of the running time, we’re left wondering just who the villain is and what his crimes actually are. We’re told he is the head of a criminal organisation and may be responsible for various wars and catastrophes but since we never see him committing these terrible acts onscreen, we only have hearsay and speculation as an incentive to despise Bond’s adversary.

Christoph Waltz plays the part of Bond’s counterpoint extremely effectively however and hams it up sufficiently with the small amount of material he’s given to at least make us feel some sense of jeopardy for our protagonist but with most of his appearance taking place in the final forty minutes of the film, it might be too little too late for some in the audience.

Aside from Craig (who could probably now play the part while sleeping), we have the wonderful Ralph Fiennes as ‘M’ who manages to fill those mighty big shoes left by Judi Dench very amiably. His side-story is almost as entertaining as Bond’s and should the writers feel the need to expand upon this Bondiverse (possibly a new word there), they could do a lot worse than to give Fiennes his own series.

Naomie Harris returns as Moneypenny but despite her significance as the love interest in Skyfall, here she is side-lined to the role of Bond’s P.A. once more. Also back is Ben Whishaw as ‘Q’ who gets a bit more to do this time around than simply handing Bond the keys to a car. His comedic touches are spot-on and are very welcome in a plot often full of exposition and serious conversations about global terror.

The direction is every bit as good as in Skyfall with a particularly memorable opening tracking shot in the streets of Mexico City. The camera glides after 007 as he seduces his contact before slipping out of the hotel window, casually striding across the rooftops to take position for his first kill. It’s a great piece of work that due to some sneaky editing looks to be one flowing camera move that leaves you wondering how they managed it.

Tonally, however, the film is a little uneven. Craig’s outing as 007 came after Matt Damon’s Jason Bourne and the influence of those movies is apparent. The modern James Bond was not a man likely to wear a safari suit or drive an invisible car but here we’re given a henchman with metal thumbnails, one dimensional female characters who exist solely for the purpose of seduction and an occasional one-liner thrown in which doesn’t really fit with the brooding character we saw in the previous film. A slightly contrived family connection between our hero and his antagonist may also leave you feeling a little exasperated.

Returning too is the deus ex machina gadget handed to Bond at the start of his mission. The longstanding tradition of handing some ridiculous item to the hero who, incredibly, finds himself in just the right spot-of-bother to find a use for it is one shadow of the franchise’s past that I thought we’d seen the end of. Hopefully these slight issues are not the thin edge of the wedge.

As the closing credits roll we’re told that ‘James Bond Will Return’. There is speculation that Craig may not but if that is the case, his track record as the titular character has been undeniably positive on the series. SPECTRE is one of the best action movies of the year and a solid entry for the continuing adventures of Mr Kiss Kiss Bang Bang. I’m still not sold on that theme tune though.

Written by Smylexx