* * THIS REVIEW CONTAINS SPOILERS * *
“007, what is your status?”
“Nothing new to report, ma’am …”
SPECTRE is the 24th film in the Bond series to reach the big screen. It had all the right ingredients: director with previous success within the franchise, stunning Bond girl in the form of the voluptuous Monica Bellucci, and one of the most charismatic villains recent cinema has seen. Yet, despite all of this, the latest instalment of the British secret agent left me neither shaken nor stirred …
The opening sequence is both the best and worst thing to happen to the film. It’s so wonderfully paced, expertly shot and quintessentially Bond, that it leads you to think that the rest of the film will follow suit. Sadly, none of what follows even comes close. Mendes opens the film with the Dia de los Muertos celebrations in Mexico City. The bustling crowds and plethora of skeletal masques establish a sense of tension and excitement from the offset. A close-up of one of the masques reveals the steely blue gaze of the British governments most famous double-oh. Bond is back.
The action builds through a dramatic and bracing sequence of events: shots are fired, buildings crumble, bombs rip through the city. Bond, chasing his latest mark, races through the hoards of jubilant festival-goers, before leaping on to a helicopter intended for the mysterious villain’s escape. The fight which then ensues is nothing short of spectacular. One particular shot sees Bond dangle the white-suited criminal from the chopper, with a vertiginous view of the frightened, scattering crowds below.
Daniel Kleinman’s ensuing title sequence is as elegant and impressive as any other. For those doubting the quality of Sam Smith’s Writing’s On The Wall, see it mesh with the stunning visuals and think again. It’s perfect. A sinous black tentacle winds its way around Bond’s gun; Daniel Craig’s piercing blue eyes penetrate the screen, before his iris’ turn to fire. Undulating women evaporate in to a cool grey smoke whilse images of the previous M (Dame Judi Dench) and his former nemesis Raoul Silva (Javier Bardem) shatter in to a thousand shards of glass. Perhaps a comment on the transient nature of those who feature in Bond’s life.
Unfortunately, this is where the film peaks. Maybe it is difficult to ever truly live up to the amount of speculation, advertising and teasers that have led to Spectre. But for a piece of what I would call “event cinema”, I felt every minute of the two and a half hours running time (making it the longest Bond to date, pipping Casino Royale by four minutes).
SPECTRE fails to deliver on several main points. Monica Bellucci – a wonderfully talented actress, as well as being nothing short of physical perfection – barely features in the film for more than five minutes. Her role as Lucia Scarra is so small and two-dimensional, she is just another of Bond’s conquests, cast aside and never mentioned again. Lea Seydoux as Madeleine Swann is a poor alternative, and she never really seems to ease into her role. She doesn’t possess enough personality and charisma to be a credible love interest.
Dave Bautista performs an interesting role as Mr. Hinx: a giant henchman with immaculately painted thumbnails. His flair for eye gouging, strangulation and hitting women is quite alarming. The fight sequence he shares with Bond on the train is refreshing in that, for once, you actually see Bond get his ass handed to him by someone who towers over him physically. It’s not a straightforward fight. More than that, Hinx is not afraid to strike Swann to the floor either, which is relatively unusual. Despite that, the car chase between this Richard Kiel-sized brute and Bond is lacklustre. It’s a sad day when – driving a stunning white Aston Martin DB10 – Bond finds time to make a phone call back home.
Anyone that knows me well enough will know the extreme fury and grief I felt at the loss of Dame Judi as M. Ralph Fiennes just does not cut it. The man only acts with his bottom row of teeth; every other part of his face is entirely motionless at all times. Any time he delivered a quip or a rebuke, I couldn’t help but imagine how La Dench would have said it. Andrew Scott as Max Denbigh – or C – suffers from the same fate as Bellucci. He simply isn’t given enough screen time to develop his character beyond a smarmy man in a suit, rubbing his hands gleefully like a caricature of a real villain.
Moreoever – and here comes the not-so-giant-spoiler – the revelation that Franz Oberhauser (Christoph Waltz) is actually Ernst Stavro Blofeld seems lazy. From the moment he first emerges from the shadows with the grey, Mao-style collar, it’s fairly clear where his character is headed. The appearance of the much-parodied white cat only serves to confirm this. Despite strenuous denials in interviews and teasers that Waltz was the famous Bond baddie, it was always a case of Mendes protesting too much.
But it’s not all bad. What SPECTRE does manage to achieve is several neat moments of beauty and clever homages to its predecessors. The bullet holes Bond makes in his attempt to shoot Blofeld form a subtle version of the SPECTRE octopus in the shattered glass. Blofeld, when injured, crawls along the pavement like an octopus washed up on the shore; floundering and uncertain.
I did like the way SPECTRE made a conscious effort to drop in little notes from other films. It really emphasises the consistency of the franchise by solidifying 53 years and 24 adventures in several interesting strands. The masques in the Dia de los Muertos parade are a clear nod to Baron Samedi in Live And Let Die. There are references to Le Chiffre, Silva and Vesper Lynd. (One glaring omission is that of Dominic Greene and Quantum of Solace. Is Mendes choosing to believe that it never happened, either?) Judi Dench makes one last appearance as M, via video link.
The most interesting use of nostalgia drops some incredibly heavy clues as to where the franchise might be headed. The alpine sequence set in Austria is perhaps the biggest hint yet that Bond is about to get Lanzenbied. Again. Craig’s Bond is so sure that Madeleine Swann is another of his great loves, and she certainly wants to remove him from his life of espionage to have a ‘normal’ relationship. But is that possible, given that Blofeld is still alive at the end of the film, and therefore remains a threat to Bond? Remember what happened to Bond’s last great love once a certain Blofeld laid his eyes on her in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service?
With Daniel Craig’s fate as the British super-spy up for debate, it remains to be seen what lies in store for Bond. Certainly, Mendes seems to be setting up a mild attempt at regenerating the idea of a more romantic, settled Bond. Perhaps Craig will succeed where Lazenby failed. Whatever Bond 25 brings, it has to offer more than than the lazy plot lines and under-developed characters of SPECTRE.