Note: this review contains spoilers insofar as spoilers exist for a James Bond movie where everything is predictable: he has a high speed car chase and escapes but crashes his super car, he beds several beautiful women, he thwarts the super villain (always), he chases bad guys by performing unbelievable acts of athleticism, he kills all the bad guys but is never shot himself, and he always drinks his martini shaken but not stirred.
In 2012, Sam Mendes (American Beauty, Road to Perdition,… ) directed the James Bond movie Skyfall. Despite what the critics said at the time, I thought Skyfall was an appalling film, full of plot holes and incomplete back stories, unattractive female leads (with the exception of the new Moneypenny played by Naomie Harris), no innovation from Q, an uncharacteristically sardonic and cruel Bond (Daniel Craig), and homoeroticism between Bond and the bad guy Raoul Silva (underplayed by Javier Bardem). I wrote a review of Skyfall. You can find it in my book Fingers to the Keyboard or download a copy of the review here.
A few days ago, I watched the latest Bond movie, SPECTRE, also directed by Sam Mendes and again starring Daniel Craig as Bond. I approached the movie with some trepidation, preparing myself for yet another mishmash of bad movie making. I needn’t have worried. SPECTRE is excellent, the complete opposite of Skyfall. The opening sequence of Bond eliminating three terrorists was nerve-racking, especially the part where Bond casually walks along a parapet of a high rise building in Mexico City. I contracted my scrotum and averted my eyes.
Gone are the aquiline women of Skyfall. In their place we have the Italian ex-model turned actress Monica Bellucci (Matrix Reloaded, Shoot ‘Em Up,… ) who is still capable of turning heads at age fifty. The star female lead and Bond’s love interest Madeline Swann is played by the French actress Léa Seydoux (who turned in a stunning performance as a lesbian seductress in the 2013 movie Blue is the Warmest Colour resulting in a Palme d’Or award at the 2013 Cannes Film Festival) and, of course, the English actress with Jamaican/Trinidadian parentage, Naomie Harris, reprising her role as Moneypenny. No porcelain-skinned cut-glass-accented English rose such as Gemma Arteton (Quantum of Solace) or Rosemund Pike (Die Another Day) but Bellucci/Seydoux/Harris more than make up for their absence: all lovely ladies in my opinion.
The storyline was more plausible than in Skyfall and cleverly linked the head of SPECTRE and main villain Franz Oberhauser, played by Christoph Waltz (Inglourious Basterds, Django Unchained,… ), with earlier supervillains such as Silva (Skyfall), Blofeld (From Russia with Love, Thunderball ,You Only Live Twice, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, Diamonds Are Forever, For Your Eyes Only) and surely one of the most chilling Bond supervillains ever, Le Chiffre (Casino Royale). Towards the end of the movie, Oberhauser reveals he is, in fact, Blofeld having survived everything that happened to him in the earlier Bond movies. Now there’s a surprise. Even his white cat survived and at one point sits on Bond’s lap as Bond is about to undergo a brain rearrangement under the manipulative hands of Oberhauser/Blofeld. Both the cat and Bond survive the ordeal thanks to one of Q’s little gadgets.
Throughout the movie, Bond is pursued by the rather large stone-faced SPECTRE hitman Hinz (played by the ex-mixed-martial-artist and professional wrestler Dave Bautista). Bautista’s character is not that convincing as a ruthless hitman but the fight scenes are satisfactory with multiple head-banging arm-wrenching bone-crunching furniture-smashing sequences although it’s not clear what happens to Hinx in the final fight scene. His last words were “Oh shit,” as he disappeared out the door of a fast-moving train. Did he die or is he destined to return in a future Bond movie? I suspect the latter.
I was a little disappointed with the mandatory car chase sequence—Hinz chasing Bond through the deserted (?) streets of Rome. I suppose car chases have been done to death in the world of movie making and it must now be impossible to come up with anything startlingly new. The chase in SPECTRE is okay, no more, no less. It was just a shame Q had not loaded the rear-facing gun and that a very expensive Aston Martin DB10 sports car had to end up in the river (without Bond inside, fortunately). Q was not pleased!
Incidentally, I liked the way Ben Whishaw (Q) was allowed to expand his role and exploit his slightly sarcastic but subtle sense of humour. He is a master at delivering withering one-liners.
The only out-of-place scene in the movie is when Hinz is introduced to the SPECTRE organisation as a new hitman and feels it necessary to kill his predecessor by first gouging out his eyes and then breaking his neck accompanied by the usual teeth-clenching eyes-narrowing body-flinching loud crack as the cervical vertebrae snap. The eye-gouging scene is particularly gruesome and I’m surprised the film received a 12A grading. I guess eye gouging is deemed to be acceptable for today’s younger audiences?
Overall, the film is enjoyable, entertaining, suitably pyrotechnical, and moves briskly through its 148 minutes run time with rarely a dull moment. It’s good to see the screenplay, scriptwriters and Sam Mendes back on form. And, as I said, the ladies are lovely.