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Published November 4th 2015
A Bond tour de force
Skyfall, reportedly the most successful British movie of all time, was always going to be a hard act to follow. Truckloads of pre-release hype about Spectre, featuring the smouldering Daniel Craig's fourth outing as the world's favourite anti-hero, have only fuelled the speculation and made the question on everyone's lips "Does Spectre measure up?". Personally, I think the answer is a resounding "Yes!"
Image from official movie website
What do audiences want from a modern James Bond film? Heart pounding action sequences that make you feel like you're doing a few rounds on a spin cycle? Check. Beautiful, feisty-but-vulnerable Bond girls? Check. Exotic locations? Check. A tortured badass villain? Check. Spectre has all this in spades.
This latest Bond franchise (Casino Royale, Quantum of Solace, and Skyfall) also introduced another element to the Bond persona; Daniel Craig as Bond added introspective and vulnerable to the usual stoic and heroic. Does Spectre check that box, too? Probably not so much. And that's a good thing as far as I'm concerned.
This Bond franchise obviously didn't want to steer away from the elements that have made their version of Bond so successful so Spectre largely follows along its winning action-packed path. But second time Bond director Sam Mendes harkens back to earlier Bonds with an overall lighter tone and allows Craig's Bond to actually look like he's enjoying himself.
Writers John Logan, Neal Purvis, Robert Wade and Jez Butterworth have given us a back-story that ties the most recent four films together in a way that's certainly not predictable, but is sometimes a little confusing. You'll be able to play spot the classic Bond references, as they are peppered cleverly throughout the story. And there's plenty of humour to lighten the mood when necessary.
Judi Dench's M has sent Bond on a mission from the grave (no spoilers here) that sees him on the trail of the secretive conspiratorial group, Spectre, last seen in Diamonds are Forever, while the new M, Ralph Fiennes, battles a merger with MI5 and the possible closure of the 00 program by the shadowy C, played by Andrew Scott who is best known as Sherlock's Moriarty. Of course the action once again ranges across continents. After all, bad guys who want to take over the world obviously get around.
Cinematographer, Hoyte van Hoytema has given us a lush and lavish background to the action. The opening action sequence is once again epic, as we've come to expect from Bond. Mexico City's spectacular Day of the Dead festival is the perfect backdrop for one of the best Bond beginnings I've seen. From the highly effective single shot opening walk through the celebrations to rooftop action and the spinning, swooping helicopter action sequence, you will be appropriately dazzled. The denouement is another winner set against a dark London skyline.
Carefully crafted and spectacular chase scenes take us via a helicopter, cars, a train, a plane and a boat through Mexico, Austria, Tangiers and London and through cities, snow and deserts.
And the Bond girls? French actress, Léa Seydoux makes a real impact as the beautiful doctor, Madeleine Swann, who can certainly mix it with the bad guys, while Monica Bellucci, who at 51, is the oldest Bond girl to grace the screen, has not much more than a cameo as a not so grieving widow.
Ralph Fiennes' M takes more of an active field role than the Judy Dench version, which Fiennes pulls off with aplomb. He even gets the movie's best line, "We all know what the C stands for... careless." Don't worry, you'll get it when you see the film. The very versatile Christoph Waltz delivers a memorable, slightly campy villain that has his nostalgic basis in some previous Bond bad guys. He even has a fluffy white cat (Donald Pleasance anyone?) to keep him company in his try-to-take-over-the-world adventures. We get to know a bit more about Moneypenny (Naomie Harris) and Ben Whishaw's Q. Both develop their roles nicely in a storyline that sees them front and centre more often.
And Daniel Craig? In many ways he's the quintessential Bond, the perfect mix of urbanity and physicality. He nails the ageing, mellowing Bond with swaggering elegance and delivers his humourous one liners with wit and wry smile.
I should mention that there a couple of particularly graphic, violent scenes that probably stretch the PG rating a little - just something to keep in mind, if your children are badgering you to go.
At 148 minutes running time Spectre is the longest ever Bond movie and perhaps that's a tad too long. As with all Bond movies it's sometimes necessary to suspend disbelief as credulity is stretched in a host of ways. For example, where do these bad guys dig up their hordes of mindless flunkies? And how does Bond emerge from a very brutal fight scene still looking immaculate? I'm also not too keen on this Bond theme song, delivered by the highly popular Sam Smith. These, of course, are minor quibbles.
Overall Sam Mendes has delivered a Bond tour de force with Spectre. I highly recommend it.
Now we can all go back to speculation about who will portray the iconic spy in the 25th Bond instalment. Rumour has it that despite his claim that he would rather slash his wrists than play Bond again, Daniel Craig will once more be in the Aston Martin driver's seat. I hope so.
Spectre is brought to you by Sony Pictures and will be in Australian cinemas from 12 November 2015.