|UK Release Date||26th October 2015|
|Starring||Craig, Seydoux, Waltz|
|Reviewed||27th October 2015|
James Bond is in many ways my longest relationship, going back further than I can properly remember and mostly involving repeats screened on ITV during school holidays. A super spy stopped only by the immovable force of the News at Ten, never by the increasingly nefarious villains he encounters. For what its worth, the Bond of my youth was always Roger Moore. I was way too young to sneer at the camp eyebrow raising or the increasing level of incredulity bought about by a man heading rapidly towards his sixties bedding Grace Jones. But sneer I did at the Brosnan years, which, after a promising start and some good ideas was at the end of the day was just too smooth for school. Casino Royale then was an absolute blast of fresh air, quickly turned stagnant by Quantum of Solace then party restored by the way too long Skyfall (actually five minutes shorter than this movie).
But still, there is something about a Bond premiere that raises the hairs on your neck. Not the Bond premiere that the Royals get to, I’m still a distance from that but at least the premiere of a new Bond movie and the advance word on Spectre was good. Sam Mendes was back, Daniel Craig was back, new Q Ben Wishaw was back and once again we had respectable actors attempting to make something of the poisoned chalice that is a Bond Girl. So it was with a great deal of excitement that I headed off to the Everyman Cinema Bond night. For the sake of getting this out of the way, Everyman put on a superb show. Expensive yes, but excellent work. Champagne, cocktails, plenty of food, little boxes of chocolates, sweets and popcorn awaiting us on our sofas. Gold star.
The opening of Casino Royale is the platinum standard now for Bond pre-credits sequences, that foot chase thrills even on repeated viewing. Mendes almost pulls off something as impressive, but falls agonisingly short. The opening tracking shot, which I swear covers a good ten or so minutes is magnificent, to the point where I felt a genuine loss when it cut to a closeup of Bond. The ensuing chase and helicopter carnage is wonderfully Bond, even down to a couple of slightly ropy green screen shots. It’s a classic setup for Bond, out of his remit but never out of his element and sets up a great tension between the spy and new M (Ralph Fiennes).
From then on though, I’m still very much in two minds about the quality of this entry in the franchise. I think it probably depends a great deal on what you’re expecting from your millennial Bond and how much you’re prepared to forgive the old guy. The script for example, despite (or maybe because of) being credited to no less than four people, is a total dog’s dinner. Lines like “You've got a secret. Something you can't tell anyone, because you don't trust anyone.” crash out of character’s mouths at regular intervals. If he could tell anyone it wouldn’t be a secret for crying out loud. I’m not being pedantic for the sake of it, that line genuinely sums up the state of the script to the point where it really is noticeable.
In addition to the issues with mangling English, the script also throws up a number of highly dubious scenarios that end in Bond screwing the girl. Yes, I know this is Bond and that’s what he does but Fleming’s Bond (much like Fleming himself apparently) was also a racist and a homophobe and we seem to have dealt with those issues. I don’t mind him sleeping around, after all, it says far more about him than it ever will about his ‘conquests’ it’s just the lazy way the script deals with it. Murdered your husband? Might as well shag then. Thrown a bad guy off a train? Might as well shag then. Considering one of the movie’s distinct aims is to forge a proper relationship between Bond and Léa Seydoux’s Madeleine Swann, it’s poor show. The relationship between the two characters feels badly rushed and a good deal more shallow than the conclusion intimates.
The villains are likewise given fairly short shrift. Christoph Waltz is genuinely magnetic as Oberhauser, and at times nicely creepy but his backstory connection to Bond isn’t served well and his big revelation (no spoiler, you’ve already worked it out) is chewed out as if on a prompt card. Given the movie’s ending though, I suspect we’ll be seeing him again and in many ways, this movie seems more of an introduction to the character rather than a proper role. Dave Bautista's Mr. Hinx gets off to a great start but he lacks any of the presence and bare-faced malice that, say, Robert Shaw brought to his Grant thug. The big lump soon gets dispatched from the train and although vicious, barely registers before he is pre-shag fodder for James.
But. Having said all that, I still thoroughly enjoyed this romp through 007’s signature moves. Mendes knows how to deal with his action set pieces and despite some chin-scratching plot holes, watching Bond demolish or run from demolished buildings, lob bad guys off balconies and whizz after helicopters in speed boats is exhilarating stuff. Even the slightly baggy 148 minute running time doesn’t trouble as you’re never given any opportunity to get restless. There are also some decent attempts to make this current with an overarching plot that tackles our gradual sleepwalk into an Orwellian surveillance society and plenty of muttering about the old 007 programme being out of date as we no longer need that kind of boots on the ground approach.
And the good guys do a bit better than the bad. The sight of new M Fiennes grabbing a side arm and heading out is one I hope we get to see more of and Ben Wishaw’s role is expanded nicely as his bookish Q (wonderfully referred to as ‘My Quartermaster’ by M at one point) gets out of his basement but wisely doesn’t quite go the full Desmond Llewelyn. The girls don’t come off quite so well. Monic Bellucci is wasted as the above mentioned post funeral conquest and Seydoux, despite formidable acting chops and a strong start, soon crumbles into James’ arms, never to resurface. Naomie Harris has probably the best of it and there must be an argument for beefing up her role in future movies. Her Moneypenny, having bested an entire legion of bad guys by actually managing to shoot Bond in Skyfall is easily his equal and Harris is growing nicely into the role.
And Bond himself? Aside from a walk that increasingly makes his spy look like a wardrobe being pivoted on its ends to get it across a room upright, Craig is as stoic as ever. Attempts at showing cracks in his armour are both hit and miss and its a real shame that the relationship with Swann isn’t developed but as a Bond who you think might actually get hurt and who genuinely doesn’t understand why he does what he does, he is still one of the best.
So where does that really get us with this one? The answer is probably to embrace the inevitable. The first of Craig’s Bond movies gave us all hope that we could have our super spy cake and eat the hell out of it, subsequent efforts have proved that we probably can’t. This one sees a veritable cascade of exotic locations, easily laid hotties, bad guys that can’t aim, planes crashing down mountainsides and secret rooms with no apparent way of access or egress without destroying a hotel wall. A magnificent opening sequence and a hundred odd minutes of Bond like Bondness later and you’ll emerge from he screening probably much like one of Bond’s surviving conquests. You're pretty sure you enjoyed it but a nagging voice in the back of your head is telling you it maybe wasn't what you were sold. If Spectre sees the end of the Mendes / Craig act then I think all could walk away heads held high. This one left me with the feeling that it might be time for some fresh blood.