Dir: Sam Mendes
Sam Mendes and James Bond are clearly a good partnership as this film follows on the success of ‘Skyfall’ and capitalises on it while coming close to, though not quite matching, its heights.
Bond goes rogue to fulfil one last request for the late M, doing so unexpectedly encountering an old face from his past while the current M struggles with a new global surveillance initiative threatening to end the ’00’ programme.
Daniel Craig really feels at home in the role now, like a well-worn pair of shoes. In the opening scene he lightly skips along rooftops while on a mission, sure, at ease, comfortable. I expect Mendes feels the same, after the pressure of delivering ‘Skyfall’ in the year of the 50th anniversary of the film franchise and it turning into the biggest success yet, here he can relax a little as he knows what he’s doing.
The plot touches on so many current concerns of terrorism and surveillance, reminding me more than a little bit of ‘Captain America: The Winter Soldier‘ though this is not a criticism in the slightest. These themes are perfectly relevant and roots the story in a certain degree of reality rather than some of the previous Bond movies and their villains with the most outlandish plans. The villains this time have wide-reaching technological plans, also at times getting physical. While rooted in reality it doesn’t skimp on spectacle. Chases, explosions, there are a few scenes involving helicopters that are enough to put you off ever wanting to fly in one, the effects in scenes such as these and others are superb.
Dave Batista embodies the ‘strong silent type’ as a hands-on assassin, if you think he didn’t say much in ‘Guardians of the Galaxy‘ think again. He’s very effectively cast as the muscle here and makes a brutal eye-popping entrance in his first scene and maintains the imposing presence right through his whole performance, a nice reminder off the henchmen of past Bond films. The real ‘baddie’ of the piece though is Christoph Waltz who seemed almost destined to become a Bond villain. As you might expect he is excellent as Oberhauser, though he’s fantastic and very intimidating I don’t think he was very menacing, his threats are strong and his methods harsh but Javier Bardem’s villain Silva in ‘Skyfall’ was more memorable and felt menacing with more of a biting edge to his performance. Maybe the way Oberhausen controls himself is the point though, there’s something oppressive about him and the way he feels almost methodical and paced in everything he does.
There are a couple of Bond girls, Moneypenny (Naomie Harris) returns in a nicely active role getting out from behind her desk though she and Bond don’t get any more romantic than some mild flirting. Bond also has a brief fling with an age-appropriate widow (Monica Bellucci), while the main female role goes to the much younger Lea Seydoux. Sadly while her performance is great, I felt there’s nothing really outstanding about her character, she displays intelligence, independence and toughness, but there’s nothing hugely distinctive about her to set her above the ‘Bond girls’ who have come before her.
What does stand out far more is the locations, with Mexico City, London, Rome and Austria all featured beautifully and to good effect. When Bond causes widespread destruction as he has the habit of doing, the effects are perfectly merged beautifully with the locations rather than looking like the whole mise-en-scene was created on a computer. You can clearly see that the film was shot on location and the contrasts of sunny and snowy, city and wilderness, all add such vibrant and diverse architecture and scenery while reinforcing the global impact of the villainous plans in the storyline and proving that not all world-changing crises revolve around the United States of America. While Bond spends the majority of the film outside of the U.K. the recurring characters maintain a brilliant sense of ‘Britishness’ that always helps set Bond films apart from American spy thrillers.
‘SPECTRE’ also references the other Daniel Craig bond films a lot, really making his set of films in the franchise work together as a unit. The franchise now feels completely rebooted rather than just continued as it has been before, with new actors taking on so many of the roles and designations, not only the eponymous lead but the fully involved Moneypenny, M, Q and others with the producers clearly feeling bold enough to re-tread previously memorably inhabited ground.
It’s a smart move, creating a Bond for a new generation, though while I don’t see Daniel Craig relinquishing the licence to kill imminently, I do winder how well the current franchise will transition to a new actor inhabiting the role of Bond as and when the inevitable happens. After seeing this, I think it wouldn’t be handled as before, but rather would require a complete reboot and retool of the franchise all over again, so I’m hoping there are at least a couple more films to come out of the current ensemble as I think it’s really working.