“I think you’re just getting started” quips Moneypenny to a deep-rooted Bond, before cueing a smirking reaction from Daniel Craig. And she’s right! Craig has started as Bond! For the first time, he’s playing Bond, not a man searching to become Bond. Craig, a self-confessed Sean Connery nut, teams up again with his ‘Skyfall’ compatriot Sam Mendes to deliver the most aesthetically enjoyable entry since ‘The Living Daylights’ (1987) and the strongest film in the Bond canon since ‘Casino Royale’ (2006). Mercifully rejecting the needless cerebralism of ‘Skyfall’ and the frenetic testosterone craziness of ‘Quantum of Solace, ‘Spectre’ blends the classic and the modern, a modern example of pop cinema’s finest icon.
Mendes has a flair for cinema, his palette and brush covering Bond and beyond. The film’s opening tracking shot recalls Scorsese, a later torture scene in a laboratory echoes Kubrick. Atypical of a Mendes film, the dialogue cracks and whizzes as fast as any of Bond’s bullets. Mendes turns his hand back to the Bond’s of Connery and Moore without the resorting to pastiche. “It was me James, the author of all your pain” pithies Nehru wearing Christoph Waltz (Franz Oberhauser) as he lets his fallen friend in on their shared history. It’s a chilling moment, contrasted by an enjoyably ludicrous train fight recalled ten minutes earlier. Dave Bautista’s Mr. Hinx must be the most enjoyable henchman in years, his mute but deadly posterior a nice throwback to Harold Sakata’s Oddjob of old.
Waltz and Craig are not the only members who impress in this epic. Lea Seydoux impresses with ethereal qualities as resident Bond girl Dr. Madeleine Swan, her French intonation a nice indictment of the worldliness of the series. Ben Whishaw and Rory Kinnear play their roles with ease, adding comic flourishes to their bumbling administrative personas Harris the most rounded Moneypenny to date, Ralph Fiennes a frentic action hero; if age were not a factor, he could prove a very worthy successor to Craig. Only Monica Bellucci and Andrewe Scott don’t fare so well, the former on screen toof lettingly, the latter unabble to hide his Dublin accent, as embarrassing as Michael Fassbender’s Irish ramblings at the close of ‘X-Men:First Class’ or Pierce Brosnan’s inability to say ‘Bond, James Bond’without resorting to hibernal dictation.
Fittingly, the film is the funniest and most lighthearted since ‘Tomorrow Never Dies’ (1997), a refreshing change of pace from the moribound introspection the film series has tried to follow since ‘The World Is Not Enough’ (1999), with humour both predictable and knowingly ironic. As Bond orders his vodka martini, he is informed none are sold in the medical centre they are situated in. A frantic Bond is disapproving of a Moneypenny in bed with another man, an inverted throwback to the days when Naomi Harris’s predecessor Lois Maxwell tut tutted at Bond’s non-scholastic activities. And where Craig was once accused as humourless (‘The Irish Times’ Ed Power has certainly thought so), it is refreshing to see how much fun Craig is having on his fourth outing. After three films of uninterrupted chafing, it is a nice sight to see Craig snigger as he lands from a parachute, or quip as a fallen villain falls from a peak, without resorting to the histrionic camp from the Roger Moore days. A break through a hotel wall, however, proves that he has not lost his finesse for carnage or his uncanny facial similarities to Steve McQueen.
The film is not without its detractors. Thomas Newman shamelessly recycles whole musical cues from his previous soundtrack to ‘Skyfall’, something John Barry never did over eleven scores, the film could have lost ten minutes for time purposes and the film’s unsure whether it’s thematically pro or anti Edward Snowden. But It’s a fine example of pop entertainment as good as pop can ever be. If this does indeed prove to be Craig’s final outing,at least he left with a smile very firmly attached to his face! James Bond will be back the end credits promise- ‘Spectre’proves he never left!