SPECTRE – Review ****

SPECTRE

There are many question marks surrounding SPECTRE. First and foremost: Could it top the success of Skyfall and best all the many pretenders to Bond’s crown that hit the screens this year? The answer is a resounding yes, proving to all the Men from U.N.C.L.E. and all the Kingsmen, that even after all this time, nobody does it better than Bond.

With Mi6 still reeling from the events of Skyfall, top agent James Bond (Daniel Craig) causes chaos in Mexico City. M, (Ralph Fiennes) facing pressure over a merger with Mi5, is forced to suspend him from duty. But Bond is on a personal mission, motivated by a cryptic message to defy M’s orders to attend the funeral of a man he killed in Mexico. What he’ll find will lead him on a collision course with a shadowy organisation and turn up revelations from his past and his present…

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In his second turn at the Bond helm, Sam Mendes displays a confidence behind the camera that is infectious. From the return of the opening gun barrel sequence to the final shot, SPECTRE is consistently engaging, managing to mix old school Bond iconography with modern action, and displays a touch of character depth in a manner that appears effortless. It manages to be genuinely funny with well-judged jokes deployed throughout, making it the most fun entry in the since the series rebooted with Casino Royale.

That playfulness extends to clever nods to the Bonds of old. The Day of the Dead outfits mirror Live and Let Die’s Caribbean Voodoo garb, there are echoes of On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, both in wintery locales and in Bond’s burgeoning relationship with Madeline Swann, (Lea Seydoux) plus a brutal fist fight that calls to mind the classic From Russia with Love brawl. Mendes is subtle enough to allude to Bond’s film past with straining credibility or coming off as an extended in joke.

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As one would hope with a Bond film, the action is spectacular. The opening in Mexico City kicks things of expertly, combining wit, character and clarity. Those three elements carry over throughout the film’s other major set pieces, with standout sequences being 007’s encounters with Mr Hinx (Dave Bautista) via planes, trains and automobiles across two continents.

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As with Skyfall, there is an excellent ensemble to provide 007 with assistance. Ralph Fiennes is marvellous as M and may get the film’s funniest line, while Ben Whishaw is once again on scene stealing form as Q. Bond’s ladies also fare well, with a memorable cameo from Monica Bellucci and a strong showing by Lea Seydoux as Dr. Swann, a rare love interest who acts as both an alluring foil for the lead as well as having an interior life and an emotional arc of her own.

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There are faults amid the brilliance. Surprisingly it is the organisation itself that doesn’t make an impact. They are neither the razor sharp threat of From Russia with Love nor the glamorously outré outfit seen in Thunderball, and there is little sense that they are as omnipresent as this film suggests. Similarly Christoph Waltz, who by underplaying the part, coupled with a garbled motivation, fails to register as the villain. This is particularly acute in the overly long third act where the question as to why the film didn’t wrap up sooner can’t help but linger.

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But perhaps the biggest riddle surrounding SPECTRE– Is it Daniel Craig’s last spin as 007? Though the film itself can’t answer that, as the credits state he is James Bond, comfortably inhabiting the role as never before. He nails every aspect of the character, handling the humour, action and seductive aspects with ease. The story also dovetails with all the previous instalments of Craig’s tenure so if this is his swan song, it would be as fitting as his natty white dinner jacket.

SPECTRE is on general release