REVIEW: Spectre is as good as Bond gets
WHAT always haunts new James Bond movies is the memories of their predecessors.
Spectre follows on three years after Skyfall, the most successful 007 film at the box office. It is obvious that director Sam Mendes and his collaborators are desperate to push Bond to new heights. They are pushing for better stunts, more complex plot twists and greater emotional intensity than the Bond films have managed before.
Early on, they succeed brilliantly. An astonishing pre-credits overture sees Bond, on a rogue mission to Mexico, among the revellers during The Day of The Dead.
Other stop-offs include Rome, the Sahara, Tangier (for the Bogart flavour) and, good for the snow scenes, Austria.
There is an old-fashioned feel to the filmmaking. One reason that the budget is so vast (reportedly close to $300 million) is Mendes prefers to film the stunts for "real" wherever possible rather than to rely on digital trickery.
When Bond is struggling for the controls of a helicopter that is whirling furiously out of control over Mexico City or treating a plane as if it is a souped-up snowmobile or racing through the alleyways of Rome while making small talk with Moneypenny, the sequences look "real". Thomas Newsman's stirring music adds both to the excitement and to the grandeur of the storytelling.
Death is very much the theme in what is one of the more morbid entries in the Bond series.
"Look around you, James. Everything you believe in - a ruin!" he is taunted. It is made clear that Bond is a killer but also, in his more reflective moments, that he feels remorse and regret for some of his actions.
There is an unusual darkness in the romantic scenes too. Bond is involved in the death of people very close to both the Italian widow Lucia Sciarra (a striking cameo from 51-year-old Italian diva Monica Bellucci) and the beautiful young doctor Madeleine Swan (Lea Seydoux).
As ever, there are those in Whitehall who feel that Bond is an embarrassing anachronism and should be consigned to the scrapheap forthwith. Andrew Scott (Moriarty from Sherlock) plays Max Denbigh ("C''), the new boss of the Centre for National Security, who believes in mass surveillance and wants to get rid of the "double 00'' section altogether.
Where the film risks coming unstuck is in its probing into Bond's own past. There are several references to his childhood and an accident on the slopes involving his parents which left him "a poor little blue-eyed orphan".
Uber-villain Oberhauser (Christoph Waltz) uses Bond's memories to torment him. Bond responds with playground-style insults about Oberhauser being nothing more than a lonely, jealous voyeur.
In the final parts of the film, Mendes struggles to overcome the essentially formulaic nature of any Bond film. What he has delivered, though, is a vivid and tremendously well-crafted action thriller, seeped in 007 history and tradition. Bond may throw away his gun at one stage but we are left in no doubt that he will soon be back.
Spectre opens nationally on Thursday.
Stars: Daniel Craig, Christoph Waltz, Ralph Fiennes, Monica Bellucci, Lea Seydoux.
Director: Sam Mendes
Reviewer's last word: Spectre is an exhilarating James Bond spectacle that really didn't need to add depth.
Star profile: Lea Seydoux
Quirky fact: Alongside Jane Campion, Seydoux and her Blue is the Warmest Colour co-star Adèle Exarchopoulos are the only women to be awarded the Palme d'Or at The Cannes Film Festival.
Best known for: Blue is the Warmest Colour, Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol, The Grand Budapest Hotel.
If you like this movie you'll like these: Skyfall, Quantum of Solace, Sicario.
Quote: "I like to play deep characters and it's nice to have deep emotions, but it's also nice to just have a distance and to have a sense of humour with what you do as well."