Is James Bond still relevant in this day and age? It was an interesting question posed, examined and answered in 007’s last outing; the critically and financially acclaimed Skyfall. Directed by Academy Award winner Sam Mendes and starring Daniel Craig’s steely eyed, stoic version of our titular hero the answer was a clear yes. He proved that even while pursued by a mysterious enemy with links to his past he was more than licensed to take on an ever evolving world of cyber criminals and modern spy surveillance. By the final strum of John Barry’s infamous theme all the chess pieces were placed on the board, new incarnations of mainstays M, Q and Moneypenny were set up; now all we needed was a player worthy to oppose them and who better than Bonds greatest foe. Enter Spectre; the series’ most iconic international terrorist network returns to the screen run by a shadowy figure puppeting Bond’s life from behind the scenes. This organisation has their people everywhere and there is no one that Bond can trust against these seemingly insurmountable odds.
Spectre see’s the return of Director Mendes and Craig’s Bond and the movie kicks off with a promising start. Opening amongst the day of the dead parade in Mexico we follow Bond, clad in his best Karate Kid cosplay, on a long and astonishingly executed tracking shot. From street level, through hotel lobby, up an elevator, in to a hotel bedroom out a window and then across multiple rooftops we follow Bond as he sets up an ideal spot for his sniper rifle. Blasting a building open the whole front wall crumbles falling towards him and the unseen innocent bystanders below, his first blatant disregard for human life begins. Diving out the way he manages to land plump on a couch in the torn open lounge room below. It was a fun “Uh oh, did he just pull a Roger Moore?” beat, little was I to know that it was only the first of many past Bond winks that were soon to come thick and fast. For better or worse.
What follows is foot chase through a crowd leading to an attempted helicopter escape that has Bond strangling the pilot while the helicopter dives and drops towards the crowd of thousands below. It starts out as tense and exciting and then goes on far too long. Even after the fight is over it takes a ridiculous amount of time lingering on Bond flying the helicopter away in to the sunset. This was the second telltale sign. After a painful Sam Smith theme song, we find that Bond has gone rogue following Judi Dench’s M’s final wish of bringing this secret organisation down. At the same time the government is looking at closing MI6 all together in favour of ultimate surveillance. What you’d assume would be thrilling international intrigue with the greatest of British intelligence instead amounts to nothing more than Bond going from one place to the next, finding the person or thing he needs there straight away no matter how big the country, then moving to the next place and so on without any clue as to where he’s going or what he’s doing. Everything just falls in to place.
Eventually he’s lead to the meeting place of the title organisation and we are introduced to Christoph Waltz’s villain Franz Oberhauser. It is an understandably slow and tension filled scene as shrouded by shadow we discover the reach and the enormity of this terrorist group. But again the scene goes for way too long only to directly transition in to a high speed chase through the streets of Rome. Exciting right? But that too manages to go on for far too long. Even an exciting sounding plane pursuit in the Alps is drawn out with no real plan and ends up with Bond just randomly happening to crash in to the bad guys Jeep by sheer chance as the score blares like he’s achieved an incredible hero moment. Mendes could have walked away as the director of one of the best Bond movies of all time without running the risk of failure or repeating himself; but unfortunately that it was what has happened here. With Skyfall he had something to say, something fresh, his own take on a James Bond film, what he’s doing here though is just making a James Bond film. While that may be all some audiences want, a big, dumb, explosion filled action movie, scantily clad Bond girls and exotic locales then it may work for them but with the talent involved and the sheer wow of their last effort I was expecting so much more.
It’s as though Mendes, who seriously considered not coming back to the franchise, had no ideas left. Instead this movie plays like a greatest hits of old Bond movies re-imagining iconic scenes or characters rather than exploring something new. Paying homage is one thing but there are so many things that are just scene for scene updates. There are all the fun trademark lines which are staples now and these are done in fun little twists on the clichés but then there’s everything else. The much hyped return of Dave Bautista to the big screen after his scene stealing turn as Drax the Destroyer in Guardians of the Galaxy is nothing more than Odd job 2.0. It’s not his fault though, he works with what he’s given but I would hear day in and day out in dozens of press releases and interviews about the elusive Mr Hinx and his name is never even spoken on screen, he’s just a bland grunt villain. At least give him a gimmick other than squeezing heads which seems to be his only reoccurring trait.
From there the past movie recreations come hard and fast. There’s a close quarter’s train fight lifted straight out of From Russia with Love. When Bond is inexplicably invited to stay at the villains base of operations/desert retreat it’s straight from Quantum of Solace right down to its fiery demise. Buildings in the facility have the same interior decorator from Moonraker, there remote research facility in the Alps comes from Her Majesty’s Secret Service and the famous Goldfinger scene of Bond strapped down with an impending torture device is again done here. But the biggest crime of all is not only having Christoph Waltz, one of the most delicious villain actors alive barely in the movie; but taking a page from the Star Trek in to Darkness play book revealing him to be of Bond’s greatest classic foe of all time Ernst Stavro Blofeld and still barely having him in the film. It felt like they a had a basic idea for a script but needed to pad it out by copying and pasting old scenes because the deadline to start shooting was nearing and there was no time for a second draft.
This movie also tries the bold move of attempting a type of Marvel style multiple movie build up, making it appear that Blofeld was behind everything bad in Bond’s life. Every woman, every mission, every enemy, he had been behind it. But then there’s no mind blowing revelation to back it up. They want it to appear like they are wrapping up all four previous Craig movies in this ultimate climax but it fails dismally because there were no bread crumbs there. The best they can do is have Waltz post up photocopies of past villains taking claim for their feats which in a way taints and lessens the movies that have come before and the impact they were supposed to have. I’m sure there’s a smart and interesting way to link them all together; maybe if they brought back all the past villain actors for flashbacks or inserted Waltz in to past iconic moments that defined Bond in past movies then it could have worked. It was something that could have felt epic and united but that’s not what they ended up doing here at all and instead it falls completely flat.
It’s easy to forget that the Craig series are prequels to the other Bonds despite era logic and it’s been a highlight to see his journey to becoming the spy we all know and love while still bringing his own flavour. One of the shining aspects that set the Craig era apart was a continuing story, he actually had character development, while still maintaining single adventure fare. At the end of the day this movie could have been about him learning how to trust, humanising him more, but there’s just no substance here.
The movie really starts to unravel by the last act, feeling the need to bring in another helicopter sequence, an elaborately stupid fun house that felt more at home in a Riddler plot from an old 1960’s Batman episode and after all the build up there’s no real confrontation with the organisation Spectre themselves and the threat it promised. You see the reach of this organisation and the dread of overcoming it as insurmountable, they are everywhere, EVERYWHERE warns a returning Mr White and yet by the end of the movie when they’re needed nowhere, NOWHERE ! It’s just Bond versus Blofeld and a couple of pilots. Spectre is the longest 007 movie ever made and it feels like it, not just during the exposition scenes but even during the action, a few more tweaks in the editing room could have made it leaner and move at a better pace. People in my screening were audibly fidgeting in their seats several times throughout, myself included.
As for the rest of the cast, Léa Seydoux plays the daughter of an old enemy and the only one who can shed light on Spectre. She fills the role of the typical Bond girl and though she does nothing different she wins Bond’s heart and he leaves the business for her. Unlike the incredible Vespa Lynd from Casino Royale there is no chemistry and no sense to this relationship. Among the returning cast members Fiennes is fine dishing out some great polite British insults, Ben Whishaw as Q has some great banter with Bond “I asked you to bring it back in one piece not bring back one piece” but Naomi’s Harris as Ms Moneypenny didn’t get a hero moment, in fact I don’t remember her doing anything of any significance in the last half which is a shame because she is such a strong female character.
If you’re a Bond mainstay you’ll already be familiar with the ebbs and flows of the franchise but if you’re a newcomer sold on the promise of Casino Royale and Skyfall then expect a Quantim of Solace standard of movie and it might just meet expectations. It’s not all bad though, highlights include some genuinely funny lines, gorgeous cinematography and the casting of Monica Bellucci, the first Bond girl to be older than Bond himself at age 51 but you’d never know it, she’s still absolutely stunning. In the end what is the latest instalment of the fifty year franchise asking us? Is Bond still relevant in this day and age again as he is pursued by a mysterious enemy with links to his past only to overcome an ever evolving world of cyber criminals and modern spy surveillance. If you’d asked me at the end of Skyfall I would have said hell yes, but after seeing Spectre I am once again uncertain about the franchises future, there’s no doubt it will continue on but when will we get the quality back again? I hope Craig returns one last time to go out with a bang rather than a misfire.
Review by Dylan Boaden.