[no major spoilers but it is a Spectre film review all the same]
If this is Daniel Craig’s final film as 007 then it’s a great way to go.
Better than Quantum of Solace with its unfathomable plot; better even than Skyfall with its dodgy sexual politics, Home Alone exploding lightbulbs ending and its Tube line silliness: ‘Wait, the bad guy’s on the District Line! He must be going to Westminster to kill M!’, this is the fast and furious James Bond of Craig’s explosive debut Casino Royale – but turned up to the max.
This Bond doesn’t believe in leaving via the door when there’s a window to dive through or a wall to punch his way into and the soundtrack is pumping throughout. You will leave the cinema feeling exhausted (and possibly deafened) and exhilarated, and thinking: ‘Wow, does that guy look good in a suit.’ Bond must be the only hero who wears a jacket and tie for the most brutal of fights – my colleagues can barely be bothered to don a tie for formal meetings – and even when he’s just standing still, he can’t help but strut that suit. One hand in pocket, one leg just to the side, he assumes a stance which makes him look cool in the way George Osborne totally does not when attempting the same trick.
The pre-credit sequence alone is more exciting (and no doubt more expensive) than the whole of most action films, starting with an impressive opening tracking shot right from the heart of Mexico City’s Day of the Dead festival and leading to edge-of-your-seat helicopter acrobatics. This is classic Bond – just a few minutes into the film he not only has a sexy woman in tow but also a bad guy to kill and things to blow up – and both he and the city look terrific.
Sadly the massive adrenaline rush of the pre-credit sequence dissipates almost entirely with Sam Smith’s terrible wailing of the theme tune: I was prepared to give the song a second chance as it might have sounded better in the context of the film, but the mood of the whole cinema sank lower and lower as he caterwauled his way through the song which was totally at odds with what we’d just seen.
Thankfully that was the only low point in a film which managed the tricky feat of paying homage to previous Bonds without being stuck in the past. We started in traditional territory – Bond being accused of being a relic of a bygone age (which he’s been told since the Age of Brosnan, a full 10 years ago) and M being cross with Bond which has been going on since From Russia With Love. However like the many other Bond references to past films – a speedboat ride along the Thames, ticking countdown clocks, a fluffy white cat, Alpine lairs, martinis, and even ones for true Bond geeks such as the mention of Hildebrand, from the short story The Hildebrand Rarity – the film manages to twist new meaning out of each one while avoiding the clunky ‘Hey everyone, he’s driving an Aston Martin!’ flag-waving seen in Skyfall.
Daniel Craig is flawless as Bond and actually seems to be enjoying himself for once – he might be a deadly weapon but isn’t afraid to look a bit ruffled occasionally – while the supporting cast does a pretty good job, especially considering the limited screen time they wrestle from the main man. Ralph Fiennes as M seems initially to be channeling Leonard Rossiter’s Rigsby from Rising Damp, but thankfully he becomes far more robust, mainly due to battling his challenging boss, C (Andrew Scott). Fiennes also has best line in the film – when he speculates about what the C might stand for, the whole cinema roared – but ruins it instantly when he goes on to explain what he meant, killing the moment immediately.
Naomi Harris’s Moneypenny is a vast improvement on the odd combination of incompetent and cocky seen in Skyfall, and is smart, savvy with a life beyond Bond. (She’s also saddled with some really clunky lines, such as: ‘You have a secret, James. And you don’t want anyone to know.’ Duh.) Ben Whishaw’s Q was just brilliant – vulnerable and brave at the same time and able to stand up to Bond – even while wearing a knitted beany hat.
I wasn’t as thrilled with Christophe Waltz as everyone else seems to be – he might talk a good talk but didn’t had the menacing air of a true Bond villain, and the actor who we all know could have made a terrifically unhinged baddy, Andrew Scott (Sherlock’s Moriarty), was underplayed and underused. Much was made of Monica Bellucci as the oldest Bond woman so far but sadly she was discarded far too quickly, both by the film and by Bond, who rapidly moved onto a younger model, the beautiful Lea Seydoux playing Dr Madeline Swann (and sounding exactly like Sophie Marceau from The World is Not Enough). There is a great moment when she realises that Bond’s girlfriends do not tend to have the longest life expectancy and the two form much more of a team than Bond usually does with his conquests.
Spectre has a 12A certificate but I think 15 would have been a far better rating: as well as some seriously brutal fight scenes which had people wincing, there are several pretty gory moments involving eyeballs, drills and so on, so you have been warned. But there are some moments you just want to linger over too, such as the delight of seeing cars racing straight towards St Peter’s in Rome – I’m assuming the Pope said it was OK – and some From Russia with Love-esque flirting (and fighting) on a train. Bond even holds hands at one point too – he’s a truly modern man.