When it comes to the spying game, apparently, you have two choices; “You can do good, or you can do well,” as Kit Harrington’s jaded spy moodily intones. Sadly Spooks: The Greater Good does neither, despite its (very) modest ambitions. A humdrum, conceptually flawed and frankly unnecessary big screen spin off of the long running BBC series, it will likely bemuse the uninitiated as nothing special and disappoint die hard fans as more-of-the-same. But then Spooks: Not Particularly Good wouldn’t look so hot on the poster.
After terrorist mastermind Adam Qasim (Elyes Gabel) is liberated from MI5 custody in a daring daylight raid, The Service is disgraced at home and abroad. When intelligence chief Sir Harry Pearce (Peter Firth) goes missing in a possible suicide, decommissioned agent Will Holloway (Harrington) is reactivated to track down his former boss. Unsure who to trust, Holloway’s loyalties are divided. Has Harry cracked and been turned by Qasim? Or are Pearce’s suspicions about the traitorous conspiracy threatening MI5’s very existence dangerously real?
A common spy question is “Who sent you?!” That must certainly be asked of The Greater Good. Who sent for this, exactly? Spooks ran for ten seasons until 2011, admirable service for a British drama, yet there has been no real clamour for “a Spooks movie.” But then The Greater Good’s cover is blown almost immediately: it’s not really a film. Its ultimate subterfuge is disguising two incident free television episodes back to back as a major motion picture.
The “movie” lacks character. Pearce, Holloway and Qasim are, appropriately, ciphers. Harrington’s spook is a charmless ghost, his betrayal by mentor Harry and revelations about Pearce’s role in his father’s death only recalling the recent, much better and more fun Kingsman. Qasim is a photofit fundamentalist, with no ideology, motivation or plan. His dastardly schemes never imperil the public, perhaps due to budget constraints, making his CIA most-wanted status, and authorities’ constant kowtowing to his demands, absurd.
Yet it is the trouble with Harry that exposes the flaws in The Greater Good’s conception. The shows’ fans will learn nothing new of Pearce, with no hidden depths uncovered within the feature length. Fresh audiences will discover even less. Neither the frequently referenced personal tragedy that haunts Harry from the series’ conclusion nor his quest for professional vindication mean anything. Without the luxury of sixty episodes’ characterisation, he is merely a boss, less M and more X.
None of this would matter if the thriller was, well, thrilling. Aside from the briskly edited opening breakout and an attack at a UN concert gala, there is precious little action. The most extensive and exciting sequence involves a heart stopping dash to… the correct Heathrow terminal building. Few will be stirred or shaken, unless they are shaken awake.
The predictability of the clichéd plot contributes to the tediousness. The search for the traitorous moles traitorously moling through The Service extends to three suspects, an identikit parade of sneering bureaucrats. Their plan, to dismantle MI5 completely, is almost offensively insulting to the audience’s (pun intended) intelligence. The exponential increase in surveillance by GCHQ shows Britain’s true relationship with domestic espionage. A smarter film might examine this dynamic. A better film would certainly make it more exciting.
Lacking the political savvy of the Bourne franchise, the detailed authenticity of a John Le Carré or the exuberant glamour of James Bond, audiences are left instead with a hollow procedural punctuated by occasional chase scenes. In the “British Spy Film Canon” Spooks: The Greater Good deserves to be left firmly out in the cold.
Spooks: The Greater Good is in UK cinemas from 8th May 2015.