Note: there will be a spoiler or two in here. Anyone who knows me knows how much of a James Bond fan I am. First being introduced to the character as a 5 year old boy and slowly over the years being able to see all of them. Craig reinvented the character a few years ago with one of the strongest entries in the series. Having a minor blip with the follow up ‘Quantum of Solace’, he returned with the highly anticipated ‘Skyfall’ – this anticipation, I believe, had a lot to do with Sam Mendes at the helm (the first time there was such a highly regarded Director in charge). He brought a cinematic prestige to the franchise and the film was an outstanding financial and critical success. I do love that film but it is flawed and has a weak final act – and has less rewatchability than others in the franchise (possibly due to its pacing and melancholic tone). These issues seem to be forgotten by audiences as they anticipate the follow up ‘Spectre’. ‘Skyfall’ is put on a high pedestal so it was going to be a tough ask for the film to compare – and unfortunately hasn’t received the same love that its predecessor was given. This is not unmerited but it is also not far from the mark of ‘Skyfall’. It was a smart choice for Mendes to follow up with such a fan-desired entity as ‘Spectre’ – but also set himself up to meet the challenge of expectation.
The film returns James Bond to its enjoyable roots. If you love Bond there is a lot to enjoy here and for the first time since ‘Goldeneye’, is probably the closest to Classic Bond – which is a good thing. It has been marked in seriousness and angst for three films now. This time Mendes just allows the character levity and enjoyment whilst still staying true to the tone and arc of Craig’s Bond. The film has one of the most technically ambitious opening sequences and is by far the most successful action sequence in the film. The performances are solid, especially from Ben Whishaw and Léa Seydoux. It was enjoyable film going experience for me. I wasn’t blown away and the film never became truly exciting. It plays it quite cool throughout. I think this is due in part to a lack of novelty in the script and in the execution of the action sequences. The latter, whilst competent, lacked memorability and an overall visceral quality. I was excited by what Hoyte van Hoytema would bring to the cinematography in Roger Deakins absence and he delivers a beautiful classic looking film and a worthy successor. Whilst I am a huge fan of Thomas Newman’s scores, this score was a little anonymous (and a lot of Skyfall’s score was revisited). The minimalist use of John Barry’s Bond Themes in the Craig era – especially for this film – is a little disappointing. The sound of Bond is part of what differentiates him from other action heroes and whilst its absence in ‘Casino Royale’ made sense, we are now four films in to the tenure and the Bond sound is only subtly used. It would’ve been interesting to see more of Newman’s reinterpretation of these classic themes here given the film is obviously wanting to channel Classic Bond – with lots of nods to ‘Live and Let Die’ (Mendes’ favourite), ‘From Russia with Love’, ‘You Only Live Twice’ and ‘OHMSS’ to name but a few.
For me, the let down was in the script, the lack of depth – especially for such a long film – and the reveals were obvious. For a ‘Spectre’ origins story, it lacked the threat and fear that such an organisation should bring and the rise of Blofeld didnt pack the dramatic punch – perhaps with the origins out of the way this will come in future outings. The producers probably need to shake it up and look for a totally new writing team next time around to bring back the freshness. This is a minor criticism of a film that is probably on par with ‘Skyfall’ on many levels but also shares some letdowns and flaws. This feels like a good film for Craig to finish his tenure as it feels like a good story arc completion. He may yet return (I think his comments prior to release were just a product of exhaustion and a lack of PR diplomacy). Hopefully the filmmakers will continue to bring in highly talented and regarded directors (Christopher Nolan or Danny Boyle would be interesting picks) and find new ground to tread. I’d happily see Craig return or a new worthy successor. As the end credits stated ‘James Bond will return’ – and given the financial tsunami that the franchise is becoming he’s far from dead and buried.