Daniel Craig returns as James Bond in the new Spectre, a film that utilises the history of his previous 3 goes at the role and acknowledges the ageing of the actor. If you look back, George Lazenby in Oh Her Majesty’s Secret Service shows more character growth than the other actors exhibit over their whole run. Daniel Craig’s Bond though remembers and ages and in a train cart in North Africa he arrives at a crossroads. Imprisoned, on a personal vendetta, married, returning home; these series of films have been electrifying when they’ve done something new with James and the ending of Spectre sees Bond in a very different place. It’s difficult to speak about the film without revealing spoilers but unlike some professional critics I will at least try. Let me just say that Spectre’s whole finale felt contrived and yet the last shot I really enjoyed despite being disorientated by it. It could be a curtain call for Craig and that’s fine. If not well then, as M once said, my advice to Eon productions is “Don’t muck it up.”
We open in Mexico City during the Day of the Dead celebrations with an uninterrupted tracking shot that takes us from crowded streets to deserted rooftops. This could be the best bit of the film. Bond in disguise, anonymous in a crowd, a female companion both part of the disguise and giving him a way in, their bodies heady with the promise of sex that is not to come before the spy…actually well spies on someone.
The dramatic action that follows augmented by CGI is not nearly as interesting but there is some nice tongues in cheeks and great use of the crowd, location and two crazy stuntmen hanging off a helicopter. The opening credits and song showcase beautiful but unsettling imagery of two lovers threatened by the spectre of death. Notable for two things, first Craig who has always featured heavily in his credits is here bare chested and objectified like the women and second an early shot looks like a threesome involving an Octopus. No I’m not joking and no that’s not my idea of an enjoyable Friday night.
Returning to London the secret agent finds an intelligence community under threat from government bureaucracy and an M under pressure. Bond doesn’t trust him like his predecessor so he sets fourth on an unsanctioned mission of his own. Fortunately for Bond he does trust the people he needs support from in Q and Moneypenny and with their help he sets off to Rome next. Snowy Alps and Tangiers will follow and he will eventually track down the mysterious Mr White who links Spectre to Quantum of earlier films. The film is grand in scale but going for a moody dreamy feel, most locations are at night and deserted. It’s epic (including a spectacular explosion late in the piece) but drained with a colour palette of yellows, grey, browns and whites it’s ghoulish rather than pretty. The dead are alive the opening proclaims and in more ways than one. This is all about Bond putting his ghosts to rest, White, Vesper Lynd, M and new villain Franz Oberhauser played by Christoph Waltz. A perfect film then to finally have a boogeyman come for him and Mr. Hinx played by Dave Bautista fits the role well. Dressed well and with a wry sense of humour he is still effectively first and foremost a daunting physical presence put to good use in a close quarters fight scene aboard a train. Craig is now leaner and older and we’re genuinely worried when Hinx comes at him with not just a hulking frame but lightning speed.
That fight scene is without doubt the highpoint of the action in this Bond film which is disappointing although I enjoyed the effort put into a pursuit where an airborne Bond goes after bad guys in cars for a change. The car chase in Rome feels like a mixed bag of intentions that never quite comes together. I kind of liked Moneypenny getting yoghurt out of the fridge in London while talking to Bond via phone in Rome. The chase is even an afterthought almost for Bond as Hinx shows up beside him almost as if to remind him that he’s being chased. There is no real sense of speed or jeopardy in it though and I’m sorry but you know what the new Ashton Martin-not that pretty.
A lot of excitement was created by Monica Bellucci at 50 becoming a Bond girl and as someone who can appreciate a woman whom appreciates garters I was very excited to see where this led. Sadly garters are the high point. She’s cast off fairly early in proceedings for you guessed it – a younger woman.
Fortunate then that Lea Seydoux saddled with a great deal builds an awful lot in a very short time frame. As Dr Madeline Swann she is the daughter of her Mr White whose work came to his house one day when he wasn’t there but she was. Dr Swann is full of layers, a woman who knows Bond’s world but has escaped it and does not want to return to it. As a result she understands Bond but also represents possibilities he’s never seriously considered.
Craig’s Bond has always inhabited this world of killers with a sense that one day a bullet could come for him. Skyfall in fact showed the character possibly getting shot for the first time ever-twice! Spectre really asks is Bond more than just a trigger man? Swann is at the heart of that question and she may just be one of the best Bond girls ever. And I haven’t even mentioned that dress.
Spectre is not a perfect Bond. The personal stakes were higher in Casino Royale which felt more real and Skyfall which was more fun. Those who complained about the plot holes in Silva’s plan will be driven crazy here by the decisions both Bond and Oberhauser make in tracking and trying to kill their opponents. That might feel a bit rich given the history of the series but after the reality of Casino Royale I did find it off putting. Christoph Waltz sits in the back of a helicopter in the finale kind of looking bored. A great actor diminished in a role that should be crackling, he’s playing a Bond villain for crying out loud. I don’t want to say he is what is wrong with the film, the projection of power in a shadowy board room scene early on is sublime but the handling of his character and the pointless backstory given to him is muted at best. Spectre is a good Bond entry with an ambitious theme of love’s triumph over death and Daniel Craig once more in the role he has made his own. Enjoy him here, James Bond will return but Daniel Craig may not.