From the gun barrel opening to the gadgets in Q’s workshop, everything is back where it belongs in Spectre, an everything or nothing, kitchen-sink Bond that goes to epic lengths to deliver all you could conceivably want from this invincible and indefatigable franchise.
Buoyed and emboldened by the worldwide success of Skyfall, the tireless Sam Mendes and the fearless Daniel Craig go hell for leather in a film that practically fizzes with brio, even at points when its circuitous plot comes perilously close to unravelling. If, as many suspect, it will be the last Bond for both of them, they can at least depart confident they have left it all on the field and are leaving the series stronger than how they found it.
Mendes sets his stall out early on with a stunning Touch Of Evil-style tracking shot that begins high above the heads of a gargantuan Mexico City Day of the Dead parade before zeroing in on a skull-masked 007. Weaving in and out of the legions of ghoulishly made-up revellers, incoming DoP Hoyte Van Hoytema follows Craig up stairs, down hallways and out on a ledge in a sequence so fluid you can barely spot the joins.
Then the fun really starts: a deluge of falling masonry sends Bond and his quarry back onto the streets and into the air in a loop-the-looping chopper. As pre-titles sequences go, it’s the equal of any that has gone before it – and that includes the ski-jump gotcha from The Spy Who Loved Me.
Back in London, Bond’s rogue mission has set the cat among the pigeons. M’s MI6 is at risk of being subsumed by an umbrella outfit run by the oily C (Andrew Scott) and can ill afford to let its chief assassin go AWOL. Bond, however, has other ideas, not to mention a Tolkien-esque ring whose octopus engraving points to some seriously sinister shenanigans. So off to Rome he pops, there to seduce a widow (Monica Bellucci, age-appropriate yet criminally underused) with information to impart on a certain acronymic syndicate…
Mendes’ film is at its most atmospheric here. A clandestine gathering of Spectre bigwigs in a gothic Roman palazzo exuding all the brooding menace of an Eyes Wide Shut sex orgy. Oddly, though, the nocturnal car chase that follows fails to stir the blood, hampered as it is by an incongruously jaunty tone and the sneaking suspicion that, even with man-mountain Dave Bautista at the wheel of the Jaguar chasing Craig’s Aston Martin along Rome’s cobbled thoroughfares, there isn’t much at stake.
Things quickly improve when the action moves to Austria, where Bond has a chilly encounter with old adversary Mr White (Jesper Christensen, finally making good on the promise of his all too fleeting cameos in Casino Royale and Quantum Of Solace). From this point on there’s nary a let-up. A dust-up on the slopes involving one wingless plane and three 4x4s leads seamlessly to train-based fisticuffs straight out of From Russia With Love, an explosive desert confrontation, and a denouement involving a familiar place in unfamiliar shape.
Ok, so sparks don’t exactly fly between Craig and eventual leading lady Lea Seydoux – or, for that matter, between Craig and Christoph Waltz, dismayingly bland as an overly genteel adversary whose primary beef, once revealed, verges on the petulant. (It does lead to a doozy of a torture scene, though.) Dovetailing Spectre’s plot with those of Craig’s previous Bonds is a dubious move, while the edifice that houses Scott’s Centre of National Security resembles nothing so much as Stark Tower.
The influence of Marvel is felt elsewhere too: a plan to combine the world’s intelligence capabilities into one all-seeing, all-knowing supersnoop bears striking similarities to Captain America: The Winter Soldier. Only Bautista makes the crossover unscathed, this Guardian Of The Galaxy projecting the kind of brutish physical threat that – like the Rolls Royce Phantom that pops up in one scene – brings back happy memories of Goldfinger’s Oddjob.
Craig, for his part, tempers his customary steely determination with a welcome lightness of touch (a scene in which he interrogates a mouse – the idea, one suspects, of co-writer Jez Butterworth – would have been unimaginable back in the doleful days of Quantum), while Ralph Fiennes’ M has some ace bants with Scott over their respective code names. The real delight, though, is Ben Whishaw, whose donnish Q is given much more to do this time around and inflects his scenes with a deliciously offbeat energy.