This is the latest movie in the James Bond franchise. It was one of the biggies in our cinemas last summer, but I didn't see it then. I decided to wait till it came out on DVD, which is where I caught up with it.
I have two big problems with the modern James Bond movies, which is why I don't go out of my way to see them in hard-top cinemas; DVDs are good enough, in my book. First, I am one of those cinema dinosaurs who thought the character never fully recovered after Sean Connery stopped playing him. Second, Bond movies pretty well stick to the classic Bond formula: spectacular stunts, car chases, big explosions, pretty girls alternately being menaced by baddies or swept off their feet by James, and his employer, MI6, routinely despairing of keeping him on a vaguely accountable leash. These days, the actual story-line is almost irrelevant. Colour, noise, sex and spectacle – that's all the die-hard Bond fan really wants.
Now, Daniel Craig has been the latest incarnation of the Bond character for several movies. Being a good actor, he has generally done a pretty serviceable job. So too in "Spectre". But, still, while trying to build on the creditable job he did with the character in "Skyfall", I feel he is now just an adornment – a necessary adornment, it's true – to help fill out the standard Bond formula of chase sequences, buildings blowing up, pretty women, etc etc.
The story is okay, if not inspirational. Bond takes time out from MI5 after, to his employer's chagrin, having blown up half of Mexico City in a spectacular opening sequence. He follows up a posthumous request from the former "M" – Judi Dench who sadly was rubbed out in "Skyfall" but has a tiny cameo in the new movie – to kill a certain baddie. One thing leads to another, and our hero finds himself pitted against a global criminal conspiracy, Spectre, headed by Ernst Stavro Blofeld (from several earlier Bond stories), played by the genial Christoph Waltz. Waltz is a fine actor who seems to specialise in playing cultured, genial, rather likeable villains who are actually really vicious pieces of work. So too here.
While all this skulduggery is going on, back at the ranch, or rather, Whitehall, big things are happening. Under the new "M" (played by Ralph Fiennes, who is really rather good as the suave, competent, action-bureaucrat), MI6 is being combined with MI5 in one super-intelligence agency, with M destined for the scrapheap and about to be replaced by "C", a role played with delicious superciliousness by Andrew Scott ("C" is actually the real-life designation for the head of Britain's MI6). Furthermore, British Intelligence is about to merge in a worldwide federation of intelligence services, so as to better coordinate the fight against organised crime and terrorism. But wait... There is a mole, a Spectre mole, in the new organisation, threatening to bring it under Christoph Waltz's domination. Who is the mole and can our hero save the day?
There is no doubt the stunts in this movie are very well staged. I've never seen helicopters perform so aerobatically as they do in this film. The air crash staged in the middle of the movie is spectacular, even though quite unbelievable. An iconic building (Which one? "Skyfall" gives the clue) is blown up in central London. Our hero's many hairsbreadth escapes from certain death are well handled, though a torture scene may disturb. The fight scenes are excellently choreographed.
It is good to see several traditional Bond characters being developed further. "Q" (very engagingly played by Ben Whishaw), who is responsible for James's special gizmos, has a larger role this time around and helps James in chasing down Spectre. So too with Miss Moneypenny, played by the likeable, pert Naomie Harris. With Bond temporarily in MI6's bad books, Moneypenny is our hero's mole in the organisation, helping him dig up information. Ralph Fiennes' M builds further on the kick-arse character he began developing in "Skyfall". I really rather like Ralph as M. Bond's leading lady this time round, the French actress Lea Seydoux, is cute and sexy, but, although she has lots of on-screen time, is not entirely central to the plot.
Production values are very high, location filming took place just about everywhere you like to name, the director, the very well-known Sam Mendes (he did "Skyfall" too), does quite a good job with what is little more than the usual Bond formula, and we read in the press that the amount of money spent in making the movie is equal to the budget of several small countries. It shows – the film is technically very good. Although the plot is standard Bond, I did like the fact that "Spectre" makes an effort to build on, and advance a little further, ideas and characters' life histories aired in the earlier "Skyfall". That's good – having a linked, coherent series of movies with traceable, common themes might be a good way of stopping the franchise becoming boring.
I enjoyed it, but had to stifle the occasional yawn at the predictability of it all.
Gilbert's star rating (out of five): * * * 1/4