Bond: not so dark, with a surprising climax
If Casino Royale, Quantum of Solace and Skyfall were a trilogy, then what, one wonders, is Spectre?
It’s a beginning that feels like an ending, teasing deeper character insight while at the same time rehashing questions posed in many a Bond movie before it: Why do you live this life, James? Are women interchangeable to you? Do you ever think what would happen if you just stopped? Are you, and the organisation you work for, obsolete? Are these ever really answered? Mostly not.
Directed incredibly atmospherically by Sam Mendes, Spectre sucks you into a shadowy world of illuminati-like organisations, crumbling institutions and the modern idea that CCTV is the answer to everything. There is nowhere for James to hide, even his blood is monitored, and nowhere for him to turn, as MI6 is dissolved, leaving him a rogue agent up against his deadliest and most familiar foe.
Daniel Craig is solid, as always. While arguably delivering his best performance in Skyfall, he nevertheless carries the film admirably, and a little more freely without the nagging weight of Judi Dench’s M. He has great support too, with Ben Whishaw (Q), Naomie Harris (Moneypenny) and Ralph Fiennes (M) all shining in expanded roles. It is a pity, then, that touted ‘oldest Bond girl ever’ Monica Bellucci, is reduced to nothing more than five minutes of screen time.
The real female star here is Lea Seydoux as Madeleine Swann, daughter of an old foe, who Bond promises to protect. Comparisons with Eva Green’s Vesper and the chemistry she and Craig shared are inevitable because Madeleine is declared by the villain to be Bond’s match and the only one who could understand him. Unfortunately, their romance is too fast and forced to fully support that theory (and the ending).
Christoph Waltz is very good at being simultaneously charming and menacing, and he plays that to great effect here. Stepping into the shoes of such a legendary villain is a hard job, but a new approach to his character means that he well and truly makes the role his own. However, revelations later in the film almost negate the three villains before him.
The climax is surprising, especially considering the bleaker endings of the other Craig films. On one hand it’s a nice change, but on the other, it is (without giving anything away) a bit unsatisfying.
However, restored gun barrel sequence and all, Spectre is an entertaining and ambitious entry into the James Bond series. Violent, personal, and yet not nearly as dark as its predecessor, it continues the excellent standard Casino Royale introduced. Here’s hoping we never go back to invisible cars and Madonna cameos.
General release: (148 mins)
Rating: ****(*) (and a half)