The Last Waltz?
Warning: This review discusses the plot, including the ending.
Right, let’s put a bullet in the head of that elephant that’s been clomping around the room for three years, a beast that’s done irreparable damage to your bedroom set: Skyfall was an earnest but dull Bond movie with a fallow second act and an illogical finale. Sure, it was manna for the eyes but the brain and heart were unmoved. Yet you loved it, didn’t you? A billion dollars at the global box office says you loved it. A gross Dr Evil would have approved of. Yes, God save us from Bond tourists and their appreciation for Sam Mendes’ introspective, slow burn approach, punctuated by contractually stipulated pyrotechnics. But a billion bucks, the most, adjusted for inflation, since Connery’s Thunderball, told EON and the hereditary Broccoli that they’d hit pay dirt. They wanted their talismanic duo back – Sam and Daniel, even if the former couldn’t direct action for the world’s longest action franchise and the latter was po-faced and uncomfortable exuding the very charisma and flippancy associated with one of cinema’s most enduring characters.
Spectre’s the encore you demanded, but it’s not quite more of the same. Mendes may be coming off a monster hit but he’s seen Skyfall and he knows, even if he can’t say it openly, that the anniversary movie lacked a certain joyousness; it was, dare we say, moribund in places. So his second Bond shifts tone and attempts to reintroduce some vim and irreverence into the mix. Daniel Craig, a man whose smile has to be computer generated at absurd expense, looks more relaxed – comfortable even. He’s not going to ham it up for the likes of you but he permits himself a certain amount of old school brio.
For close to two hours that’s symptomatic of the entire enterprise, a movie content to take its time, unfolding at leisure, though you may have anticipated a narrative with greater pace, more kineticism. But if the film moved like a freight train, with action to tense the muscles and engorge the genitals, there’d be no time to drink in Hoyte Van Hoytema’s luscious cinematography or Mendes’ meticulous composition. This is the Bond movie as high art you see; shot to recall Gordon Willis’s work on The Godfather. If you miss a Bond movie with impetus and well-orchestrated mayhem, you’ve missed the point. It’s all about mood these days, idiot.
But the suspicion grows that Mendes only read the screenplay up to a point – to the end of Act Two to be precise. Thereafter, and indeed once again, the script by Star Trek franchise killer John Logan and serial Bond plagiarists Neal Purvis and Robert Wade, becomes a stockpile of Bond and broad action clichés, as the disaster artists desperately attempt to integrate Kevin McClory’s classic villains, spearheaded by ‘60’s relic Ernst Stavro Blofeld, into the more sober, pseudo-realist world of Daniel Craig’s 007. The result is a largely imbecilic last thirty minutes in which we’re subjected to a straight-faced reprise of cartoon excesses from another era, right down to the villain’s lair that mystifyingly (and indeed comically) explodes in its entirety despite a little local fire damage.
If the film’s final section makes a nonsense of its more grounded beginnings and the promise of an espionage plot centred on the perils of electronic surveillance and global intelligence gathering, balls are well and truly dropped when the quartet of scribes (Jez Butterworth being the forth guilty man) succumb to the bane of our age, child obesity aside, the compulsion to establish a personal connection between the hero and his nemesis.
The news that Blofeld, an iconic Bond villain, is our hero’s step brother, motivated to kill him because of a jealous sibling complex, should be enough to tempt even the most committed fan of Ian Fleming’s super spy to put a gun to their gullet. But still the troupe responsible for vandalising the Bond series aren’t finished. Peripheral characters connected to Bond being active in the plot and its resolution, functioning like a family unit, as everyone must have something to do these days, may be loathsome and intrusive, but nothing quite beats our hero giving up his licence to kill to start a relationship with Lea Seydoux’s Bond girl.
Sure, his experience with her has been no more intense or intimate than with any other woman met on a mission, and it’s the mawkish opposite of On Her Majesty’s Secret Service’s sucker punch finale, but no matter. James Bond has a girlfriend, kids – and if you don’t like the finality that comes with that, then perhaps you should find yourself another franchise to revere.
So Daniel Craig’s four Bonds have now been firmly established as a self-contained quartet with a potentially awful sequel waiting in the wings; a fifth in which an escaped Blofeld seeks further revenge on Bond and his life of blissful, belated domesticity. If such a movie awaits us, if Daniel Craig can be coaxed back to finally, unequivocally quash the promise of his classic debut, then fans of the series must hope that Mendes and his coterie of screenwriters are unavailable. What Bond needs now is a director who can stage action with finesse, working from a script containing at least one original idea, not just a repackaging of material from the series’ illustrious past. What hope?