** CONTAINS SPOILERS **
Anticipation levels are at an all-time high for Daniel Craig’s fourth entry in the Bond cannon. 2012’s Skyfall smashed box office records to become the most profitable Bond film of all time, which was fitting for James Bond’s 50th anniversary. The reason was simple enough: Skyfall was absolutely brilliant and marked the peak of Craig’s nuanced portrayal of a haggard, world-weary modern-era Bond. And with director Sam Mendes returning to call the shots once again with a stellar cast including Christoph Waltz, Ralph Fiennes and Monica Bellucci, surely SPECTRE is destined to be a sure-fire hit? Sadly, all of the groundwork and foundation laid down by Casino Royale, Quantum Of Solace, and Skyfall is sorely undone in this unremarkable and instantly forgettable entry.
SPECTRE acts as a direct sequel to Skyfall - in fact, it references numerous characters and story threads from all of Daniel Craig’s previous three outings in an effort to link everything together and neatly tie everything up. It all starts up well enough – Bond is in Mexico, slap-bang in the middle of the Day Of The Dead festival, where he’s trying to assassinate some poor unfortunate. Played as one continuous shot, we follow Bond as he navigates his way across rooftops. There’s suspense and humour in the sequence (Bond landing on a sofa as he falls from a collapsing building) and things look promising for SPECTRE (as long as you ignore the dodgy CGI when Bond grapples with the baddie in a helicopter). The opening credits themselves look fantastic – octopuses and silhouetted women - but the song ‘Writing’s On The Wall’ by Sam Smith is an absolute dud and doesn’t synch with any of the beautiful imagery.
The story also leaves a lot to be desired. Following the destruction of Bond’s childhood home ‘Skyfall’, a clue to his past is found in the smouldering remains, and Bond sets out on a journey of self-discovery. The film runs for an excruciating two-and-a-half hours with little happening. Bond goes rogue (again), as he tracks down the mysterious Franz Oberhauser (Christoph Waltz playing, well, Christoph Waltz really). In his search, Bond manages to globetrot around the world at a frantic pace – one minute he’s in Mexico City, the next he’s in Austria, then suddenly he’s in Rome, Tunisia, and London. There’s no logic behind it whatsoever as he just follows vague clues and manages to end up in the right location at the right time wearing a brand new pristine Tom Ford suit.
The revelation of Oberhauser’s true identity isn’t as surprising as it should have been thanks to the many internet spoilers (such is the day and age we live in) and the further reveal of Oberhauser’s relationship with Bond is something straight out of Austin Powers and utterly preposterous. If you haven’t worked it out, let’s just say that the Bond universe has now been made extremely small, as every single thing we have seen thus far since 2006’s Casino Royale has been sparked by mere sibling rivalry. Now, we know that Craig likes his Bond to have a haunted past, but to have him be the centre of the universe from which all this other activity springs forth is just taking things too far. The casting of Waltz as Oberhauser caused Bond fans to salivate at the prospect of having such a world class double Oscar-winning actor playing a bond villain, but the character is sadly dull and uninteresting. Waltz is fun to watch as always, but his character is basically a throwback supervillain from 60’s era Bond, spouting nonsensical monologues. Craig has always brought a certain weight and depth to his 007 performance, one that has been equally shouldered by the villains across this series. Oberhauser has none of that depth. Even a torture scene cannot elevate him to be considered a serious threat to Bond.
The Bond girls are also disappointing. Monica Bellucci, who featured heavily in SPECTRE’s marketing campaign, is literally in a blink-or-you’ll-miss-it role. Her character is mourning her dead husband at his funeral one minute, and the next she’s jumping straight into bed with Bond. Lea Seydoux tries to break the mould by being a strong, independent woman. But eventually her character is also shoehorned into the traditional Bond girl role by inexplicably falling in love for no reason whatsoever. Her family background is tragically further proof that the Bond universe has now been relegated to a surreal soap-like inter-family drama. The bit-part players of Q, Moneypenny and Tanner get more screen time this time around, but are all essentially relegated to a weird Mission: Impossible-esque team of agents running around after Bond.
SPECTRE is so intent on reminding audiences that the film is tying up the loose ends of the previous three, that it flashes up pictures of previous characters played by Eva Green, Mads Mikkelsen, Javier Bardem, and Mathieu Amalric at every opportunity. I’m sure Mads Mikkelsen actually gets more screen time than Monica Bellucci! Elsewhere, MI6 is under investigation (again). There’s a subplot involving M (Ralph Fiennes) trying to justify the 00-programme before the plug is pulled by new head of Centre Of National Security ‘C’ (played by Andrew Scott who’s acting doesn’t even cut daytime soap grade). There’s an extremely lacklustre car chase through a suspiciously depopulated Rome, and the sequence feels like the least dangerous pursuit in Bond history – it plays more like a gag reel as Bond deals with malfunctioning weapons, stereo problems, mobile phone calls, and getting stuck behind a slow-moving driver who’s too busy singing to himself to realise there’s a car chase happening! SPECTRE is desperately trying to capture the ‘essence of ‘vintage’ Bond but only ends up being a strange blend of both Roger Moore and Pierce Brosnan eras moulded into one strange mess. There’s even an on-train fight sequence that serves as a nod to From Russia With Love or The Spy Who Loved Me.
And that is SPECTRE’s major failing – trying to capture the ‘golden era’ of Bond (The Spy Who Loved Me, megalomaniac villains who want to control the world, secret lairs, etc) by attempting to inject playful humour throughout may have worked during Brosnan’s tenure, but Craig’s more serious approach to the role is at odds with the film’s tone, and the pacing is all over the place. The middle section in particular seems to drag on to the point of tedium. Bond spends far too much of the already over-long running time moping and brooding in darkened rooms. And the less said about the London-based climax the better.
There are, however, a few flashes of brilliance that remind you just why Craig’s rebooted Bond is so watchable when we’re able to explore his psyche – his inebriated encounter with a rat as he point his gun gives some insight into his mindset, and it is these kinds of moments which SPECTRE is sorely missing.
As Adele declared in Skyfall’s theme song: “You may have my number, you can take my name… But you’ll never have my heart.” Well it seems that Sam Mendes has applied these lyrics to new film SPECTRE, as he’s delivered a film which although features 007 and James Bond present and correct, is entirely devoid of any heart or soul. This is more James Bland than Bond, and it’s a crying shame.