Starring: Daniel Craig (The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo), Christoph Waltz (Inglourious Basterds), Léa Seydoux (Blue is the Warmest Colour), Dave Bautista (Guardians of the Galaxy), Naomie Harris (28 Days Later), Ben Whishaw (Paddington), Andrew Scott (Locke), Monica Bellucci (The Matrix Reloaded), Ralph Fiennes (The Grand Budapest Hotel)
Director: Sam Mendes (American Beauty)
Writers: John Logan (Gladiator) and Neal Purvis & Robert Wade (Skyfall) and Jez Butterworth (Edge of Tomorrow)
Runtime: 2 hour 28 minutes
Release Date: 26 October (UK), 9 November (US)
After such a spectacular outing in Skyfall, the James Bond series had a lot to live up to. Expectations for Spectre rose through the roof, but all it really had to do was match its predecessor and all would be right. Considering it has most of the same team in front of and behind the camera, you’d think there’d be at least some guarantee of that. Unfortunately, that’s not the case with Spectre but that’s not simply just because it’s not as good as Skyfall. Explaining how is going to be hard in a spoiler-free context, but I’ll try my best.
Spectre feels like the conclusion of a trilogy in many ways (if you consider Quantum of Solace as an epilogue to Casino Royale that you can just skip), with many events from the previous Daniel Craig Bond films referenced and brought to light from new perspectives. After Skyfall reintroduced many of the classic Bond elements back into the fold, Spectre picks up on that road and is the first movie in the series in a long time to truly feel like a classic Bond film. However, it perhaps goes too far in that direction. It never becomes cheesy, managing to balance a wonderful line between serious and fun better than any of Craig’s previous films, but it does heavily rely on series formula and rehashing ideas from previous films. Again, hard to say without spoiling everything, but this should help: if you didn’t like Star Trek Into Darkness, you probably won’t like Spectre for the same reasons. The film’s first two acts are fantastic and filled to the brim with exciting action sequences, witty banter and good character moments, but it’s the third act where the movie’s problems show their head and it irreversibly taints the rest of the experience. The pacing is extremely tight for such a long film and the plot does add up on a logic level (even though several elements feel stolen right out of this summer’s Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation), but the film by this point so heavily relies on cliché that pretty much all tension is removed from the climax.
Daniel Craig has taken a long time to grow into the role of James Bond, but now that suit fits him like a glove. He’s still a brutal killer who takes no nonsense, but he’s grown a lot more sensitive and facetious since his early days chasing bomb makers through construction sites. I’d argue it’s Craig’s best performance in the series so far, but I don’t really see where the character can go from here; with Craig signed on for one more picture, I don’t know what more they can do with this interpretation of the character. Naomie Harris, Ben Whishaw and Ralph Fiennes all return from Skyfall as Moneypenny, Q and M respectively, and all remain perfectly suited to their roles even if the story constantly has to stretch to find ways to insert them into the story. Christoph Waltz plays exactly the sort of villain you’d expect Christoph Waltz to play in a Bond movie and, whilst his performance is entertaining, it does feel a little cartoony in places; he is practically one step away from exclaiming “No, Mr. Bond. I expect you to die!” Léa Seydoux makes an excellent Bond Girl as Madeleine Swann, balancing brains, brawn and allure perfectly…except for any time the plot needs a damsel and then she suddenly becomes useless; seriously, I could accept getting captured once, but twice? Dave Bautista is fantastic during his scenes as the tight-lipped Hinx but his screen time is cut abruptly and unceremoniously short, Andrew Scott’s C is so blatantly evil that he practically holds a sign exclaiming it when he enters his first scene, and Monica Bellucci feels totally wasted in a role that only serves two purposes: exposition and sex.
Sam Mendes surprised us all with his excellent handle on action in Skyfall, and in this department Spectre potentially tops it. From the opening Day of the Dead sequence to the car chase through Rome, the pursuit through the Austrian alps and the final showdown in home turf London, Spectre presents fantastic set pieces that are about as ludicrous as a Bond movie can get anymore without delving into Roger Moore territory. Hoyte Van Hoytema’s cinematography is beautifully lit and operated, which is clear from the film’s long opening shot that weaves through a parade, into a building, up an elevator, into a hotel room and back out onto the rooftops without a single clear cut. The fight choreography and stunt work is excellently done, especially a brutal train brawl between Craig and Bautista, which is further helped by crisp, well-timed editing. Thomas Newman’s score fits perfectly to the action and incorporates plenty of classic melodies, but the film’s theme “Writing’s On the Wall” by Sam Smith is extremely underwhelming; his melancholic voice is a poor fit for a Bond theme, lacking the power and personality which empowered all of the series’ best songs.
If Casino Royale is this franchise’s Batman Begins and Skyfall is The Dark Knight, then Spectre is The Dark Knight Rises: a solid film, great in certain aspects, but seriously flawed in important places. I know I’ve been negative throughout most of this review, but the movie is still a fun ride whilst it lasts. Craig’s performance and the action sequences are better than ever, but it treads on too much hallowed ground and samples previous work instead of reworking it into new material. Many Bond purists have claimed that the Daniel Craig films strayed too far from the franchise norm. Now if those same people complain that Spectre is too similar to other films in the series, they only have themselves to blame.
FINAL VERDICT: 7.5/10