I am a James Bond fan and I’ve watched much, if not all the back catalogue. I am probably slightly less of a Daniel Craig Bond fan than a lot of others. I still maintain that Timothy Dalton is the best Bond along with Sean Connery, with early Brosnan close behind – Goldeneye is still the probably the best Bond film of the last 40 years.
Craig has done a perfectly decent job as Bond…well in two of his movies at least (the less said about the Quantum of Solace the better) and he definitely reached his Bond nadir in Skyfall which, for all its faults, was by far his most enjoyable outing (although still not quite enough to lift him above the aforementioned Bonds), but I have never been fully invested in Craig as Bond. He is certainly a very fine actor, Casino Royale and Skyfall are good films, and he has come nowhere near the depths plumbed by Moore, but there was still a niggling doubt about Craig’s portrayal of Bond.
I may be in the minority of people who think that, but it is through that perspective that I watched Spectre, and it is through that perspective that this review is written.
Well, like every Bond film, the plot is very simple – there is a bad guy, and Bond is out to stop him. The official plot synopsis and trailer put a little more flesh on those bonds bones:
A cryptic message from the past sends James Bond on a rogue mission to Mexico City and eventually Rome, where he meets Lucia Sciarra (Monica Bellucci), the beautiful and forbidden widow of an infamous criminal. Bond infiltrates a secret meeting and uncovers the existence of the sinister organisation known as Spectre.
Meanwhile back in London, Max Denbigh (Andrew Scott), the new head of the Centre for National Security, questions Bond’s actions and challenges the relevance of MI6, led by M (Ralph Fiennes). Bond covertly enlists Moneypenny (Naomie Harris) and Q (Ben Whishaw) to help him seek out Madeleine Swann (Léa Seydoux), the daughter of his old nemesis Mr White (Jesper Christensen), who may hold the clue to untangling the web of Spectre. As the daughter of an assassin, she understands Bond in a way most others cannot.
As Bond ventures towards the heart of Spectre, he learns of a chilling connection between himself and the enemy he seeks, played by Christoph Waltz.
There is little more that can be added to those without providing spoilers, so I shall leave it there and head straight into how well this premise is executed.
Well, to get straight to the point, it certainly isn’t the worst Bond film Craig has done, but nor is it his best. After the high of Skyfall, it was perhaps inevitable that the Craig/Mendes duo would struggle to match the highs of their debut, and sadly then, even the experience and skills of that combo were insufficient to maintain their elevated levels.
That isn’t to say it is a bad film, and certainly remains significantly better than Quantum of Solace, or any of the Roger Moore offerings, but I can’t honestly say that I enjoyed the film or that I want to watch it again.
While the plot of a Bond film is never too tricky to decipher, this one was pretty evident from the first five minutes of the film. It was formulaic and perfunctory and the big twists were easily telegraphed early in the film offering little in the way intrigue or surprise.
I was also somewhat disappointed by the villains. A great Bond film needs a great villain, and this is not a great Bond film. Waltz’s character lacks both the charm and menace of Bardem’s Silva, and apart from a couple of mildly amusing quips, is pretty unforgettable. Bautista’s Mr Hinx is an attempt to rekindle the physically threatening henchman of old like Jaws, Oddjob and even Onatopp…and it fails miserably. His is undoubtedly a physically imposing figure, but that is basically it. His entrance isn’t particularly shocking, and the rest of his screen time is all but wasted.
Along with the disappointing Waltz and misuse of Bautista, Monica Bellucci was severely underused. She has considerable talent and almost non of it was seen in her all too fleeting appearance on screen. Having quite a big deal about her casting, the film all but passes her by.
Perhaps my biggest disappointment was the lack of Bond moments. Yes Craig is bringing an earthier, more rugged, grittier Bond, but in previous films his brooding pout was interspersed with off-the-cuff quips and actions accompanied perfectly by a blast of the 007 theme. Unfortunately, while there were a couple of moments of laughter, I struggle to remember a single Bond moment from the film. There were, unfortunately moments of unintended humour which only further highlighted the lack of Bond-ness to the film and left the whole thing feeling more like a decent action film than a Bond film.
Despite all of that, there were some positives. The film is beautifully shot with sweeping vistas juxtaposed neatly with the somewhat claustrophobic confines of buildings and vehicles during action scenes. That combined with a great score gave the actions sequences as more imposing, more frantic, and more dangerous atmosphere that was very effective in building tension, especially in the latter stages of the film.
There are also actions scenes aplenty starting with the typical robust opening. Explosions, shooting and chase scenes were frequent and well executed. One particular fight scene in a confined space showed a level of brutality that has rarely if ever been seen in a Bond film before. The tougher atmosphere that Craig has brought to Bond was ramped up even further here, and it certainly enhances the film.
The supporting cast were also exceptional. The extra screen time for Ben Whishaw sees him excel as Q. Ralph Fiennes, Naomie Harris and Rory Kinnear all put in good performances too, albeit firmly in supporting roles.
I was also thoroughly impressed with Léa Seydoux. Her acting talent has been evident in her previous roles, and in Spectre she brought an intelligence, charm and robustness to her role that is rarely seen in the average ‘Bond girl’. The inevitable moments of fragility were met with an underlying strength that allowed the character to grow and flourish in the film as an equal. She was a joy to watch, and I sincerely hope that future female bond characters are written and acted in such as manner.
It is not the worst Bond film ever made, but nor is it the best. Taken out of context, it is probably edging up to be a good film. Put into context and the history of Bond, it is probably edging down towards being a decent if somewhat unspectacular film.
While no-one wants to go back to the days of Die Another Day, it felt like Spectre was still trying a little too hard to be portray a serious and gritty Bond at the expense of what makes it a Bond film. While the film was interspersed with moments of levity, these were not always intended, and really highlighted the lack of ‘Bond’ moments. While the reoccurring supporting cast were very good in slightly extended roles, the villains felt a little one-dimensional, lacking sufficient charisma to carry the film.
Having said all that, the film does look fantastic. Beautiful scenery is successfully combined with more frenetic interior shots to give the film a steady pacing which ramps up tension at all the right moments. This is complemented perfectly by the score which blends neatly into the visuals to complete the offering. While I am still not completely convinced by Craig’s portrayal of Bond, he does a perfectly decent job, although he never quite reaches the highs of Skyfall. Léa Seydoux is also a treat to watch, elevating what is essentially a supporting role to one of the highlights of the film.