It may well be more than 50 years old, but this barnstorming joyride finds the Bond franchise in rude health and still showing the wannabes how it’s done.
It’s fair to say that 007 is enjoying something of a golden age at present; not seen since Sean Connery foiled Goldfinger and partook in some Pussy Galore.
Daniel Craig and director Sam Mendes’ first collaboration on Bond, 2012’s monster hit Skyfall, is generally regarded as a high watermark for the series and this, the 24th film in the franchise, doesn’t let itself down.
If anything, Spectre‘s lighter touch makes it more a popcorn-friendly and enjoyable Bond film than Skyfall, although it doesn’t quite match up to its predecessor in terms of character development or emotional heft, while Roger Deakins’ richly atmospheric cinematography was always going to be hard to top in spite of Interstellar DoP Hoyte van Hoytema’s none-too-shabby efforts this time around.
A manic pre-credits sequence set in Mexico City during the Day Of The Dead festival (featuring a bravura opening tracking shot that has attracted favourable comparisons to Welles’ Touch Of Evil) finds Bond going off the reservation to foil a terrorist plot that nevertheless lands him in hot water with M (Ralph Fiennes), who is trying to save the ’00’ programme from being shut down by C (Andrew Scott), a civil servant with plans to form a draconian global intelligence gathering service.
Ignoring orders to stay put, Bond investigates a cryptic message from his past that leads him to the dark heart of a shadowy cabal run by the mysterious Franz Oberhauser (Christoph Waltz), as well as into the life of Dr Madeline Swann (Léa Seydoux), who reluctantly – at first – goes along for the ride.
The “James Bond Will Return” title at the end of the film aside, Spectre would make both a logical and fitting conclusion to the franchise; such is the neat bow it ties on the Craig era. The typically luxurious credit sequence shows flashes of characters who failed to make it beyond Casino Royale and Skyfall (although not Quantum Of Solace, which underscores just what a write-off that film was); while the opening title “The dead are alive” develops a richer significance beyond the Day Of The Day pre-credits.
What Mendes and the screenwriters (Craig included) have managed more than anything else over the past two films is to get inside the head of our favorite superspy by showing us enough of his back story to keep us wanting more. Both Skyfall and Spectre are, at their heart, richly personal films that just happen to have a whole lot of action.
The tone of Spectre may be more playful and the plotting more conventional in comparison to Skyfall, but that’s not to say it doesn’t light up the screen. The supporting characters add plenty, with Ralph Fiennes’ exasperated M, Naomi Harris’ playful Moneypenny and Ben Wishaw’s drily amusing Q as excellent as ever and Dave Bautista’s deadly Mr Hinx reminiscent of Robert Shaw’s imposing thug in From Russia With Love (with a train bust-up to boot).
Seydoux oozes sultry charisma as Swann, who clearly knows her own mind and is more than a match for 007 (shame the same can’t be said for Monica Belluci’s widow who submits to Bond’s alpha maleness quicker than you can say “keep the British end up”).
Waltz has an oily threat that reveals itself in increments, while Craig once again fills the shoes of the leading man with a consummate deadpan ease that leaves you wondering what’s left to mine for his successor.
If this is to be Craig’s adieu from the Bond franchise, as has been suggested, he could have done a lot worse than make the spec-tacular Spectre his swan song.