Reviews and entertainment articles by Dave Simpson
Daniel Craig returns as Ian Fleming’s James Bond 007 for the highly anticipated sequel to 2012’s superb cinematic spectacle, Skyfall. With Sam Mendes back in the director’s chair, alongside seasoned screenwriters John Logan, Neal Purvis, Robert Wade and Jez Butterworth, all of the ingredients were in place for the franchise’s twenty fourth official film to surpass the splendour of its predecessor. And while it doesn’t quite manage to reach such heights, it does succeed in being another entertaining addition to the series.
As the title suggests, SPECTRE revolves around the shadowy syndicate that plagued the protagonist during both his formative films and the literature from which the character comes. The plot is born out of the events of the aforementioned Skyfall, however the connections aren’t as blatant as those between Quantum of Solace and Casino Royale. This allows the story to stand on its own two feet and feel fairly self-contained, while simultaneously expanding upon established continuity.
That being said, one of the film’s fatal flaws is its unnecessary attempts to attach too many threads to the previous three tales. There are certain elements that are awkwardly explained as pertaining to SPECTRE’s scheming, meaning that some of the revelations feel forced and nonsensical. The plot isn’t dependent on them to progress and it seems sloppy in several instances.
The same is true of Bond’s background with Christoph Waltz’s chief antagonist, Franz Oberhauser. Their link is left extremely embryonic and apparently exists only to shoehorn in a pre-existing personal vendetta between the hero and villain that adds very little in the way of drama or development. Consequently, this extends to Oberhauser’s mentality and motives, which would have benefited greatly from more thorough exploration.
Negatives aside though, the narrative is compelling and is kept as such from the start by setting it up as a well-paced mystery thriller. There’s enough intrigue to ensure that it never becomes boring, so that the one hundred and fifty minute run-time flows by fluidly. Bond’s quest for answers about the enigmatic eponymous organisation allows the story to stay enticing all the way to the final act, even if the payoff is somewhat underwhelming.
As one would expect from a Bond movie, the action and set-pieces are slick and exciting, especially in the first half. Adrenaline-fuelled fist fights, death defying stunts and races against the clock are all crammed into the film’s fabric. Where it really excels though is with its pulse pounding pursuits. Thrilling chases across land, air and water are offered in abundance, showing off some striking cinematography and engrossing as they unfold. There’s also one particularly tense torture sequence that will have viewers wincing as they witness it. It all eventually culminates in a climax that’s nowhere near as intense as that of Skyfall, but that’s still reasonably rousing.
The scenes of suspense are interspersed in such a way that the action avoids becoming tiresome and the more passive parts don’t induce dullness. The only real repetitive facet is forcing Bond to operate outside of the conventional chain of command again. It would have been refreshing to see him sent on a sanctioned mission, especially after the end of Skyfall seemingly re-established the status quo.
Surprisingly, the most impressive performances of the piece come from Ben Whishaw, Naomie Harris and Ralph Fiennes as classic colleagues Q, Moneypenny and M, respectively. Their fantastic hands on approach to the parts results in much more realistic and well-rounded individuals than the earlier iterations that were commonly confined to headquarters.
Which isn’t to say that there’s anything at all wrong with Daniel Craig’s portrayal of the super spy himself. The English actor seems completely comfortable with the character at this point, effortlessly exuding intensity and charm in equals measures. The only issue involving Bond is that he’s immersed in a romance with latest leading lady Léa Seydoux that comes across as incredibly contrived, despite the otherwise admirable efforts of the actress as psychologist Madeleine Swann.
Andrew Scott also puts in an outstanding performance as conniving but clichéd government official, Max Denbigh, while Christoph Waltz is unfortunately a little wooden as the movie’s mastermind, Franz Oberhauser. Although, the blame for this lies with the script rather than with the actor, who isn’t afforded nearly as much to sink his teeth into as he deserved. And speaking of scoundrels, up and coming Hollywood hard-man Dave Bautista is intimidating as hulking henchman Mr. Hinx, despite being two dimensional.
While SPECTRE won’t win the award for best Bond film ever, it’s also a very far-cry from the worst. Mendes has managed to make another enjoyable contribution to the character’s considerable back-catalogue, which is a lot lighter in tone than its gritty predecessor. This may not mean that it’s better, but it does contain everything that’s needed to deliver a delectable if deficient 007 adventure.
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