The new James Bond film opens on a single shot that lasts a good few minutes, starting on the street in Mexico City and following the subject through crowds, into a hotel, and along rooftops until he finally gets where he’s going. It’s the kind of shot that demonstrates how ambitious Bond movies are these days. The films with Daniel Craig in the lead role have certainly had a more deep and serious atmosphere than previous ones have traditionally been, and SPECTRE is no exception.
We kick off very promisingly on an introduction involving a collapsing building, a chase (naturally) and a helicopter, before a particularly well-done opening credits sequence accompanied by the song ‘Writing’s On The Wall’: the music and lyrics make this a great song, and it would be even better if sung by anyone other than Sam Smith with his occasionally incomprehensible wailing. Anyway, it turns out James Bond (Daniel Craig) had gone on an unsanctioned trip to Mexico City based on a posthumous tip from Judi Dench’s M; this in turn leads him to Rome, and the discovery of a huge criminal organisation called SPECTRE who were controlling all the villains Bond faced in his last few films. Meanwhile, Bond’s allies – M (Ralph Fiennes), Q (Ben Whishaw) and Eve Moneypenny (Naomie Harris) – are trying to help, in the face of the Double-O program being shut down altogether by new government operative C (Andrew Scott) who feels it has no place in the modern age.
Overall, this film is a mixed bag: there are elements that work and elements that don’t. First, let’s look at the good stuff. The overall structure is fairly familiar to anyone who’s seen a Bond movie before: action sequences interspersed with quieter moments where Bond travels, gathers information, gets interrogated and occasionally romances a lovely lady. There’s a variety of exotic locations, and there’s even a new big, silent henchman (Dave “Drax the Destroyer” Bautista) in the style of Jaws. It’s quite clever for the story to address how outdated the concept of 007 really is, and whether more modern approaches like surveillance and drones can do the job just as well. Daniel Craig continues to portray a very human Bond, who can still be very suave when the occasion calls for it. Despite all the seriousness, there are a number of funny moments – many involve Q, but perhaps the most memorable is M’s subtle insinuation of what ‘C’ might stand for. The action scenes are definitely the highlight: very diverse – car chases, aerial scenes, hand-to-hand combat – but not overblown. The film is good enough to have a two-car chase scene, with a minimum of gadgets and without explosions going off all over the place, that still manages to be very exciting.
So what doesn’t work? SPECTRE suffers from being two-and-a-half hours long; there are some segments which are quite long and dull compared to the action. This isn’t helped by the film’s new characters. The main female character, Dr Madeleine Swann (Lea Seydoux), is boring and unmemorable; meanwhile, the other “Bond girl”, played by Monica Bellucci, gets hardly any screentime at all. The main villain, Oberhauser (Christoph Waltz), is introduced very well in a suspenseful scene at SPECTRE headquarters – but once he properly steps out of the shadows, he’s nothing we haven’t seen before. When we find out his motivation for his grudge against Bond, it seems very petty, and actually makes him less interesting than before. As for C, it’s easy to guess he’s going to be evil simply because he’s played by Jim Moriarty from Sherlock – though to Andrew Scott’s credit, he handles this villainous role very differently from his best-known one.
I have this problem with Bond movies where I usually enjoy them at the time, but can’t seem to remember much about them afterwards, with the exception of Casino Royale. I’m not sure how well I’ll remember SPECTRE: it’s worth a watch, but nothing special as films go. Rating: 3/5.