Film Review: ‘Spectre’ (spoiler free)

Bond is back…

Starring:  Daniel Craig, Christoph Waltz, Lea Seydoux, Ralph Fiennes, Monica Belluci, Ben Whishaw, Naomie Harris, Dave Bautista, Andrew Scott, Rory Kinnear, Jesper Christensen

Directed by:  Sam Mendes / Written by:  John Logan, Neal Purves, Robert Wade and Jez Butterworth / 148 minutes

What’s it about?

Whilst the British Secret Service faces an uncertain future, James Bond receives a message from his past that puts him on a dangerous path as he seeks to uncover a sinister criminal organisation known as Spectre…

In review

Ian Fleming’s James Bond – 007 – returns to the big screen for the 24th official entry in the enduring and phenomenally popular spy film franchise.  With the overwhelming success of 2012’s Skyfall, Bond film producers Barbara Broccoli and Michael G. Wilson stoked the flames of anticipation by securing the return of Oscar Winning director Sam Mendes.  Spectre is a solid and thrilling, yet at times imperfect, follow up to that aforementioned game-changing Bond feature.  It’s a well-crafted and often exciting action thriller that perhaps suffers a little under the weight of high expectations and efforts to repeat and surpass the heights of Skyfall and arguably lead actor Daniel Craig’s finest hour, Casino Royale.  With Skyfall we were presented with an interesting progression of the modern Bond film which was more firmly rooted in the pages of Ian Fleming’s original novels and cerebral spy serial Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy whilst melding the very best elements of Sean Connery’s tenure as the iconic spy.  What Spectre does is strive to heighten those elements to mostly positive results, with a few stumbles.

In celebration of what makes a proverbially “good” Bond film there is perhaps a little too much reverence to what has come before, homages to key moments in From Russia With Love, Goldfinger, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service and The Living Daylights (to name a few) are generally pleasing but also evoke a feeling of familiarity that wasn’t present in Skyfall.  There’s also an increase in humour which doesn’t always hit the mark (and even in the odd instance threatens to undermine the drama) and the film’s pacing can at times feel a little sluggish.

Despite these grumbles, the effects of which will likely diminish upon repeat viewings, Spectre certainly delivers the goods.  Daniel Craig makes an assured return as Bond, at ease with his effortless swagger, dapper demeanour and unreserved lethality – the best since Connery and the closest to Fleming’s interpretation of the character since Timothy Dalton.  Lea Seydoux, who had a memorable villainous stint in Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol, makes for a decent female foil to Craig’s Bond as the sparky Dr. Madeleine Swann and there are some fun moments to be had with Ben Whishaw’s Q and Naomie Harris’s Moneypenny.  Just as Whishaw gets his time in the field, Ralph Fiennes – returning as the new M – also gets a piece of the action as well as sharing some great scenes with Sherlock’s Andrew Scott, who plays the chief of a new intelligence agency poised to replace MI6 and the double-0 programme.

Spectre also provides a physically imposing (and largely mute) henchman in the mould of Jaws and Oddjob in the form of Mr. Hinx, a terrifying muscular powerhouse that’s an ideal fit for Guardians of the Galaxy’s Dave Bautista.  This ultimately brings us to double Oscar Winner Christoph Waltz’s main antagonist, Franz Oberhauser, a shadowy figure with connections to Bond’s past and a requisite agenda of evil.  Waltz is simply great with a wonderfully understated and nuanced portrayal that is non-the-less chilling and leaves the viewer in no doubt that he is a capable threat.

The film’s action sequences are second to none, aside from the exciting opening in Mexico City that’s on a par with Goldeneye, there are fist fights as bone crunching as those in Casino Royale, car chases that stand shoulder to shoulder with Quantum of Solace and a spectacular high-stakes finale that threatens to rival Skyfall.

Beyond its strong cast and adrenaline infused action, Spectre has an intriguing script that crafts an enjoyable contemporary spy thriller that is mindful of the post WikiLeaks climate with twists and turns that, although in some instances are predictable, facilitate moments of genuine surprise.  Director Sam Mendes once again guides proceedings with absolute precision, aided by the striking visuals of Interstellar cinematographer Hoyte Van Hoytema who makes the most of rich and varied locales – ranging from Mexico, Rome and Tangier to Austria and London – to present a visually sumptuous film that’s complemented by Skyfall composer Thomas Newman’s score (shame about Sam Smith’s underwhelming theme song) in a flawed but ultimately solid outing for 007.

The bottom line:  Although not quite hitting the overall heights of Casino Royale and Skyfall, Spectre is still a strong and skilfully executed assignment for Mr. Bond.

Spectre is in cinemas across the UK now and opens worldwide on 6th November.

Daniel Craig returns for his latest mission as 007 in 'SPECTRE'.

Daniel Craig returns for his latest mission as 007 in ‘Spectre’.

Film Review: ‘Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation’ (spoiler free)

Mission accomplished?

Starring:  Tom Cruise, Jeremy Renner, Simon Pegg, Rebecca Ferguson, Ving Rhames, Alec Baldwin, Sean Harris

Directed by:  Christopher McQuarrie / Written by:  Christopher McQuarrie (story by Christopher McQuarrie and Drew Pearce) / 131 minutes

What’s it about?

With the IMF disbanded, Ethan Hunt and his teammates must evade capture by the CIA whilst they seek to thwart the plans of the mysterious rogue organisation known as The Syndicate…

In review

Rogue Nation is the fifth instalment of Tom Cruise’s popular action film franchise based on the classic television series which ran during the late sixties/early seventies (and resurrected briefly in the 1980s).  With 2011’s Ghost Protocol proving a huge critical and financial hit, the pressure was surely on to make the IMF’s latest adventure as big and good as, if not better than their previous outing.

Rogue Nation largely succeeds and is undoubtedly a strong and reliable addition to the series, whilst there may be a touch of the familiar the filmmakers have deftly straddled the line of delivering everything that made Ghost Protocol work so well whilst ensuring that there are enough fresh elements to complement the overall ‘package’.

Director/screenwriter Christopher McQuarrie (who has worked with Tom Cruise previously on Jack Reacher and Edge of Tomorrow) succeeds Brian DePalma, John Woo, J.J. Abrams and Brad Bird as creative master of this newest Mission: Impossible and demonstrates a talented ability to skilfully stage the adrenalin infused large scale action set-pieces audiences have come to expect from the M:I series and present a labyrinthine spy narrative that never ceases to surprise with its numerous twist and turns.

Of course, the star of the show is Tom Cruise himself bringing the same relentless drive that has aided in the success of the Mission: Impossible film series.  Cruise injects the character of Ethan Hunt with the usual charisma and skill but as always it’s his extraordinary commitment to the film’s action and stunts that makes much of Rogue Nation so exhilarating, from clinging to the side of a cargo plane as it goes airborne, to trading heavy blows with Jens Hulten’s henchman through to the intense motorbike and car chases.  Yet, it’s actually a novel twist on the computer vault-data theft plot device from the first Mission: Impossible that stands out as one of the most exciting and daring action sequences in Rogue Nation.  Once again there are beautiful and varied locations, this time including Vienna, Morocco and London with some striking imagery provided by cinematographer Robert Elswit.

Returning from duty in Ghost Protocol are Simon Pegg, Jeremy Renner and Ving Rhames.  Although Renner and Rhames are a little sidelined, Pegg’s role as Benji Dunn is once again significantly larger than his cameo in J.J. Abrams’ Mission: Impossible III and, as with Ghost Protocol, Pegg proves able to play both the comedic and the dramatic (and moments of both feel well balanced and well executed in Rogue Nation) effectively.  Alec Baldwin brings some decent star power to bolster proceedings as the CIA man charged with apprehending Hunt and his team and whilst Sean Harris’s raspy-voiced main antagonist isn’t as well defined and as menacing as some of the greatest Bond villains, he’s non-the-less suitably psychotic.

Aiding Hunt is Isla Faust (played by Rebecca Ferguson), a character with torn loyalties upon which much of the mystery and intrigue of Rogue Nation centres on.  The character of Faust and the manner in which she is played by Ferguson is a huge asset to the film and it would be welcome to see the series break trend and have her return for the already mooted sixth Mission: Impossible.

All in all, Rogue Nation is another mission safely and solidly accomplished.

The bottom line:  Rogue Nation is another successful big screen Mission: Impossible venture for producer/star Tom Cruise and his various collaborators with high stakes action combined with an intriguing and twisty spy plot.

Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation is in cinemas now.

Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) and his team of spies return to action in Paramount Pictures' 'Mission: Impossible - Rogue Nation'.

Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) and his team of spies return to action in Paramount Pictures’ ‘Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation’.

Have you seen…’Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol’?

The films you may not have seen that are definitely worth a look…

Year: 2011

Starring:  Tom Cruise, Paula Patton, Jeremy Renner, Simon Pegg, Michael Nyqvist

Director:  Brad Bird

What’s it about?

On a mission to prevent the terrorist Kurt Hendricks from acquiring Russian nuclear launch codes, Ethan Hunt and his Impossible Mission Force (IMF) team are framed for the bombing of the Kremlin.  Disavowed by the U.S. government, Hunt and his team must rely on their own resourcefulness and stop Hendricks from launching a nuclear attack against the United States.

In review

Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol is the fourth and most recent entry (and certainly not the last – a fifth instalment is currently slated for a 2015 release) in the blockbuster Tom Cruise ‘Spy-Fi’ action franchise (based on the classic television series created by Bruce Geller) and safely qualifies as the best.

The plot is relatively uncomplicated yet smart with some neat twists and turns and allows for a number of exciting and tense action sequences, the obvious highlight being Hunt’s vertigo-inducing excursion outside the 830m high, 163 floor Burj Khalifa (all the more effective given Tom Cruise’s commitment to doing most of his own stunts) as well as the final face off with Hendricks (played with appropriate villainy by Nyqvist) in an automatic high rise car park.

Cruise, like him or loathe him (forgetting issues of his personal life, I happen to think he’s a good actor and a top action star), puts in another reliable performance as Ethan Hunt and is joined by new teammates Agent Jane Carter (the beautiful Patton) and Brandt (Renner, star of The Hurt Locker) and re-unites with pal Benji Dunn (Simon Pegg, enjoying a rightfully enlarged part following his cameo in Mission Impossible III).  The group have great chemistry and is a key part of the film’s success.

Brad Bird, director of Pixar’s The Incredibles and Ratatouille makes his live action feature film debut here and it doesn’t show as he handles proceedings with skill and expertise.  Bird keeps things flowing at an appropriate pace, never becoming overwhelmed with the big scale action set-pieces.

Tying things together nicely is another exciting score from Michael Giacchino (who also scored Mission: Impossible III), incorporating Lalo Schifrin’s original themes from the television series.

Why you should watch it

Ghost Protocol is the best in the Mission: Impossible film series, it features engaging characters, edge of the seat thrills and even a measure of humour.  Seeing it is a mission you should definitely choose to accept.

Standout moment

Planning to intercept the launch codes from Hendricks the IMF team arrive at the Burj Khalifa in Dubai.  Part of their plan requires access to the building’s servers which they can only reach undetected from the outside – the team volunteer Hunt as the man for the job…

Did you know?

Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol is not only the most financially (as well as critically) successful in the series but is Tom Cruise’s biggest hit, grossing almost $700 million world-wide.

Watch it if you like…

Mission: Impossible III, The Bourne Legacy

Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol is currently available on Blu-ray and DVD from Paramount Home Entertainment.

Tom Cruise's commitment to his own stunt work adds to the excitement of the Mission: Impossible film series.

Tom Cruise’s commitment to his own stunt work adds to the excitement of the Mission: Impossible film series.