SPECTRE has the usual ingredients for a potent Bond cocktail: exotic locations, car chases, memorable villains, romance, flash gadgets and deadpan humour. This winning formula stays fresh thanks to added zest from younger actors Ben Wishaw and Naomie Harris. If, as is rumoured, this is to be Daniel Craig’s last outing as 007, then he goes out on a high.
As Bond Craig is a fine figure of a man. We admire his rugged charm and coolness as he fights his way out of tight corners and tighter suits, dispensing his one-liners with just the right amount of world-weariness, flinty pale blue eyes conveying grit and amusement. He will be a hard act to follow, though perhaps the producers of the Bond franchise should give youth its head when it comes to choosing a replacement.
In SPECTRE it is Ben Wishaw as Q and Naomie Harris as Moneypenny who most impress and give the long-running Bond franchise a shot in the arm. Wishaw’s nerdy charisma and Harris’s breeziness brighten up the screen whenever they appear and these two have the best lines. Bond asks Q what his latest watch gadget does. ‘It tells the time,’ replies Q, ‘but the alarm is rather loud, if you know what I mean.’ When Bond phones Moneypenny at night he is surprised that she has company. ‘It’s called life, James,’ she says. ‘You should try it sometime.’
In a bravura opening sequence Bond parades through the vibrant streets of Mexico City during celebrations for the Day of the Dead. He is wearing a skeleton suit and has a lady on his arm. Once inside his hotel bedroom he changes into something a little more comfortable, says he ‘won’t be long’, and pops out of the window, over the rooftops, to assassinate a target who is planning to blow up a stadium. ‘To death’, the baddie is raising his glass. ‘Bottom’s up’, says Bond, before all hell breaks loose.
SPECTRE starts with the words ‘The dead are alive’, hinting at returning ghosts from Bond’s past. Skyfall focussed on James Bond’s childhood home, and here director Sam Mendes continues to uncover chilling secrets from the time James became an orphan. But the film has little time to dwell on psychological niceties. A romantic discussion on a train about Bond’s vocation over vodka martinis is rudely interrupted by an Oddjob-like baddie.
The main villain, Franz Oberhauser (Christoph Waltz) is head of sinister organisation SPECTRE, whose tentacles spread around the world. He has an old-school crater hideaway in the desert and is fond of saying things like ‘out of horror, beauty’ and ‘cuckoo’. Waltz, an Oscar-winner for Django Unchained, brings a lethal calmness to the role, explaining and using his precise instruments of torture like a demon dentist.
Andrew Scott (Moriarty in Sherlock) is also fun to watch as Max Denbigh, or ‘C’, new head of the Centre of National Security, who is intent making Bond and MI6 obsolete in the brave new world of hi-tech surveillance. The 00 programme is ‘prehistoric’, he declares, when you have drones, bugs and transcripts to watch everyone. M (Ralph Fiennes) stands up for the human element, but is witheringly dismissed (‘Is that what M stands for? Moron’). M decides that C stands for ‘callous’, though Bond has other ideas.
SPECTRE mirrors current concerns about the excessive use of government surveillance and comes down firmly on the side of Edward Snowden.