James Bond Spectre review: Action as good as Skyfall, but Sam Mendes can't have it both ways
How do you trump the most successful British film in history? That’s the challenge facing the new Bond movie, Spectre, which received its first screening in London.
Thankfully, as an action movie, Spectre is every bit the equal of its predecessor, Skyfall. For at least half its running time, this is as good as Bond gets – a rip-roaring and very stylishly made thriller with tremendous production values.
The hitch is that, in its latter stages, Spectre struggles to reconcile its own internal contradictions. The filmmakers want to have it both ways: to provide slick entertainment while also giving us new insight into Bond’s emotions and into his past. This leads to some strange contortions. One moment, we are being told that 007 is an assassin: a hard-headed killer. The next, we hear – in one of the most trite lines in the history of the Bond series – that “you’re a good man, James”.
In his second film at the helm, director Sam Mendes has upped the budget (reportedly to more than $300m) and added to the itinerary. Whereas Skyfall, released shortly after the London Olympics, had a very British flavour, Spectre sees Bond roaming far further afield, albeit returning to London for the finale.
As ever, there are those in Whitehall who feel that Bond is an embarrassing anachronism and should be consigned to the scrapheap forthwith. Andrew Scott (Moriarty from Sherlock) plays Max Denbigh (“C”), the new boss of the Centre for National Security, who takes a very dim view of Bond’s gallivanting and Errol Flynn-like approach to spycraft.
The casting of the two main female leads is intriguing. These aren’t the typical Bond “girls” – both are played by formidable European actresses. Léa Seydoux, playing young doctor Madeleine Swan, is best known for her role in Abdellatif Kechiche’s Palme d’Or winning lesbian drama, Blue Is The Warmest Colour. The 51-year-old Italian actress Monica Bellucci is cast as Lucia Sciarra, a mobster’s widow, hiding dark secrets.
Craig, in his fourth outing as 007, gives a double-edged performance, tackling the action and romantic scenes with a boyish relish while trying to convey Bond’s anguish at the death that surrounds him.
Spectre is full of references to earlier Bond movies. There is a fight aboard a train that rekindles memories of From Russia With Love. We have references to Blofeld (and his cat), the usual torture sequences and even a moment in which Judi Dench speaks from beyond the grave (she is not the type to let death get in the way of work).
Bond is described as being like “a kite in a hurricane,” a description which cutely sums up the cinematic mayhem that Mendes unleashes. The only disappointment in what is an exhilarating movie is the surprisingly clumsy and sentimental way in which the film ends.
Independent News Service