Spectre starring Daniel Craig, Lea Seydoux, Christoph Waltz and Dave Bautista
Warning: Major Spoilers
The expectation for a bond film had never been higher. Skyfall was a record breaking entry that set the bar pretty high in terms of quality – there’s a reason it came top of my Best bonds list – beautifully directed, with a great theme song, an unsettling performance from Javier Bardem and a marvellous final set piece, it was excellent. So did Spectre live up to the hype?
The start is very promising, as it begins with arguably the best opening sequence as Bond stalks a target through the ‘Day of the Dead’ festival in Mexico City in one stylish tracking shot that shows director Sam Mendes hasn’t lost any of his touch. The highlight of the opening sequence is a spectacular prolonged fight aboard a helicopter – which is the first of this films major strength – it’s set pieces. The one problem I had with Skyfall was that the set pieces were infrequent and the opening bike chase in Istanbul was pretty dull – which is a problem when you don’t have too many action pieces in a film. Spectre is far more ambitious – it’s set pieces are bigger and more numerous – though as a consequence it loses some of the careful plotting that helped Skyfall build up to its spectacular finale.
The opening titles are among the best I can remember in a bond film – whatever you think of Sam Smith’s ‘Writing’s on the Wall’ (personally I like it, though he’s no Adele) it fits in perfectly with the stylish visuals. It also features the first of many references back to the previous Craig films – as images of Silva and M fleetingly pass by. This film has more continuity with previous films than the series has gone for since Connery and Lazenby battled Blofeld and Spectre (in its first incarnation) repeatedly in the original 7 bond films. The new ‘Spectre’ links all the villains from the previous Craig films – Le Chiffre, Mr White, Green, Silva – through its own villain in Franz Obenhauser and this helps the film feel like the culmination of Craig’s story arc.
Christoph Waltz gets even less screentime as Obenhauser than Javier Bardem in Skyfall, though his creepy, understated performance is effective. His childhood connection to Bond isn’t as effective as you’d hope (we could have really used a flashback during the sequence in Morocco – although the film is already a long one so I understand why they didn’t). Fortunately he is backed up not only by the rest of the Spectre organisation but a superb pair of supporting villains – Andrew Scott as a amoral civil servant trying to scrap the 00 section (and sharing more than a few pointed confrontations with Ralph Fiennes’ M) and Dave Bautista’s humourless henchman Mr Hinx (who has about 1 line of dialogue but is still the most memorable henchman since Jaws or Oddjob).
Hinx is one of the best things in the film (and also the reason it shouldn’t be a 12A – his level of brutality is well above that). After a Game of Thrones style execution of a Spectre member he has 3 confrontations with Bond – in two vehicle chases (including a car with gadgets for the first time in the Craig era), in Rome and Austria, before a truly brutal train fight with Bond in Morocco – it’s rare to see Bond outmatched in combat, but even with help from Lea Seydoux’s Madeline Swann he barely survives a bout with Hinx – a sequence which left most people in the cinema breathless, and seemed even more brutal by the lack of any music. Speaking of music, Thomas Newman’s effective score last time is replaced by a far more pulsating, bombastic accompaniment on this occasion. The film loses something after Hinx’s inevitable exit, while the finale in London works, Waltz isn’t as menacing without Hinx and the Morocco section is probably the weakest part of the film.
Lea Seydoux is easily the best Bond girl since Eva Green and the rest of the actors all give their best. I particularly liked Q’s interactions with M and Bond, showing even more how well suited Ben Whishaw is to the role. Naomie Harris’ Moneypenny has also had more to do in two films than the other versions did in 20. I like the MI6 ensemble so I’m not complaining that this film gave them a bit more to do. I also hope this is Craig’s last film – not because he’s bad, far from it he’s probably the best of the lot (yes even better than Connery – after all Craig’s never had a bad performance whereas Connery was downright terrible in Diamonds are forever) but because the ending of this film (and the overall feel of it) was a perfect way for him to end his tenure.
Overall, Spectre boasts some fantastic set pieces and some terrific performances and ties the four Craig films together perfectly – however the film itself lacks Skyfall’s cohesion in the second half. Its not a flawless effort, but its a highly enjoyable one.
Rating: 4.5 out of 5
For anyone wondering how Spectre fits into my Best and Worst Bond films – it would come 4th, behind Skyfall, Goldfinger and Casino Royale. However while it may not be the best Bond film, it might just be my favourite.