Director: Sam Mendes
Starring: Daniel Craig, Christoph Waltz, Léa Seydoux, Ben Whishaw, Naomie Harris, Dave Bautista, Andrew Scott, Monica Bellucci, Ralph Fiennes
Run Time: 148 mins
Daniel Craig is a fantastic James Bond and all of his films (‘Casino Royale’, ‘Quantum of Solace’ and ‘Skyfall’) so far have been top-notch. ‘Skyfall’ was particularly well-recieved by critics and audiences alike (in my opinion, a little overrated) so it is a tall order for ‘Spectre’ to replicate this success. The same crew remain from ‘Skyfall’ with the exception of Hoyte van Hoytema taking the reins as cinematographer from veteran Roger Deakins. Sam Mendes returns to direct, although he was unsure to begin with and here he has a lot more creative control due to the success of ‘Skyfall’ so he has a choice. Rehash ‘Skyfall’ by cranking everything up to eleven or take a risk and do something completely different? Mendes has assembled a very impressive cast list here with Christoph Waltz playing the antagonist, Franz Oberhauser (or someone else…?), Dave Bautista playing the henchman, Mr Hinx and Andrew Scott playing a mysterious character who Bond names ‘C’ who plans to get rid of the Double-0 program. With a cast this good and a reliable crew, surely this is a recipe for success…
‘Spectre’ is an extremely different film to ‘Skyfall’ – it’s very dark and has some excellent action sequences but it’s also a lot more playful in tone and harkens back to the days of Sean Connery and Roger Moore. The performances are excellent and the locations and cinematography are mesmerising. ‘Spectre’ is not without its flaws – it has a slow middle section in its lengthy 148 minute run time and the ending is extremely predictable. It’s refreshing to see that Mendes hasn’t just tried to rehash ‘Skyfall’ – one can tell that both cast and crew have complete trust in him and everyone has settled into their roles which makes for a very entertaining and thrilling film.
One of the best aspects of the film is its performances. Daniel Craig is again, excellent and really owns the role. Ralph Fiennes is a much more forceful and witty M than Judi Dench and has made the role his own as does Naomie Harris as Moneypenny. Ben Whishaw gives a fantastic performance here in an expanded role and is easily Desmond Llewelyn’s equal – his interpretation of Q is witty and nerdy and the chemistry he has with the rest of the cast is top notch. The cars and gadgets he bestows to Bond are a guilty pleasure and are put to good use. The Bond girls this time are played by Léa Seydoux and Monica Bellucci, the latter being wasted in a small role. Seydoux is solid but unfortunately does resort to becoming a damsel-in-distress in the film’s climax. The villain played by Christoph Waltz is fantastic and Waltz is incredibly charismatic and calm. The black cloud covering his face until the big reveal is executed flawlessly and makes him a dangerous and menacing character. The torture sequence is especially well played and provides an entertaining throwback to the traps that villains set Bond in the days of Sean Connery and Roger Moore. Dave Bautista plays perhaps the most memorable henchman since ‘Jaws’ in ‘The Spy Who Loved Me’ and ‘Moonraker’ and Andrew Scott is again, solid in a fairly minor role.
The locations, although not particularly original as they have all been used before, are beautifully realised and Hoyte van Hoytema’s cinematography is outstanding – the film fluctuates in its colour from the dark black of Rome and London to the pure white of Austria and the desert in Morocco. Like with the playful tone of the film, the locations are reminiscent of the older Bond films and despite not being original, on the strength of the cinematography are excellent. Van Hoytema’s sterling work continues in the film’s action sequences with a thrilling car chase in Rome to a helicopter fight in the film’s opening sequence of Mexico which Van Hoytema uses a tracking shot for the first half of the sequence which really absorbs the audience into the film.
Thomas Newman’s score is solid – he reuses a lot of themes from ‘Skyfall’ but there’s enough new material here to differentiate the two soundtracks. Whilst Sam Smith’s theme song is annoying and uninspired, it works really well in the film as Newman chooses to revisit it several times in the film. The title sequence for the song is innovative and connects Daniel Craig’s last three outings to ‘Spectre’.
Where the film stumbles is in its pacing – 148 minutes in itself is a lengthy run time and whilst I never found myself bored, there is a 20 minute section in the middle that loses a bit of steam and there is perhaps a bit too much exposition from the characters in parts. The opening sequence, despite being innovative is extremely implausible and silly in places The ending is also woefully predictable but this can be forgiven as it’s still extremely entertaining and satisfying.
Ultimately, ‘Spectre’ is an excellent addition to the Daniel Craig canon and Mendes and his crew are able to expand but at the same time make ‘Spectre’ stand on its own feet from ‘Skyfall’ with its dark yet playful tone. The performances are excellent here with Waltz, Whishaw and Bautista being the standouts who provide memorable performances. It looks very unlikely that Sam Mendes will return to direct ‘Bond 25’ which is a shame but it will be interesting to see how other established directors can lend their creative eye to the Bond series and further develop it. As for Daniel Craig, he’s not contractually obliged to come back for a 5th film but from a story point of view, it would seem silly not to. If Craig does walk, he can hold his head high knowing that he’s done an excellent job with the series and he will be the most consistent actor the series has had to date. ‘Casino Royale’ and ‘Quantum of Solace’ (the latter woefully underrated) are the best in his collection, but ‘Spectre’ is a hair better than ‘Skyfall’ from a creative point of view and performance-wise, although Javier Bardem’s flamboyant and menacing villain was also top-notch.
An excellent film and it will be another tall order for the as-yet-untitled 25th instalment to match or exceed Daniel Craig’s work for the series. It’s just a shame that reviews have been mixed in the USA which has left a bit of a sour taste.