It’s standard fare time again for 007. As usual, poker-faced muscle man Daniel Craig acquits himself nicely as James Bond in the stunts department but oh do we miss the wit of Sean Connery. “Spectre” is the 24th installment in the franchise and like its predecessors, there is no deviation from the formula (which of course includes the Bond girls, Q’s gadgets, multiple chase scenes and a dastardly villain). The trick of course is for the scenarists to improve upon the formula just a tad—a curve ball of sorts, if you will. Sadly once again, there is a dearth of really original, creative ideas, to make this entry stand out in the Bond pantheon.
Occasionally, the film does deliver the goods and that’s why we’ll still pay a few bucks to see it. Most impressive is the opening sequence shot in Mexico City at the most colourful “Day of the Dead” festival. Bond ends up assassinating a coterie of bad guys but must fend off being swallowed up by a crumbling building after a spectacular implosion. The subsequent chase and fight inside a tottering helicopter is just what the doctor ordered and I was ready for more derring-do Bond exploits.
We then learn that Bond is threatened from a completely different source. Back at headquarters, MI5 and MI6 have been merged forming a privately backed joint intelligence service. The new head “C” wants to eliminate the 007 program entirely with “M”, Bond’s boss, powerless to prevent the shortsighted plan from coming to fruition.
Meanwhile, Bond travels to Rome despite being grounded by “M” for his unauthorised actions in Mexico City. He looks up Lucia (played by 50- year-old Monica Bellucci, the oldest Bond “girl” ever), the widow of one of the men Bond killed earlier, who tells him about Spectre, the international criminal organisation at the centre of the 007 plot. I had a hard time believing that Bond would just walk into a meeting where he could be so easily discovered. Worse yet was the nature of the Spectre organisation with its assemblage of bad guys who reminded me more of an odd collection of diplomats from the General Assembly at the United Nations than modern day terrorists. Clearly the villains here were more reminiscent of the kind one would find in a Bond movie from 1965—despite the group’s modern-day grab for world dominance via worldwide linked internet surveillance.
At the meeting we’re also introduced to Mr. Hinx, the assassin who plucks out the eyeballs of a rival assassin in front of a disbelieving group of Spectre villains. Hinx is 2015’s equivalent of Oddjob, far more charming in the antediluvian “Goldfinger.” Unfortunately there is nothing to distinguish Hinx from the odd lot of prior Bond enforcer/assassins. He’s involved with Bond in a rather perfunctory car chase and later a more impressive fistfight on a train (was director Sam Mendez’s decision not to actually show Hinx being asphyxiated a budgetary consideration?).
Despite the big fight on the train (where Hinx pops up out of nowhere) and Bond surviving a neat crash in a prop plane, the journey to Spectre headquarters, is a long and tortured one. First there is Bond’s encounter with Mr. White and then the long-winded meeting with his daughter, Dr. Madeline (played by the much younger Léa Seydoux), who brings Bond to the L’Americain hotel in Morocco where they finally find out the location of the arch-villain Oberhauser (aka Blofeld).
The rather idiotic scene where Oberhauser goes to great lengths to drill two needles into Bond’s brain to turn him into a vegetable and Bond’s subsequent, incredible escape is just another reason we can never take any of these Bond pictures seriously. Although I did like just how spectacularly the production team staged the blowup of the Spectre complex.
The Spectre denouement was again really nothing new. Particularly disappointing was Q’s role—stopping the “ticking clock” of Spectre’s surveillance system by simply hacking into a computer and overcoming its encryption codes. There were also no surprises when “C” gets his comeuppance and Bond saves the girl before another building implodes. I had no objection to the final helicopter crash and the detention of Oberhauser (Christoph Waltz has settled well into providing us with a one-size-fits-all stock villain, for most of the films in which he appears).
If this is Daniel Craig’s swan song, one must congratulate him for his physical prowess—I still wish he could have exuded a little more humour in the role. As for “M”, Ralph Fiennes is serviceable enough but can’t hold a candle to Judi Dench. Finally, may I argue that Naomie Harris is more than fine in the role of Moneypenny and should be retained, even if Daniel Craig is replaced.
In the age of ISIS, organisations like Spectre hardly seem scary or believable at all. For the next James Bond, I call on the screenwriters to make things a little more believable—that way the franchise may be able to cast off the moniker of irrelevancy.