Thursday, 29 October 2015


The latest James Bond adventure isn't as good as Skyfall, but it's still a fine example of the upward curve of quality that began with Casino Royale.

There’s a new Bond film out. That’s an Event. Can’t think of many other film franchises that inspire the same level of excitement; the Star Wars movies (certainly), perhaps the Harry Potters, maybe the Marvel Avengers series. The Bond phenomenon is curiously similar to Doctor Who, another fave of mine: over 50 years, generations have grown up with it, have their favourite actor in the role, have experienced highs and lows of excellence but, most importantly, can look forward to regular new adventures. My own introduction to 007 was in 1971 at the age of, um, 7 when I persuaded mum to take me and my mate Christopher Edwards to see Diamonds Are Forever. I can’t remember how I knew about James Bond, but for some reason I was very excited by the black and white reproduction of the wonderful poster, drawn by Robert McGinnis – film poster artists: remember them? – printed in the Lowestoft Journal.

Roll the Moviola: it’s 27 October 2015, and me and my lady friend have turned up to Cineworld in Bexleyheath at 10 am to see the 24th (official) Bond film, SPECTRE. I’m a grown man but I woke up at 4.30 I was that excited, and had a spring in my step on the way to the bus stop. We aren’t alone. The auditorium isn’t full, but there’s a varied turnout: whole families, fathers with sons (I have to say it – a great way of bonding) and senior, white-haired gentlemen who must have first seen a Bond film when Sean Connery was 007. The air of expectancy builds throughout the trailers – hell, even the Star Wars trailer made my spine tingle – before, to the delight of my inner fanboy, when SPECTRE begins Daniel Craig turns and fires into the famous gunsight, the first time he’s done so at the start of one of his Bond movies.

This is going to be a slightly tricky review as I can’t wax lyrical about many of the delights on offer, much as I’d like to, as I don’t want to spoil it for people who haven’t seen SPECTRE yet. What I can say is that, for me, after a brilliant first half the pace slackens – it’s a long film – and I found the climax a little disappointing.

Refreshingly, the Bond films have now almost become an ensemble, with M (Ralph Fiennes), Q (Ben Whishaw), (Naomi Harris) and Tanner (Rory Kinnear) all getting a stake in the action. SPECTRE also ties up threads left hanging from the previous Craig movies, reinforcing the quartet as a consistent mini-series within the Bond canon. Director Sam Mendes brings the same sense of immense scale and surreal opulence to SPECTRE that so energised Skyfall, particularly in the visual ingenuity he employs in the opening sequence set during Mexico City’s Day of the Dead festival. Overall, the humour is more subtle: M asks if Bond’s still in London after he sees a newspaper picture of an MI6 vehicle crashed in the river Tiber in Rome, and there are some good jokes in the preceding car chase.

You would, wouldn't you. (Image copyright: Eon Films)
The best news is that Daniel Craig is now completely comfortable in the tux and bow tie. Free from the angst of his previous three outings, this time around the writers have written to Craig-Bond’s strengths as a laconic man of dry humour, a roguish half-smile sometimes allowing a glimpse behind the emotional armour he acquired in Casino Royale. A few well-chosen, ironic words replace the creaky puns of old, and of all the Bonds, Craig totally convinces in the sex scenes with his aggressive, sensual love making; you really believe women can’t resist the sexual power of this guy (and maybe guys can’t either). As before, it’s hard to spot the stunt men in the visceral action scenes and Craig, now 47, looks as physically committed as ever. An almost off-hand touch demonstrates how freely confident Craig-Bond is in his lethal abilities, as he warns a security guard he could easily snap in two to ‘Stay!’

Developing Skyfall’s nods to the past, SPECTRE incorporates more pleasing references to former glories. There aren’t many actors who can pull off stepping out of a parachute into a Rome street with an air of nonchalance while wearing a bespoke suit. Craig can, and this sequence alludes to Connery shedding a wetsuit in Goldfinger to reveal immaculate evening dress. Other allusions take in You Only Live Twice, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, Live and Let Die and For Your Eyes Only (among others). This is the way to do continuity: if you don’t recognise the references, it doesn’t affect your enjoyment of the film.  

An old enemy returns. (Image copyright: Eon Films)
The SPECTRE of the title is, indeed, the Special Executive for Counter-Intelligence, Terrorism, Revenge and Extortion, the very same organisation that Connery battled in the ‘60s, who with their white Persian cats and volcano bases were as much a part of the 007 legend as Bond himself, until legal wrangles with a rival producer kicked in. The producers have even revived SPECTRE’s octopus logo, used to great effect in the amazingly baroque title sequence, in which a huge black octopus wraps its tentacles around various characters. SPECTRE’s plan is also pleasingly contemporary, building on ideas established in Skyfall.

I couldn’t help thinking that Bond’s connection to the villain was rather convenient and had the whiff of soap opera about it, especially as it comes after the well thought-out, mature psychology of what being a professional killer costs a human being, the concept central to Craig’s previous three films. It made 007’s decision over his enemy’s fate something of a first that doesn’t quite ring true, especially as his opponent has apparently been ‘the author of [Bond’s] pain’ from Casino Royale onwards. Then again, perhaps James thought his alternative was crueller.

Like the song says, if the writing is on the wall for Daniel Craig, which the ending suggests as it brings his four films to a satisfying conclusion, he couldn’t have picked a better production to bow out on. Mr Craig’s the first James Bond actor to become a producer on his own films – a sure sign of how highly thought of he is in the 007 movie empire – so it’d be a bloody shame if he did.

Crikey: considering I didn’t think I’d be able to say anything, I’ve said quite a lot. See you in two years, Mr Bond. Whoever you are.

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