Whatever you do in life, when you set the bar high, you leave yourself with a tricky challenge next time around.
This applies to pretty much everything in life – with the obvious exception of limbo, of course. James Bond producers left themselves a sky-high bar after 2012’s Skyfall, the best 007 outing ever and the possibly finest British film of the 21st Century so far. So the question that everyone’s dying to have answered is this: ‘Is the latest Bond, Spectre, as good as Skyfall…?’
Well, the short answer is ‘no’. The slightly longer and more reassuring answer is, ‘not quite, but it’s a different kind of Bond film. So, in a way, it doesn’t really matter all that much’.
The Daniel Craig era of Bond has been a reboot and rebrand of the franchise akin to Christopher Nolan’s Batman makeover. The forgettable Quantum of Solace aside, if Casino Royale is Batman Begins, Skyfall is the elevated glory of The Dark Knight. And so it must go that Spectre follows as the very good, yet still slightly disappointing follow-up, The Dark Knight Rises. Complete with a range of impressive but flawed, heroes and villains. For Bane, read Christoph Waltz’s ominous and secretive Frank Oberhauser. He’s ‘the author of all Bond’s pain’, the man who ties in threads from the past three entries in the series and ‘reveals’ the most obvious plot twist you’re probably ever likely to see in a cinema. Subtle it ain’t. But then subtlety has never been the point. Of Batman or Bond.
To cut to the chase (incidentally, there are plenty of these in the movie), if you love Bond, you’ll love this. Whereas Skyfall stands up as a film entirely in its own right, appealing to non-converts too, Spectre is very much a canon film. The lengthy running time – a full two and a half hours – is dominated by constant nods to characters and incidents from previous films; some serious, some a little more light-hearted. It’s rewarding for fans, but maybe a smidge alienating to newcomers. It almost reminds you of one of those old I-Spy books you used to have as as kid. ‘Oh, look – a white cat! TICK.’
Action-wise, the set pieces are frequent and exhilarating, none more so than when archetypal Bond henchman Mr. Hinx (former WWE star Dave Bautista) and Bond face off on a moving train in a fight scene straight from a Bourne flick. And, of course, there are various plane and helicopter crashes, shoot-outs and enormous explosions to keep us breathless. Not to mention the usual exotic locations: Mexico City, Rome, Austria, Tangiers…
There’s fieldwork for Naomie Harris’ Moneypenny, Ben Whishaw’s Q and Ralph Fiennes’ M(allory) and some nice work from Moriaty himself – Sherlock’s Andrew Scott – as the oily boss of a new intelligence agency looking to eradicate the ‘00’ program. As for the Bond girls, we have a brief cameo from the always glorious and striking Monica Bellucci before Blue is the Warmest Colour beauty Léa Seydoux steps in to almost steal the show as the icy but eminently capable Madeleine Swann. Finally a Bond girl that doesn’t feel woefully underwritten.
It’s big, it’s brash, it’s bold. It’s cool, it’s camp, it’s cocky. But one thing it’s not is original. Rather than a new Bond film, you’re left feeling like you’ve just watched a supercut of the previous 23 movies. How enjoyable that is for you might just depend on your tastes.
If Spectre can get away with its almost constant stream of back references, you’ll forgive us this one of our own. We started off with a throwaway gag about limbo and we’re left thinking about limbo as the film ends. With Sam Mendes leaving and Daniel Craig making noises that suggest a departure as well, we can’t help but think the franchise is somewhat in limbo. Where next for the overhauled 007 franchise? Who knows. For the moment though, let’s just enjoy this latest instalment, shall we?
Have you seen Spectre yet? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below!