Spectre: Film Review
Cast: Daniel Craig, Christoph Waltz, Lea Seydoux, Ralph Fiennes, Ben Whishaw, Andrew Scott, Naomie Harris
Director: Sam Mendes
That the latest Bond outing starts off in Mexico with the Day of the Dead festival seems too pertinent - it's an apt observation, given how much of the film is haunted by ghosts from its own past.
A more introspective piece set against a backdrop of an ongoing discussion about intelligence sharing, mergers and the place of archaic spies, the 24th Bond sees James Bond engaging in a more personal quest and forgetting about global concerns to mixed results. Setting out in Mexico on a rogue mission to track a man called Sciarra, Bond's globe-trotting finally leads him into the world of shadowy organisation Spectre - and a discovery that shakes his very core.
The new Bond film is steeped in the tentacles of its past and really struggles to garner a new identity for itself, with shades of deja vu a la Star Trek Into Darkness spilling in for reasons that verge on spoiler territory.
Half the problem of the film is that throughout, the sense of threat and urgency is rather misplaced within the long drawn-out pacing.
The film's opening in Mexico is breath-taking, with a gorgeous tracking shot that weaves between the crowds of The Day Of The Dead festival and along the rooftops as Bond precisely tracks his prey. Sharply suited throughout like some kind of walking GQ shoot and clad in Tom Ford (just one of many sponsors), Craig cuts an arrogantly icy figure as the Bond who's more aloof spy in the cold this time around; but the pre-credits teaser lacks some of the spectacle you'd expect even if some of the helicopter based stunt work borders on impressive and solid, rather than edge of your seat.
There's the obligatory globe-trotting too to Tangiers, Rome and Austria but as the story plays out the Snowden-esque elements of the global conspiracy end up being confined to the sidelines after propelling the narrative forward. Equally, Andrew Scott's C, who's the driver for the merger ends up being sidelined and part of a too obvious twist - even if he does play nicely off Ralph Fiennes' expanded M, with Fiennes delivering a quip that sounds like it could have come from the Roger Moore era (something which Craig also revels in to wry effect).
Confining to the fringes is a charge which could be laid against Christoph Waltz's villain too. His mellifluous tones light up the start of the film but then is damned to the back 30 minutes as the machinations and revelations come quickly. And however hard Waltz may try, he ends up feeling the victim of an extended set-up, as well as Austin Powers style parallels - even if foundations are laid for the future kind of character. (There are no spoilers here, but plenty of speculation on the character is already out there - and if you're a Bond afficionado, the film's title offers delicious hints of where exactly it could be going).
To be frank, the film very much teeters on reminding you why the series needed rebooting in the first place - it lacks the edge and gritty urgency of Casino Royale and sorely misses an emotional punch a la Skyfall as the potential finality of Daniel Craig's tenure as Bond plays out.
Revelling in its past (an original Aston Martin, an Odd Job type nemesis for Bond in the form of Dave Bautista and the other films from Craig's time as 007), Spectre never really finds a moment to definitively call its own. The stakes never feel high enough and the action sequences border on perfunctorily thrilling rather than edge of your seat gripping.
It also dangerously edges back towards underwritten female protagonists too that simply fall under Bond's thrall. Belucci is completely wasted and is simply there to be bedded and Seydoux who brings a hardened edge starts off strong and feisty before falling into cliched Bond girl in peril territory.
But there are moments when Spectre hits its straps; chiefly, while it falls down on pushing the wonderfully energetic Harris and Fiennes to the outer edges of the action, bringing Ben Whishaw's Q into the field delivers the flick some much needed points of difference and a sense of unpredictability - future outings could benefit from more of Whishaw's clipped precise tones and fish-out-of-water vibes as Q.
And while the action is tightly pulled together, its choreography almost strangles it of any danger, any life and any edge - almost as if Mendes and his team have story-boarded it to death.
Consequently the final verdict on Spectre is it's not exactly a Bond at its best but neither is at its worst; even though Craig makes the role definitively his own, the extended glut of the film, the resolution of past threads you didn't even know were loose and the lack of any urgency and threat make it more a ho-hum entry into the canon. It's easy to target Bond, but as the rebooted franchise has shown, it can play successfully with expectations while still delivering a spectacle that's rich in emotional resonance as it is flying bullets.
The credits promise that James Bond will return, but to really radically overhaul this film series again, it needs to shake off the ghosts of its own past, its own feeling of rote tropes and ensure that business as usual for this spy is nothing short of constantly thrilling - even if it is a more slightly traditional road to follow.