In what looks like Daniel Craig’s swan-song, the Bond team reunite in an all-too familiar, albeit stylishly executed, rummage through the toy box. The lame plotting links the other three Craig outings, while our gritty blonde Bond-shell does what he does in exotic locations, with a variety of transport and weapons, two Bond girls and a supporting cast who nod and wink their way through International espionage like an end-of-Summer-season variety show. Spectre is an uneasy throwback to classic Bond nonsense
At two hours twenty it’s loud, violent, frequently silly and at least two set pieces too long. There’s back-story, psycho-babble, and a lot of pompous dialogue, but none of it can disguise the sheer pointlessness of the whole thing, fun, though it is.
Bond is on his own personal mission to hunt down the head of the mystery organisation that’s plagued him through the other three movies; he’s off the grid (sorta) doing his maverick agent thing, still licensed to kill – so he does. Frequently. The body count is back to the late Brosnan era.
For the bigger plot, the Zeitgeist is unfettered capitalism tied to the total surveillance society, so that’s what Spectre and the New World Order of Security is about (we’re fed the 1984 Orwell references, just to make sure we get it).
MI6 is closed, the double-0 programme shut down, but with his usual flagrant disregard of health and safety, that doesn’t stop Bond walking unprepared into one ambush after another, only to escape with each more improbable chase, punch-up or shoot out than the last. You can tick off the references to fifty years of Bond movies in every set-piece, wise-crack, prop, car, even scene-change.
Call them out with me; expensive sports car chase, check; fight on a train, check; fight in a helicopter, check; swish clinic on a mountain-top, check; evil genius in a secret, hi-tech, remote base, check; blowing the whole thing up, check.
You know it’s a Bond movie when Dave Bautista (Guardians of the Galaxy, Riddick) turns up as the rock-hard henchman and Bond fights him off in the most ridiculous Western punch-up, to emerge the next morning without a scratch on him.
And he still brings down a helicopter from a moving speedboat at extreme range with that silly beretta pop-gun.
Andrew Scott (Sherlock) basically reprises his Moriarty, dialled-down to about half his usual lunacy. Ben Wishaw (Paddington, Suffragette) gets to be nerdy and quirky as Q; Ralph Fiennes (Potter, Grand Budapest Hotel) does an oddly strangled Churchillian performance.
Christoph Waltz (Inglourious, Django) is a bonkers, foreign, psychopathic, evil genius, complete with white cat (oops, spoiler); and two thirds of the way through the movie you realise they’ve unforgivably stolen the plot from the third Austin Powers (oops, spoiler) at which point his hi-tech call centre, sorry, lair, just adds to the unintended comedy. Donald Pleasance had a whole volcano, Waltz gets a minor meteor crater and the Egyptian desert Ramada hotel, complete with dodgy gas fittings.
But it’s the Bond girls who get short shrift. Former field agent Moneypenny (Naomi Harris) is reduced to secretarial support. Monica Belluci (Matrix trilogy) gets clinically seduced in a manner very like predatory abuse. Leading lady Lea Seydoux (MI4, Robin Hood) is very good, but mostly decorative; you can see she gets on with Craig in their scenes together, but there’s zero sexual chemistry to carry the plot.
So I suppose the thing to do is admire the techical merit of a well-executed action movie, with a stunning car chase through Rome and a great (if cheated) extended single-take opening sequence. Bond wrecks a plane in a thrilling self-parody of a Roger Moore/Pierce Brosnan set-piece.
There’s nothing wrong with Daniel Craig’s performance; how he manages to take this stuff seriously is a tribute to his acting skills. But Bonds, like politicians, all end in failure, as does this in Craig’s supposed moment of triumph. Time to bow out gracefully while we start the betting on the next Bond and the next re-boot. RC
Director: Sam Mendez
Writers: John Logan, Neal Purvis, Robert Wade, Jez Butterworth
Genre: Action, Adventure
Running time: 2hrs 20mins
Cast: Daniel Craig, Lea Seydoux, Monica Belluci, Ralph Fiennes, Christopher Waltz, Ben Wishaw, Naomi Harris, Dave Bautista, Rory Kinnear
Related: Spooks: The Greater Good (2015)