“I’ve never stopped to think about it,” reveals a suited and booted James Bond when quizzed about why he does that thing he does so well. It’s a line that not only sums up the man but also his latest movie. A big, brash and bombastic follow-up to the billion dollar busting Skyfall, Spectre sees Bond giving it both barrels with the dazzling spectacle, but it never stops showboating long enough to make us care about what it is he does.
It all kicks-off in a fabulously audacious fashion as we follow Daniel Craig’s Bond weaving through the macabre glamour of Mexico City’s Day of the Dead celebrations in a stunning single track shot. This dizzying sequence culminates in a sensational helicopter helter-skelter which lands Bond in possession of a ring bearing the SPECTRE symbol.
The film rarely pauses for breath from this point onwards, unfolding at a breakneck pace as Bond ricochets across such exotic locations as Rome, Austria, Tangiers and, erm, London by way of a relentless stream of extravagant action sequences. The brutal fist fight on board a moving train (an effective call back to From Russia with Love) is a particular highlight.
The trail of carnage leads Bond to a clandestine meeting of SPECTRE, a sinister criminal organization led by Christoph Waltz’s disturbing terrorist Franz Oberhauser, who has a chilling connection to his past. As 007 draws closer to uncovering SPECTRE’s plans, he crosses paths with the daughter of an old enemy (Léa Seydoux) who may just hold the answer to unlocking the organization’s dark secrets.
Back in London, meanwhile, we pick up the spies-versus-technology thread left dangling from Skyfall as Andrew Scott’s devious MI6 boss Max Denbigh sets out to abolish the 00-programme and replace it with a globe-spanning surveillance network that fits neatly into our post-Snowden world of Orwellian nightmares.
In his fourth outing as 007, Craig is once again excellent throughout, firing out smooth one liners and powering through punishing action scenes with the fierce intensity of a driven hunter. The slight note of fragility Craig has brought to the role is essential here to maintain interest in a frankly weightless plot.
He’s equally matched by Waltz’s nefarious villain, an unnerving mastermind who can make you squirm with barely a glance. It’s just a shame his menace is somewhat undermined by a credibility-straining motivation that puts you in mind of a pathetic man-child rather than a Machiavellian genius.
It’s this lack of genuine jeopardy that frequently hampers Spectre. Part of the problem is the story pulls too close to the franchise’s formula driven roots. Skyfall offered the perfect blend of old school style and modern innovation but Spectre overplays its hand in attempting to repeat that feat.
While it’s exciting to see the return of silent henchman and Q’s implausible gadgets, the sequence in which Bond pays a visit to a villain’s lair in a hollowed out crater simply feels too light-hearted for Craig’s grittier incarnation.
This lack of plausible tension plays into a story that’s heavy on plot but rather light on substance. Spectre aims to tie Craig’s films into a large, connected story by foreshadowing Bond’s recent past throughout, but when the dramatic reveal finally comes it fails to pack the emotional punch of either Vesper Lynd or M’s deaths. As a result, subsequent events feel entirely inconsequential because the stakes are so paper thin.
One of Mendes’s biggest successes across his two films, however, is the elevation of previously throwaway characters. Mallory, Q, and Moneypenny are all thrown into the thick of the action to prevent MI5 from being disbanded; and while Monica Bellucci’s sultry widow barely registers, Seydoux’s Madeleine Swann superbly holds her own alongside Bond, proving she’s more than capable of fending for herself.
If the rumours are true and this proves to be Craig’s final outing as Bond, it marks an explosive way to bow out. While it lacks the gut-wrenching drive of Skyfall, Spectre is a big, bold and fully blown Bond adventure that’s light of heart and heavy on the swagger. Basically, it’s everything you could ever want of Bond movie.
Runtime: 148 mins; Genre: Spy Thriller; Released: 26 October 2015;
Director: Sam Mendes; Writers: John Logan, Neil Purvis, Robert Wade;
Cast: Daniel Craig, Christoph Waltz, Léa Seydoux, Ralph Fiennes
Click here to watch a trailer for Spectre