After my disappointment with Skyfall and the overall direction Sam Mendes appeared to be taking Daniel Craig’s Bond (and then the early trickle of negative buzz surrounding Spectre), I have to admit to spending the first hour and a half of this being both thrilled and relieved. This was great! Bond seemed to have his mojo back- being more like the cold, tough assassin from Casino Royale than the tired grump he was throughout most of Skyfall. The opening scene is punchy and exciting, and scatters a series of breadcrumbs for Bond to follow that will ultimately lead to the enigmatic puppet-master behind not only Quantum and its terrorist affiliates, but other even more personal events in Bond’s past. Meanwhile, M and the 00 program are under threat from bureaucracy at home; forcing Bond and his team to go rogue once again to uncover the ultimate mystery before they are shut down forever…
Action wise, it’s a step up from the relatively flaccid Skyfall with a much more deadly Bond (Craig kicks a lot of ass here). When he punches opponents you can almost feel the wind being knocked out of you as well as them. And for the first time he’s matched- perhaps bettered- by his first ever worthy physical opponent in the hulking form of Dave Bautista’s menacing (and silent) Mr Hinx: a truly deadly assassin-for-hire with a terrifyingly unique method of passing job interviews. He gets arguably the movie’s best action set piece; one that will recall memories of a certain scene from From Russia with Love. It’s disappointing he doesn’t get more screen time.
The Bond girls here are also slightly disappointing in terms of their impact. Monica Bellucci’s character for example has little to no screen time- never getting the opportunity to be the ‘match’ for Bond she could easily have been. Lea Seydoux fares much better, but she doesn’t have quite the same chemistry as the much more fleshed out (and attractive) Vesper played by Eva Green. At first it seems like she could be, but her ‘resistance’ to Bond's charms doesn’t last, despite her initial assertions to the contrary. She’s also not particularly developed other than having a personal connection to a key character.
The home team are all present and correct. M gets to grapple with an invasive MI5 merger, while Moneypenny and Q provide Bond’s in-the-field support. Ben Whishaw is likeable, but despite some humorous and well-timed banter between Q and Bond, he ends up being little more than the obligatory computer geek; clattering away at keyboards before the clock runs out.
The story, such as it is, starts off well as Bond follows hunts his elusive quarry around the world joining dots as he goes, leading to some interesting (if contrived) revelations that tie together the entirety of the Craig run of films. There’s a superb scene with Jesper Christenden (Mr White), which sets the tone and further establishes Bond to be up against an organisation even more sinister and far reaching than previously thought.
This all plays out well for much of the movie- right up until the aforementioned locomotive action scene. It’s in the last hour- when we finally get to meet the head of the snake – that Spectre takes an unfortunate nose-dive. Mendes has, to his credit, attempted to set up a world in which the excesses of the Connery/Moore era make believable sense. And he continues the work done in Skyfall to try to marry the two Bondiverses into a satisfying whole. Unfortunately he fumbles it with the main antagonist. Christoph Waltz’s talents are wasted in an ultimately laughable villain who’s identify is obvious from the off and who’s menace never lives up to the build up. As with Silva before him, we have the posturing, the monologues, the grand entrance, the over-elaborate schemes, the unnecessarily slow mechanisms and the homoerotic obsession with Bond. During a key scene I found myself internally screaming: “just shoot him!” And there’s of course an inexplicable ‘things exploding’ desert escape that further establishes we are now-for better or worse- in old school territory. But in a post-Austin Powers world its just too hard to take seriously. The following, and final, act is a pantomime of absurd contrivance and convenience and is almost too silly for words; rendering Waltz completely impotent as what was supposed to be the ‘villain to end all villains’.
Despite a promising start then, Daniel Craig’s 007 limps off screen possibly for the final time, never having relived the glories of his first remarkable outing in 2006 but fortunately leaving the franchise in better shape than he found it.