The 24th Bond movie is a strong continuation from the hugely successful “Skyfall” but it is definitely more aimed at traditional fans than any of Daniel Craig’s previous efforts. SPECTRE takes all the elements reintroduced in “Skyfall” like Moneypenny, Q and the DB9 to another level combining them with the new method of personalised storytelling that revolutionised the francise with “Casino Royale”. The result is largely successful but does make a few trade offs which might not appeal to wider audiences but are second nature to die hard fans like myself.
SPECTRE’s opening scene works well to capture audiences attention following the model of Craig’s other movies as it creates certain questions which the film has to answer. This opening chase sequence is inhanced by the stunning setting of Mexico City during the day of the dead which allowed the custome designers to explore different images of the macabre and turn it into a real spectacle. Where as Craig’s other films have emphasised a focus on slightly more realistic stunts the helicopter sequence at the end of Bond’s breif chase through the parade requires the audience to suspend their disbelief and is a little reminiscent of “GoldenEye” where Bond jumps into a falling plane. In many ways this shift epitomises the differnce between SPECTRE and “Skyfall”.
This exangeration is also visible in the main plot as it tries to tie the previouse three films together. Like “Quantum of Solace”, SPECTRE follows on directly from the last film and does this reasonably well with ‘M’ leaving Bond a secret message that sets up one last mission for the old boss. It also offers continuaty with Ralph Fiennes, Naoime Harris, Rory Kinnear and Ben Whishaw all reprising their roles from “Skyfall” as Bond’s fellow members of MI6. Unfortunately, the link with Craig’s other films isn’t as successful since the overiding storyline becomes a bit far fetched and feels overly simplistic at times.
Beyound the links to the previouse films the plot continues to deal with more of Bond’s personal life. This does successfully build the tension between Bond and Blofeld played by Christopher Waltz but is incapable of reaching the development present in “Casino Royale” or “Skyfall”. Similarly the film tries to build a relationship between Bond and Dr Madeleine Swann portayed by Léa Seydoux but despite their on screen chemistry she’s no Vesper. Overall the plot tries too hard to recaputre previous success and doesn’t quiet pull it off, yet it is far from a complete wreak.
The strength of SPECTRE is undoubtedly the emphasis on the traditional Bond formula. Firstly, Ben Whishaw’s return as Q brings with it new and familar toys including a fully equiped Austen Martin DB10. More subtle then this is the return of a good old fashioned Bond henchmen in Mr Hinx played by Dave Bautista. A silent imposing figure he often appears seemingly out of nowhere and his physical size makes him a match for Craig. Like these elements the return of Blofeld the old nemesis might not please everyone but it does get fans who have grown up watching Bond films excited.
The result is a very good Bond movie but one that doesn’t rise to the heights acheived by “Skyfall”. Still it has it’s moments and is the first time since before the 80’s that a highpoint in the francise has not been followed by a monumental disappointment.
Taking over from the naturally charming Pearce Brosnan who had become regarded by many as possibly the best Bond after Sean Connery was always going to be a challenge. Daniel Craig was also for many at the time an unknown quantity with parts in movies like Tomb Raider, Munich and Layer Cake when he was cast as the world’s most famous spy. Plan’s for a rebut made some fans nervous and only added to the building uncertainty as film makers had flagged their intention to follow the more physical and realistic style laid out by the Bourne series. In this climate it was announced that Daniel Craig’s first movie as 007 would be an adoption of Fleming’s first novel Casino Royale which didn’t fail to get people excited. Ultimately these decisions help lead to a successful debut and possible the best Bond film ever made.
The switch to a more physical approach worked perfectly for the introduction of the athletic Daniel Craig. This new look is obvious from the film’s opening sequence as the planned clean kill turns into a desperate struggle for survival. It isn’t until after Chris Connell’s theme that Craig’s physical approach to 007 really comes into focus through the parkour chase sequence in a construction site. While this opening scene may have been the height of Bonds physicality it remains visible throughout the rest of the film either in several hand to hand fight sequences or Bonds torture. This change allowed the film to distinguish Craig’s Bond from the earlier versions but isn’t the main reason for the film’s success.
Instead it is the focus on character development and creating a more emotionally complex storyline that makes Casino Royale standout. The central plot based on the capture of La Chiffre makes for an interesting backdrop to develop Bond’s character. The nearly promoted 007 spends most of the film coming to terms with his new position in the secret service as he is driven by a need to prove himself to those around him. This play’s out in the suspense of the poker game where Bond matches wits with La Chiffre and tries to impress the hard to catch Vesper Lynd. Unlike other movies where everything runs to plan the poker game forces Bond to face his own failure before he is given the chance to learn from his mistakes. His success is short lived as he must learn yet another cruel lesson when those closest to Bond ultimately betray him leaving him damaged and enlighten to the dangers of failing to remain detached.
This focus on character development would not be possible without a strong supporting cast. Dame Judi Dench remains reprising her role as M, ably fulfilling a duel maternal role, part guardian and part disciplinarian. Mal Mikkelsen gives a calculating performance as La Chiffre providing a reserved counter to Bond’s charisma. It is the rare occasions when he loses his cool that Mikkelsen makes the role work as he gives a real intensity that represents the desperation of La Chiffre position. Possibly the greatest choice made by the production team however is Eva Green as Vesper Lynda. Not only is she captivating on screen but her ability to deliver witty comebacks with believable sarcasm makes the banter with Bond work. Like the other characters in Casino Royale, Vesper drops the prickly demeanour which Bond highlights at their first meaning and Green is able to effectively communicate her character’s emotional turmoil as their relationship develops. These strong performances help make Casino Royale more believable and contribute to Bond’s own development but what I notice the most is the film’s return to Fleming’s original body of work.
Reading my first Bond novel years ago ‘Dr No’ the thing that struck me as a fan of the films is Bond’s fragility as a man of flesh and blood as he spends a large section of the book either in pain or recovering. This same element is present in Casino Royale as unlike other Bond movies every battle leaves him with new scares that he must carry, the best example is after the fight in the hotel staircase as later when he is using the defibrillator the bandage from this earlier sequence is visible. Like Fleming’s Bond the representation in Casino Royale doesn’t get everything right and this leads to his capture and torture. This scene which makes every man in a cinema wince has Bond stripped of any hope or chance of escape and he relies ultimately on Mr White’s intervention for his survival.
The film ends with the classic James Bond calling card but Casino Royale is far from the simplistic story of its 20 predecessors with clear layers of development. However, importantly for fans it does not do away with the traditional elements of the classics as the silencer, car and witty one liners are all balanced with new style of Bond movie.
The latest addition to the James Bond franchise is a return to form and thankfully dispels the bitter taste left after “Quantum of Solace”. Daniel Craig reprises his role as the famous MI6 operative who returns from the wilderness when the secret service itself comes under attack. Bond must overcome his own personal demons to hunt down the threat and protect the core of MI6.
“Quantum of Solace” the previous film moved away from the traditional formula in an effort to modernise the series. This brave approach did not receive a positive response from the ‘die-hard’ Bond fans who have well developed expectations for the franchise. Fans reaction to this film demonstrated the need to return to the traditions that has built one of cinema’s greatest series. The result is a Bond movie that combines high-paced action sequences with the return of the classic 007 whity one liners and shows an appropriate respect for tradition while avoiding tokenism.
Skyfall’s success is largely due to the development of a harrowing villain portrayed by Javier Bardem (No Country for Old Men) who presents the perfect onscreen contrast to Craig’s physical Bond. Expertly supported by Dame Judi Dench, Ralph Fiennes and Albert Finney the cast breathes new life into a 50 year old institution. The icing on the cake, Adele’s Academy Award winning theme just cements ‘Skyfall’ as one of the best Bond films yet.