Writer: John Logan, Robert Wade, Neil Purvis, Jez Butterworth
Cast: Daniel Craig, Christoph Waltz, Lea Seydoux, Naomi Harris, Ben Whishaw, Dave Bautista, Monica Bellucci, Andrew Scott
Running time: 148mins
What’s the story: A voice from the dead sends Bond on a mission deep into the tentacle-like grasp of villainous global cartel Spectre. His journey forces him to face demons from his past alone as MI6 has been targeted by a new Orwellian surveillance division with full government support.
What’s the verdict: Spectre: n. ghost, phantom.
There are many ghosts in this Spectre. Chief of all is Skyfall, whose intimidating presence is felt throughout Bond 24.
That film’s extraordinary success, it remains the only film to gross over £100m in the UK, must have brought a terrifying weight of expectation. Particularly when the Sony hacking scandal threatened to leak the entire plot (alluded to here with a Snowden-like subplot MacGuffin about the end of privacy).
In an attempt to match Skyfall, returning director and writers Sam Mendes and John Logan, Robert Wade and Neil Purvis and Jez Butterworth have delved deep into Bond’s past, unearthing more ghosts.
This is maybe the most indebted Bond has been to previous films in the franchise since Moonraker remade The Spy Who Loved Me. Don’t worry, although Spectre is a touch Moore-ish there’s no place for double-taking pigeons here.
An exhilarating Mexico opening during The Day of the Dead festival harkens back to Live and Let Die’s voodoo and The Living Daylight’s balcony assassination attempt, but with a more explosive punchline.
The introductory Spectre AGM is almost a beat for beat reprise from Thunderball, designed seemingly in homage to Eyes Wide Shut, with Christoph Waltz’s villainous Franz Oberhauser introduced in cool, ominous shadow.
Elsewhere, Bond is back in the snow, scene of many a previous triumph including the end of On Her Majesty’s Secret Service and the opening of The Spy Who Loved Me. We’ll not mention Die Another Day.
A train fight with Dave Bautista’s Oddjob 2.0 Mr Hinx is a sensationally well executed nod to From Russia With Love’s locomotive smackdown.
Even Monica Bellucci’s blink and you’ll miss it cameo is reminiscent of the similarly fleeting Teri Hatcher appearance in Tomorrow Never Dies. For which, ironically, Bellucci auditioned.
The writers go back into Bond’s history on the page as well for more revelations that follow events in Skyfall. A rewatch of Craig’s first three outings is recommended to avoid head-scratching over precisely who is who.
Even Spectre itself is a call back to Bond’s history after Quantum was summarily dropped as the big bad (and is kind of retrofitted here).
So, Spectre is not Skyfall then. But, crucially it doesn’t revoke 007’s license to kill. Mendes, Craig and co hit the target enough times to make this an entertaining entry into the secret agent’s growing dossier.
That Mexico opening impresses, particularly a helicopter f(l)ight scene that puts the heart in the mouth on numerous occasions. Elsewhere a plane versus SUV chase and Bond’s breakout of Spectre’s lair with feisty doctor Madeleine Swann (Seydoux) are also standouts.
Even if some action scenes have nods to Roger Moore era silliness, including a bad Italian driver who undercuts the tension in a potentially thrilling car chase.
Storywise, Spectre certainly globetrots, moving from Mexico to London to Italy to Austria and North Africa, but there’s a strange lack of drive to what moves England’s finest agent from one place to another.
More also could have been made of Waltz’s Oberhauser, the pitiless new chairman of Spectre. Played with the same mischievous malevolence he brought to Inglourious Basterds, a couple more scenes of fiendishness would have fully utilised the actor’s chops. But, he does have the scariest dentist chair known to man in a particularly grim torture scene.
Ralph Fiennes’ M, joined by Naomi Harris’ Moneypenny and Ben Whishaw’s Q, gets a subplot of his own fending off the unwelcome intervention of sneering bureaucrat Max (Scott, Moriarty in TV’s Sherlock), culminating in a verbal joust that earns the film its biggest laugh.
But, ultimately what carries Spectre is Daniel Craig. Looking a little older and more ragged, his is a Bond wearied and slightly exasperated by the constant threats against global stability, fueling him to get his man no matter the army he must conquer to do it.
Here’s hoping he picks up the Walther PPK one last time to go out on a real high.
The end credits promise Bond will return. For Bond 25 make the song a little more memorable please. Maybe Adele could do a Bassey and return with him?