Directed by Sam Mendes
Out now (UK), November 9 (US)
M sets Bond on a mission which will become more personal than he ever expects…
It’s the longest running Bond movie (at nearly two and a half hours), but for my money, it’s up there with the best. There’s a solid throughline in the plot – setting various elements up and bringing them to a resolution in the closing half hour – alongside the action set pieces that everyone has come to expect from the franchise. Even Sam Smith’s theme song fits in better than you expect (and the orchestral reprise in the score is used appropriately).
Is it as good as Skyfall? For obvious reasons, it’s lacking some of the emotional underpinning of that movie (the relationship between Bond and M), but that means it resembles the Bond films of old rather more. And there are plenty of “kisses to the past” in terms of the visuals and the plotting – the early days of Connery’s battles with SPECTRE are very deliberately evoked, but there are moments from pretty much every incarnation of 007 (including Never Say Never Again!). It’s not just Bond that the movie draws from – elements of the car chase reminded me of the Connery movie The Rock, and there’s a Bond equivalent of David Tennant’s encounter with a rabbit in The Day of the Doctor… one of the many moments that give Craig the sort of humour that he can play well. (Oh and for Bond literary fans – watch out for the name of the bookshop towards the end of the film which cleverly uses a Fleming title in a way you’d never expect!)
Daniel Craig continues to make the part his own: there are moments of vulnerability and realisation that he’s made mistakes with potentially catastrophic consequences, but he’s still very much Fleming’s blunt instrument, taking his pleasures where he can because he knows the odds will one day not fall in his favour. Some people have queried his behaviour when he and Lea Seydoux’s Madeline Swann encounter the villain near the end of the movie, but the protectiveness he displays fits with the way Bond acted with Honeychile Ryder and others in the original novels.
Seydoux is perhaps not going to be remembered in the A list of Bond’s female co-stars, and for all the hype, Monica Bellucci’s time in the film is short and sweet. There’s an interesting dynamic between Naomie Harris’ Moneypenny, Ben Whishaw’s Q and Bond that sometimes feels as if the London-based agents are desperate to be in with the “bad boy” of the class, but Whishaw, in particular, gets some decent moments of his own. Ralph Fiennes shows that being M hasn’t stopped Mallory from being willing to take action personally, and his scenes with Andrew Scott’s Max Denbigh are terrific – interestingly, he’s given the sort of one-liners that the 20th century Bonds would have been delivering.
As for the villains, well, Christoph Waltz is as good as you’d expect him to be, able to deliver some of the more melodramatic lines with flair. Dave Bautista makes a terrifying Mr Hinx – his introduction one of the nastier moments in the film, promising that when he and Bond get into it hand-to-hand, it’s going to be brutal and vicious (and it is). Jesper Christensen makes his third – and by far his strongest – appearance in the franchise.
Sam Mendes’ direction is as stylish as it was in Skyfall, and without the Home Alone aspects of that movie’s third act, he shows he can handle large-scale finales well. The action scene direction is equally strong – between this and Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation, action fans have been well served this year – and Thomas Newman’s score has echoes of his Skyfall themes (notably the Granborough Road track that was used for the Komodo dragon fight and the underground chase in that movie), but is lyrical where required.
Verdict: Thoroughly enjoyable escapist fun – a great addition to the Bond canon. 9/10