This review is spoiler-free but I’ll go into much more detail later in the week when “SPECTRE” gets the full “Craggus’ Bond Voyage” treatment.
There’s a reassuringly familiar feel to “SPECTRE”; it hews much closer to the classic Bond films of the past than any of Daniel Craig’s previous outings, continuing the trajectory set in “Skyfall”. It even starts with the traditional gun barrel sequence!
The pre-credits sequence is possibly one of the finest ever for the series: stylish, action-packed and utterly thrilling as Bond pursues his target in Mexico City during the Day of the Dead festival. Sam Smith’s divisive theme tune won’t manage to change your mind about it, even when accompanied by the spectacular visuals of the opening credits but once the dreary lamentations have finished you’re into the meat of the story.
And a meaty tale it is too. Unusually for a Bond movie, we’re treated to several ongoing story threads which eventually dovetail into an explosive finale. Although it’s still very much a Bond movie, there’s an almost ensemble feel at times as M (Ralph Feinnes), Moneypenny (Naomie Harris) and Q (Ben Wishaw) get more to do than ever before. Even trusty old Bill Tanner (Rory Kinnear) gets to have a bit of fun, even if he doesn’t look like he’s enjoying it.
Veteran Bond writers John Logan, Neal Purvis and Robert Wade set out to write a love letter to the Bond movies, reaching back not only to envelop “Casino Royale”, “Quantum Of Solace” and “Skyfall” into an over-arching ultimate conspiracy but also hitting many of the high notes of the entire Bond back catalogue. The plot feels ‘ripped from the front pages’ but the film prefers to focus on the Bond’s more personal quest, leaving the supporting characters to pursue the larger threat.
With Sam Mendes back in the Director’s chair the film again looks amazing and oozes class. Reputed production overruns and a spiralling budget heading northwards of $300million doesn’t seem to be wasted. The stunt work is again top-notch even if some of the sequences, like the car chase through the night-time streets of Rome, feel more like box-ticking than genuine narrative requirements. The unusually star-studded guest cast add to the air of class although neither Monica Bellucci or Dave Bautista actually get much to do. Léa Seydoux, on the other hand, makes a fantastic Bond girl, much more in the substantial mould of Vesper Lynd than the disposable heroines of past Bonds even if her journey from suspicious mistrust to breathless love is a bit sudden. The villains of the piece are decent value but neither really hits top speed in their respective roles. Christoph Waltz’ performance is a little too smug to achieve the menacing charm he has brought to previous roles whereas Andrew Scott simply phones in a Moriarty-light and picks up a paycheck.
While action-packed and intriguing, the film has a curiously languid pace. It’s not necessarily a bad thing but the generous running time of 148 minutes may provoke some fidgeting. The camera lingers lovingly on the many exotic vistas and spectacular locations and a surprising amount of the film occurs without dialogue yet still manages to convey the story.
More expansive than its predecessor yet still oddly domestically rooted, “SPECTRE” fails to make the next leap on from “Skyfall” but doesn’t fall back either. It’s a glossy, action-travelogue that feels both fresh and familiar. He might be taciturn and dismissive in interviews but Daniel Craig is a great Bond and is clearly still enjoying it.