The spectre of discontent began with the release of that awful, wailing Sam Smith theme, probably just behind Madonna’s Die Another Day for WORST BOND THEME EVER.
It’s not all bad though. The best part of Bond 24 might be its traditional cold open, this time in Mexico City at a timely (for its Halloween release) Dia de Muertos parade for Bond to chase his quarry in, out and eventually over in a stunning chopper sequence. It’s a gliding, accomplished tracking shot that would make Birdman DoP Emmanuel Lebezki swoon. It might be one of the franchise’s biggest achievements.
Other key actions beats include a brutal train fistfight and a nice car chase around the curiously empty side-streets of Rome. This chase is imbued the sort of class Chris McQuarrie has been bringing to his chases in MI: Rogue Nation and Jack Reacher – a sort of 70’s realism and immediacy. For the most part, the crests of these set pieces are punctuated with great gags – crucial for making a good action sequence memorable. However, they’re a strung along a plot that makes 00-sense.
The universally adored Skyfall may have burdened Mendes and co. with an unfounded faith in their storytelling abilities – since Javier Bardem’s antagonist employed a peculiar prescience to sidestep most of his obstacles (or at least a good memory for train timetables). Maybe Her Majesty the Queen officially certified Bondplay veterans Neal Purvis and Robert Wade, and other writers John Logan and Jez Butterwoth with a licence to kill … plot. Is this a case of too many scribes spoiling the Bond? I hope so, because the alternative is that they’ve collectively lost all respect for their audience.
Christoph Waltz knocks it out of the park with his rendition of the quintessential cat stroker – Blofeld, but his interplay with Bond is robbed of satisfaction because all one-up-manship – all aces-up-sleeves – only make sense in a sort of dream logic. As a result, a horrible retcon of the other Craig-Bond entries doesn’t play like the sinister reveal its supposed to be, and when Bond starts to steal plot ideas from the Austin Powers series – that’s how you know something has really gone wrong.
Craig cranks his nonchalance levels to Maximum Nonchalance, which proves to be the biggest weight the film has to carry. We’ve just been through his origin arc. He learned to deal with his tortured past. The end of Skyfall promised his actualisation. He should be a bit over it by now. He’s more psychopathic than usual here, and we aren’t presented with a reasonable way to sympathise with him.
And what to do with the Bond Girl in 2015? Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation just gave us a mysterious femme fatale with her own motivations, convictions and set of skills. An Ethan-Equal. Spectre aims as high with Léa Seydoux’s character Madeleine Swann. Their intentions ultimately fall short though because, even though she gets to kick a token amount of ass, her role frequently defaults to princess in the tower. The romance that develops between them does so too easily, and in the shadow of Casino Royale’s Vesper Lynd it eventually starts to feel unearned.
M (Ralph Fiennes), Q (Ben Wishaw) and up-to-no-good surveillance advocate C (Andrew Scott – Moriarty! Or as I prefer, Donal! From Locke) get to run their own side plot befitting actors of their calibre. Dave Bautista follows up his Guardians of the Galaxy debut by chewing up chunks of the scenery as the legitimately scary henchman Hinx. Moneypenny regular Naomie Harris also shows up at intervals, but in a role significantly reduced from her Skyfall duties.
While Spectre’s shenanigans are something of a return to the campy milieu of Bond-lore, the tone is darker – trading Skyfall’s DoP Roger Deakins for master-of-bleak Hoyte Van Hoytema (Interstellar). Mendes hasn’t lost his feel for nostalgia, but he may have made an Empire when the world wanted a Jedi.
My recommendation? See it after a number of dry Martinis, and you won’t notice Bond driving his DB5 through plotholes bigger than his liver. Try to enjoy the explosions and the quips, and don’t think too hard.
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