The James Bond movies were among the most formative of my film journey, hence making the effort to get out and see Spectre (2015) on opening day. I didn’t take notes as I wasn’t planning on writing a full review, so hopefully these thoughts aren’t too scattered.
A lot of reviews of the film seem to boil down to, ‘well it’s no Skyfall (2012).’ It’s not, and that’s not the worst thing in the world if you ask me. Don’t get me wrong, I’m a huge fan of that film, despite feeling that it doesn’t deserve a lot of the plaudits that it received. But what Spectre does so well is return to the roots of the series. Roots that have been more or less ignored since Daniel Craig assumed the tux (which you may think is a good thing, and which I don’t think is wholly bad). The pre-credits sequence is an absolute cracker, Mexico City playing host to explosions, a Day of the Dead foot-chase and a duel in a tumbling helicopter that is legitimately breathtaking. Perhaps no sequence in the rest of the film is a slickly constructed and executed as this.
Where the film falls down, if anywhere, is a pretty patchy script. It does some things well. The Bond nerd in me adored the origin story the film lays down for an iconic villain I won’t name. In fact there are numerous little homages to Bond flicks past for fans to pick up on, without them ever feeling too wink wink or taking you out of the world of the film. But the script does lag at points and the film lacks narrative thrust for much of the run time. The film is hurt by being too long and for the plot being a pretty underwhelming retread of ideas we have seen in other films of late. For me though, this just felt like such a fun remix of so many of the past films I adored so much. There is a fast car, quips, Q, creative chases, silly henchman and a really excellent central villain. Though the film is hamstrung by trying to shoehorn that villain into the mythology that the series has been building up throughout the Craig era. It is unnecessary, and frankly part of what makes the film stand apart is that it is not wedded particularly to the Bond character built up over the last few films, one that does not really resonate with the folklore of the character.
Performance wise it is the villains who stand out. Christoph Waltz is really good, especially given he has begun to feel like he is constantly playing the same character of late and here he offers something a little different. Dave Bautista wordlessly brings his pro-wrestling physicality to bear on the film in a couple of excellent sequences, including one aboard a train that is one of the better hand to hand combat sequences the series has ever offered up. Elsewhere, Andrew Scott is his typical excellent self, though it does feel like he is channelling his Moriarty from the Sherlock TV show a little too much. Lea Seydoux is very good as Dr Madeline Swann, a Bond girl straight out of the 60s. In the world of this film, that does not really bother me. You don’t watch this series for the progressive politics (though the film is an extended, though simplistic, jab at surveillance culture), but what frustrates me is the marketing obsession every time one of these films rolls around to assure us this is a very different Bond girl. Make no mistake Seydoux’s character is exactly the same as a majority of the Bond girls the series has ever brought to the screen. Ralph Fiennes as M and Naomi Harris as Moneypenny continue to impress as reinterpretations of those classic stock characters and I’m hoping they continue to play bigger parts in future films.
Verdict: This is the most Bondy feeling Bond film of all the Daniel Craig entries into the series. The story is neither here nor there. But the characters are fun, the chases thrilling enough and the set-pieces, though perhaps needing one more, are certainly thrilling enough. Pint of Kilkenny
Mission Dossier: You Only Live Twice
The James Bond show goes on tour in You Only Live Twice which takes the viewer on a tourist’s tour of Japan – sumo wrestling, the bright neon lights of Tokyo, ninjas and so on.
SPECTRE is back in town, this time spearheaded by their Number 1 Ernst Blofeld now sporting his iconic shaved head. The organisation manages to steal spaceships from both the Americans and the Russians which leaves both countries blaming the other and the world on the brink of World War III. The title refers to the oft copied, but here I think pretty original, conceit of Bond faking his own death in order to get SPECTRE and other enemies off his tail. It is interesting that the Bourne films were so praised for their realistic brand of film hand-to-hand combat because I think these early Connery films do that really well. The Judo influenced action looks rough and tumble, as long as the finger is kept away from the fast forward button which it predominately is in this film. Coupled with some of these excellent fight scenes is probably the series’ first extended car chase. Involving a helicopter with a huge magnet of course. Despite a decent first half though, there is a blandness to the script as well as some of the cringeworthiness that will plague many of the worst Bond films, especially the one that follows this one. Summing up how poor and unoriginal the script is is the fact that Blofeld utilises murderous man-eating piranhas, only one film following a villain who used man-eating sharks to slay his foes. A bit too soon really.
There is an uncomfortable exoticism about how the Japanese are presented in the film, not to mention the ‘yellow face’ makeup that Connery’s Bond ends up in which is really unfortunate. Obviously the James Bond series is not a bastion of great progressive values, but even so, the disrespect of another culture and women in this one is jarring. The constant referring to a woman that Bond is forced to marry as having the “face of a pig” to go with the racial aspects I have mentioned above round out an uncomfortable aspect that the film has. Some of the space sequences of the film provide a bit of a precursor to those that will follow in the Roger Moore starring Moonraker (1979). But they also show off some woeful special effects that are far worse than many films that were made even before this one. The poor quality of the effects is a real distraction. It also mars the aerial sequences of the film. They are not bad enough to ruin an excellent dogfight scene involving Bond’s baby helicopter Little Nelly, but they give it a fair shake. But neither of these are anywhere near as bad as the rubbish stock footage of a volcano that mars the film’s finale. These poor effects throughout give the film a cheap feel that a film of this sort of budget should definitely be able to avoid. The central villain of the piece, Blofeld, is surely the greatest in the series. Here there is a fantastic scene where Blofeld reveals his scarred face to Bond. It is a shame that the character, played so well by Donald Pleasence, is not onscreen for near enough time to save this film.
In comparison to the first four classics that preceded it, You Only Live Twice is undeniably flat. There are some exciting moments, some of the chases and fistfights for example. But the unsavoury atmosphere of the Japan set parts of the film coupled with a bland overall story despite a couple of excellent ideas, means that this is easily the weakest entry in the series so far. It is incredibly disappointing that the ultimate villainous lair – inside a volcano! – is so wasted by featuring in this film.
Verdict: Schooner of Carlton Draught
- Thunderball (1965)
- Goldfinger (1964)
- Dr No (1962)
- From Russia with Love (1963)
- You Only Live Twice (1967)