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’.

James Bond to face SPECTRE in 2015

So, it’s been some months now since it was announced that Skyfall director Sam Mendes would return to helm the next instalment in the James Bond film series and this week finally saw the big reveal – Bond 24 is now titled SPECTRE.

Deriving its name from the evil SPECTRE (SPecial Executive for Counter-intelligence, Terrorism, Revenge and Extortion) organisation featured in Ian Fleming’s novels and which due to legal wrangles has been prevented from featuring in the film series since Sean Connery’s departure in the early seventies, it provides tantalising hints into what may be in store for the iconic super-spy as we learn that the plot will see a cryptic message from Bond’s past sending him on the trail of the sinister organisation.

Given that the major critical and commercial success of Skyfall set the bar rather high, there’s certainly a sense that producers Barbara Broccoli and Michael G. Wilson are taking every step to ensure that SPECTRE is (at least) equally successful, not only by securing Mendes (who will be joined by Interstellar cinematographer Hoyte van Hoytema) as director but by once again enlisting screenwriters John Logan, Robert Wade and Neal Purves.  This will give the film a sense of continuity and consistency given that both Mendes and Craig have cited that the narrative of SPECTRE will be affected by the events of Skyfall – perhaps not as direct a follow on as Quantum of Solace was to Casino Royale but it seems that there will be significant links.

The excellent Daniel Craig will be back as Fleming’s James Bond – 007 and will be accompanied by returning Skyfall cast members Ralph Fiennes (the new ‘M’), Roy Kinnear (Tanner), Naomie Harris (Moneypenny) and Ben Whishaw (‘Q’).  They will be joined by Bond girls Monica Bellucci (The Matrix) and Lea Seydoux (Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol) together with Sherlock’s Andrew Scott and Guardians of the Galaxy’s (and muscular power-house) David Bautista.

That leaves the most enticing and arguably most exciting casting coup of all – double Academy Award winner Christophe Waltz (Inglorious Basterds).  Of course we’ve been told that Waltz will be playing a character named ‘Oberhauser’ but would a James Bond film going by the title of SPECTRE fail to feature the head of the organisation – Ernst Stavro Blofeld (previously played onscreen by such notable actors as Donald Pleasance and Telly Savalas), surely a role suited to an actor of such incredible presence and stature?

Now, to await the announcement of who will be providing the film’s title song…

Principal photography on SPECTRE commences on Monday 8th December with locations including London, Rome, Mexico City, Morocco and Austria.  The film is due for worldwide release from November 6th 2015.

What are your hopes (and fears?) for 007’s next cinematic adventure?  Share your thoughts below!

The superb Daniel Craig will return as Ian Fleming's James Bond - 007 in 'SPECTRE'.

The superb Daniel Craig will return as Ian Fleming’s James Bond – 007 in ‘SPECTRE’.

Sam Mendes returning for ‘Bond 24’ in 2015

A few weeks ago I published a post on the subject of Sam Mendes returning to direct the next Bond film (which you can read here) and it’s now been confirmed that he will indeed be taking the reins for the as yet untitled 24th big screen outing for Ian Fleming’s man from MI6.

So, just a (fairly) quick follow up on the matter.  This is of course good – if not entirely unexpected – news, all the more as the wait will not be too long with an October 2015 release date (UK – a November release is scheduled for the States) set.

Mendes is certainly not the first director to tackle more than one Bond film – even two or more consecutive outings, John Glen firmly holding the record as director of five films (of varying quality) in a row with two very different Bond actors (the fun but cheesy Roger Moore and the vastly underrated Timothy Dalton) between 1981 and 1989.  Sometimes this turned out well – Terence Young directed 007’s first and second cinematic outings, Dr. No (1962) and From Russia with Love (1963) and sometimes it didn’t…Guy Hamilton helmed the much lauded Goldfinger (1964) but returned for the rather awful Diamonds Are Forever (1971).

With John Logan once again on screenwriting duties (he is also contracted for Bond 25) we can rest assured that the story for Bond 24 will be rich and explore every nook of Bond’s psyche, much as Ian Fleming did and I’ve no doubt that Daniel Craig will provide another strong performance.  Under the direction of Mendes Skyfall presented us with a sharp, complex and beautifully visualised spy thriller (more reminiscent of films such as Tinker Taylor Soldier Spy) that paid homage to the character’s roots without it feeling stale.  I rate it as one of the best in the series although I feel that there ARE superior Bond films with Casino Royale remaining my choice as the best of Daniel Craig’s tenure (thus far).

All in all it’s good to see that Bond 24 is moving ahead and I look forward to seeing how it turns out.

What are your thoughts on Sam Mendes returning for another Bond?  Leave a comment below!

Bond 24: is Sam Mendes worth waiting for?

For a time it almost seemed like we’d never see another James Bond film.  Of course, that all changed last October when the most commercially and critically successful entry in the Bond film series (so far) was released a long, hard four years (call me impatient) after 2008’s Quantum of Solace.

Bond 23 aka Skyfall, as you no doubt know (who doesn’t?) was helmed by American Beauty’s Oscar Winning Director Sam Mendes and whilst I personally wouldn’t declare it as the best Bond film of all (a close tie between From Russia With Love and Goldfinger?  I’ll save that debate for another time) as many have I would certainly rank it as one of the best.  Mendes definitely brought a touch of class and sophistication that eased the pain of the franchise’s cinematic low points (Die Another Day – I’m looking squarely at you).

So, Skyfall is released and the box office tills ring to the tune of $1 Billion and the film enjoys much adulation from critics and fans alike.  It seemed only natural that Bond producers Barbara Broccoli and Michael G. Wilson would do all that they could to repeat that level of success, the same would be true of any film franchise and can only (at least potentially) be a good thing – right?

Unfortunately, a director of Mendes’ stature with a body of quality and varied work may want to pursue other things (despite the lure of an enticingly hefty fee).  Earlier in the year negotiations came to a close with Mendes’ busy schedule forcing him to withdraw graciously without any notion of directing the next Bond, despite a genuine desire to do so.

The search for a new director commenced with a vow from Broccoli and Wilson to bring Mendes back for a future Bond outing.  Christopher Nolan was among the names churned out by the rumour mill (unlikely as he is currently working on his first post-Batman film project, Interstellar – due for release in November 2014), but – wait – current word on the grapevine is that Mendes could very well be returning for Bond 24…in 2016.  So, it’ll result in another four year wait – if we end up with another high quality Bond film then so be it but the big question really would now seem to be can Daniel Craig pull it off?  He’s the best 007 since Sean Connery but by 2016 Craig will be approaching 50, by no means ancient in today’s society but it’s hard not to think back to Roger Moore’s later adventures.

So in the quest for an answer to the question that headlines this post (thanks for sticking with me) I would say yes…and no.  I most definitely would like to see where else Bond could be taken under the guidance of Sam Mendes but why not bring him back for Bond 25 (and round out Daniel Craig’s tenure on a high)?  There could be an equally exciting director out there, eager and ready to go who could provide their own flavour to the series, safe in the knowledge that Skyfall screenwriter John Logan has been tapped to write Bond 24 and 25?

Either way I look forward to Bond 24 but wish it was sooner rather than later…