Review – Spectre

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.

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

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

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.

007 (Daniel Craig) and Bond girl Madeleine Swann (Léa Seydoux) in Spectre

007 (Daniel Craig) and Bond girl Madeleine Swann (Léa Seydoux) in Spectre

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.

Christoph Waltz plays Franz Oberhauser (or does he..?) in Spectre

Christoph Waltz plays Franz Oberhauser (or does he..?) in Spectre

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.

Bond (Daniel Craig) and Q (Ben Wishaw) check out a pirated copy of Spectre in... Spectre

Bond (Daniel Craig) and Q (Ben Wishaw) check out a pirated copy of Spectre in… Spectre

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).

Humongous henchman Mr Hinx (Dave Bautista) in Spectre

Humongous henchman Mr Hinx (Dave Bautista) in Spectre

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.

Dr NOOOO!! – The Worst Of Bond

‘Tis the season for end-of-year lists. ‘Tis also the season for James Bond’s filmography to clog up our TV listings.

While this means 007th heaven when it comes to out-and-out Bond classics like From Russia With Love (1963), Goldfinger (1964) and Casino Royale (2006) – as opposed to the 1967 effort starring David Niven and Woody Allen – it usually also means a repeat showing of some of the super spy’s not-so-super offerings.

Following the excellent Skyfall (2012), there is genuine anticipation for Spectre, Craig’s fourth outing in the role. But for now, let’s moonrake over the Bond movies that are a load of thunderballs.

Which are the worst Bond films in your opinion?

1. Die Another Day (2002)

Die Another Day

You have to feel sorry for Pierce Brosnan; a genuinely good actor when given material he can get his teeth into (The Matador (2005) being just one example). But when it came to his tenure as 007 – a role he was born to play – he was ill-served and none more so than in this nadir for the franchise. A strong opening reel wherein Bond gets captured by the evil North Korean army and is tortured and eventually released by a reluctant British government promises much, but the default switch soon gets flipped and before we know it we’re being asked to swallow gubbins involving an ice palace, a space laser and a car with a cloaking device. To make matters worse, Madonna puts in a performance that would insult a piece of wood and a smarmy Toby Stephens is so over-the-top it’s laughable. To top it off we have Bond Kite. Surfing. On. A. Tsunami. A film so bad everyone went away and took a very long and hard look at themselves and came back with Casino Royale.

2. A View To A Kill (1985)

A View To A Kill

After six movies and 12 years in the role, the 57-year-old Roger Moore was looking a little long in the tooth to be playing the walking killing and sex machine that is James Bond. However, in classic ‘one last job’ style, they renewed his license to kill one more time for a film that proved to mark the end of an era. Moore has been quoted as saying that A View To A Kill was his least enjoyable 007 experience and it shows in the uncomfortable expression glued on his face, not least of which during his seducing of Tanya Roberts’ Bond girl, a woman whose mother was younger than Moore. However, it’s the genuinely squirmy bedroom scene between Moore and Grace Jones’ May Day that will have you sitting uncomfortably in your seat. Whoever thought that was a good idea is anyone’s guess. A tired and flabby movie (featuring a half decent villain in Christopher Walken’s Zorin to be fair) that marked a sad end to Moore’s reign.

3.  The World Is Not Enough (1999)

The World Is Not Enough

Only in the world of 007 would Denise Richards be cast as a nuclear physicist – and one called Christmas Jones at that. The rot had been setting into Brosnan’s tenure since Tomorrow Never Dies (1997), but the nudge wink approach adopted throughout Moore’s residence was well and truly back following the Dalton years (the most underrated Bond in my book) and Brosnan’s solid debut GoldenEye (1995). While Robert Carlyle is better than the material he’s given playing international terrorist Francis Begbie… sorry, Renard, the narrative is all over the place, while the stunts merely reheat what we’ve seen before (ski chase? Yep. Helicopter action? You betcha). And let’s not forget that immortal line given by a post-coital Bond to Jones: “I thought Christmas came only once a year.” Wahey!

4. Octopussy (1983)

Octopussy

While Moore’s sixth outing in the tuxedo has its merits – an inclination towards a more serious plot being the most welcome – there’s a point in Octopussy when the cast and crew probably looked at each other and collectively realised that, by being a Roger Moore Bond movie, it therefore should contractually get very silly indeed. Moore must have raised an eyebrow in the way only Moore can when he read in the script that he’d have to get dressed up in a clown outfit to save the day. Maud Adams is at least Moore’s age and is the best thing about the film (the movie is named after her character after all), but Louis Jourdan doesn’t cut the mustard as the villain and tennis pro Vijay Amritraj should probably have stayed on the courts rather than turn up as Bond’s Indian ally Vijay.

5. Quantum Of Solace (2008)

Quantum Of Solace

The fates were against Quantum Of Solace. The back-to-basics Casino Royale had given the franchise the shot in the arm it so desperately needed and the pressure was on from the studio to keep the cash tills ringing. The decision to directly follow the events of Casino Royale certainly made sense as it provided the opportunity to explore the themes thrown up by Bond’s traumatic previous outing. However, the Writers Guild of America strike proved a crippling blow to the script’s development and things got so bad that Craig himself ended up trying to rewrite certain scenes. The script’s lack of cohesiveness shows in the undercooked dialogue, while director Marc Forster’s lack of action credentials revealed itself in the uneven set pieces; many of which tried to emulate the jittery Bourne-style shaky cam, but came off as confused and second-rate. A film that leaves you shaky, but not stirred.