After being bitterly disappointed by Skyfall I was hardly jumping with joy when it was announced that Sam Mendes was on board for another film. However, SPECTRE is a whole lot better.
Although Mendes is undoubtedly a talented director, there were too many elements of Skyfall that I disliked. While individually I would probably have been able to tolerate them, together they added up to too much to stomach. Technically it was excellent, but the story barely made sense. The supporting cast were mainly top notch, but Javier Bardem’s villain was straight off the set of Batman. The list goes on.
With that in mind I was careful to not let my hopes for SPECTRE get too high. And walking into the world première last Monday I was determined to enjoy the occasion.
To cut a long story short, I enjoyed it a lot. And with an absurd viewing angle in the Royal Albert Hall, I enjoyed it even more on Tuesday morning when I watched it in IMAX in Leicester Square. Visually it is a joy to behold.
While I aim to steer clear of major spoilers in the rest of this review, watch the latest addition to the James Bond films before reading on. With that said, let’s dive into SPECTRE.
The first thing I love about the film is the opening. I don’t mean the widely talked about opening shot in Mexico City, rather what comes before that. Yes, for the first time in a Daniel Craig Bond we have the traditional gun barrel accompanied by the James Bond Theme at the start. I can’t tell you how excited this made me feel, an adrenaline boost right before the film starts for real.
And then there is the incredible opening shot. It appears to be one continuous take without an edit that goes on for what seems like 90 seconds or two minutes. I don’t know if it was done with or without trickery but it is impressive.
As the pre-titles sequence unfolds the action builds up, interspersed with a bit of humour. The sequence culminates in a vertigo inducing finale, the first of several huge set piece action scenes that really get the heart racing.
No matter what you think of Sam Smith’s theme song you’ll be glad when it arrives, even if just for a break from the action. Although hardly a classic Bond theme, it works well in the context of the titles, which for me at least are far better than those of SPECTRE’s predecessor.
SPECTRE also has a love story. Perhaps the screenwriters realised that one of Casino Royale’s strong points was Bond’s relationship with Vesper Lynd. Harking back further there is On Her Majesty’s Secret Service too. Once derided, it is now a firm favourite of many fans.
It also has a few gadgets, enough humour and a few nods and winks to the fans of both the film series and of Ian Fleming’s books. Keep your eyes peeled throughout. The cinematography too is stunning, with shots of Rome at night one of the highlights.
However, while SPECTRE works well on a number of levels, it also fails on others. Although it contains some classic Bond elements, it is not a classic Bond movie. The screenplay appears to have been written around the action scenes and there is a sense of frantic racing from one set piece action scene to another.
One of the pleasures of the books and early films is the sense of travelling somewhere, the locations almost another character in the plot. That has been lacking for a long time now, with locations replaced by constant country hopping. How many continents does a Bond film really need?
The respite is always welcome when it comes, but SPECTRE never slows down long enough. Just as music can benefit from the use of silence, so an action movie can be heightened by knowing when to slow down and focus on the characters. In particular the relationship between Bond and Madeleine Swann should have been developed more.
In fact SPECTRE is almost like two films edited down to two and a half hours. There is too much in it but it doesn’t feel like a long film either. Was John Logan’s proposed two film story arc perhaps condensed into a single film?
The plot resonates with today’s concerns about all-seeing intelligence services. Ironically, given the Sony hack, it explores what happens when that data gets into the wrong hands.
However, let’s compare two Bond films. In one the villain gets hold of two nuclear weapons and threatens to detonate them unless the West pays up in gold bullion. In the other the villain plans on getting his hands on intelligence data to terrorise the world.
Which sounds scarier to you?
And once again the script is underdeveloped. Despite Oscar winner John Logan writing early drafts of the script, Neal Purvis and Robert Wade were brought back into the Bond family to try and resolve problems with his draft. Jez Butterworth was then hired to polish it further.
But still the end of the film is problematic. Again, visually it is impressive, but it lacks the kind of resolution you might expect to find in a Bond film and quite frankly is a mess.
And yet again the plot requires that Bond goes rogue. In fact, not only does Bond go rogue, but so does M, Moneypenny, Tanner and Q.
I have a radical suggestion for Bond 25. How about this as a tagline: “This time it’s NOT personal”?
And talking about getting personal, why oh why oh why did anyone think it was a good idea that Blofeld would turn out to be Bond’s step-brother? That was a detail that was simply not needed.
Nor was linking Blofeld to Daniel Craig’s three previous Bond outings. In fact, Blofeld is largely wasted as Denbigh would have sufficed as the villain. The film makers would have been better advised to introduce Blofeld as a shadowy character in the background, much like the early Bond movies. First introduce SPECTRE as an organisation and later bring in Blofeld. And anyway, why did Blofeld not explain what the initials SPECTRE stand for?
And some other niggles. I was expecting Monica Bellucci to have a far larger role and while Hinx is a great henchman, alas, he is dispatched far too soon. I kept expecting Hinx to pop up again and the film would have benefited something akin to the stand-off with Oddjob in Goldfinger.
The car chase is impressive, but it is let down by having Bond spend much of the time on the phone rather than focusing on his driving and so lacks the real dramatic tension necessary to truly great car chase. In fact, SPECTRE lacks dramatic tension throughout.
There is a gruelling torture scene too, with dialogue taken directly from Kingsley Amis’s Colonel Sun. But while it is agony to watch, is it any more effective than the knotted rope used by Le Chiffre in Casino Royale? Sometimes keeping things simple is more effective.
While I’ve raised a lot of negatives, I did truly enjoy SPECTRE and can’t wait to see it again when it is released here in Spain. However, it isn’t the kind of Bond film I want from EON Productions.
And I still feel they have never made a classic James Bond film that wasn’t based closely on an Ian Fleming novel.
Order SPECTRE online. Available in the US and UK from February.