Director: Sam Mendes
Cast: Daniel Craig, Lea Seydoux, Monica Bellucci, Ralph Fiennes, Christoph Waltz
Rating: Two-and-a-half stars
Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past couple of weeks or so, you’re sure to have known that the newest James Bond film is now playing at a theatre near you. And does SPECTRE — starring Daniel Craig in what may be his last film for the franchise — deliver? Certainly. If you’re willing to overlook a few weak moments.
SPECTRE begins in spectacular fashion — with Bond in Mexico City during the Day of the Dead parade. He’s there, on some beyond-the-grave instructions of M (the older one, played by Judi Dench, who was killed off in Skyfall) to track and assassinate a man called Sciarra. After some fantastic shots of the parade crowds and floats, an explosion that brings down a building and a roller coaster of a helicopter ride, through Sciarra, Bond comes across the symbol of the shadowy global criminal organisation known as “SPECTRE”.
The trail is a long and twisted one for Bond to follow, and takes him many places: First, back to London, where his antics in Mexico City haven’t met with the approval of the new, beleaguered M (played by Ralph Fiennes). M is dealing with the merging of MI6 with MI5, and the intentions of the MI5 head, Max (Andrew Scot — previously seen as Moriarty in BBC’s Sherlock) to scrap the Double-O programme. While M wants Bond to play it safe and stick close to home, our super-spy certainly isn’t going to let go of his red-hot leads and with some help from friends like the trusted Moneypenny (Naomie Harris) and Q (Ben Whishaw) sets off to Rome, then Austria, Morocco and then back to London — uncovering clue after clue in the SPECTRE case.
Along the way, Bond seduces the gorgeous Luccia (Sciarra’s widow, Monica Bellucci) who tells him how to get to a SPECTRE meeting; and then rescues and falls in love with the gutsy Madeline (Lea Seydoux) who also has vital information concerning the men who run SPECTRE. From there, it is on to the SPECTRE headquarters for a denouement with the villain — Bond’s arch nemesis Ernst Stavro Blofeld.
While the screen time devoted to Bond’s amorous interludes with Luccia and Madeline have been cut down, courtesy our Censor Board; the action sequences get full play, and you won’t be left wanting for high-speed chases (the one of Bond’s Aston Martin screeching through the streets of Rome with a SPECTRE assassin hot on his trail are alone worth the price of the ticket) or appropriately impressive explosions and bust-ups. And Daniel Craig — who’s been called perhaps the best Bond ever — navigates this landscape with élan, tossing back a drink here, rocking a tuxedo there, making the women swoon with his assertive charm, leading the bad guys a merry dance, and just generally being indestructible.
With so much going for it, we’re pretty willing to overlook the weak moments in SPECTRE — of which there are quite a few. The title score is excellent of course (Sam Smith’s Writing On The Wall) but its juxtaposition with some aspects of the imagery of the title credits sequence (the silhouette of a woman wrapped in the tentacles of an octopus seems like something out of hentai) is unfortunate. The kissing sequence between Madeline and Bond suffers not just from the snip-happy censors, its placement in the story seems abrupt, awkward and gratuitous (they’ve just had an epic battle with an assassin; Madeline turns to Bond and says, ‘What do we do next’ and the kissing scene is the answer to that question). Things like that jar and take away from the experience of the film as a whole.
There’s also a feeling of déjà vu that you might feel, especially if you happened to watch Mission: Impossible — Rogue Nation earlier this year. That too took its super-spy (Agent Ethan Hunt) to Morocco in an across-the-globe hop, depicted high-octane chases et al. SPECTRE seems to tread somewhat familiar ground in that regard.
Still, we aren’t quibbling. And you know why? Because, Daniel Craig is impeccable, in every way. And because — well, Bond! Right from the time he first appeared in the pages of Ian Fleming, and later, on our screens in Dr No, there’s never been anyone quite like Bond (stop trying, Agent Hunt!). In a “world that is tilting who knows where”, you know that you can always count on 007 to make good use of his licence to thrill. And boy, does he thrill!