The latest James Bond film Spectre roared onto Colombo cinema screens some weeks back and predictably seats were booked out. I took a chance and ventured to Concorde Cinema, Dehiwela, with the same level of mass hysteria and expectations as my fellow Colombo-ites. Getting a ticket in a city cinema was impossible.
“Spectre” did not disappoint; it has everything anyone could possibly want in a James Bond movie – oodles of prodigious action sequences, ingeniously crafted and carefully filmed. There were no Bond ‘girls’, instead there were two beautiful Bond women. It has an international conspiracy that is in sync with current paranoia not unlike the Cold War Bond movies of the 1960s. And the customary villain is omnipresent making an early appearance to accommodate both the role and the screenplay.
M is now dead, but her request to Bond before her death sends Bond scuttling on a mission to Mexico City – this is how Spectre begins. Bond undertakes this mission on his own causing an international incident frustrating mission control headquarters personnel. This adventure picks up where that one left off, with the 00-program in ruins and Bond on the trail of … he’s not sure what. But the search stretches from Mexico to Morocco, and leads to a shadowy terrorist organisation known as Spectre.
The opening sequences begin in the middle of a Mexico City at the Day of the Dead parade and ends on the roof of a building. Bond is seen in a traditional skull mask gingerly negotiating a ledge as he takes aim with his big gun at another phony reveller. This person is actually a terrorist plotting to blow up a stadium. The sequence is nail bitingly tense until Bond and his adversary are pummelling each other in a spinning helicopter.
Defying orders from the top, in dizzying pursuit he races to Rome, the Austrian Alps and the Moroccan desert. His mission is to seek out the shadowy mastermind Franz Oberhauser (Christoph Waltz), behind the all-powerful criminal cartel – Spectre.
Meanwhile, back in London, M (Ralph Fiennes), Moneypenny (Naomie Harris) and Q (Ben Whishaw) are fighting for survival against an ambitious government bureaucrat called C (Andrew Scott) who has Machiavellian plans to shut down the 00 agent program and replace it with his own sinister high-tech surveillance network.
Daniel Craig as Bond has acquired an emotional space that saved the character from being just an antiquated, misogynistic Cold Warrior. In Skyfall psychological depths to his persona, hinting at deep childhood wounds and secret homoerotic leanings were teasers. His close bonds to Judi Dench’s matriarchal spymaster M revealed another layer – major unresolved Mummy issues, a quasi-Oedipus complex. Bond’s psyche is peeled back further with cryptic clues about family traumas and past grudges. Characters and events from all three of Craig’s previous 007 films are cleverly woven in.
Lea Seydoux plays a beautiful gap-toothed Madeleine Swann. In typical Bond fashion there are seduction scenes – one briefly with the gorgeous Monica Bellucci; then with Seydoux. But Craig’s lack of humour or warmth is awkward giving the scenes a strained and jerky quality.
The Bond cosmos is still ingrained with chauvinism even while there are confusing nods to feminism. Madeleine initially scorns Bond’s irresistible charms, only to melt powerlessly into his arms a few scenes later. Yet unlike the other three Craig 007 films, no women were callously murdered as punishment for sleeping with James Bond.
A Bond film can be measured by the quality of its villain, and Austrian double Oscar-winner Waltz certainly gives a convincing performance as the malevolent Oberhauser. But his performance is hampered by a script which fails to make his long-standing grudge against Bond plausible leaving a marked void for motives for his power-hungry schemes. His big revelation in the final half hour will not surprise a viewer even vaguely familiar with the early 007 films. The filmmakers appear to have been bluffing a great poker hand for two hours before throwing down a pair of threes.
In pure action adventure terms, “Spectre” delivers the goods, with plenty of revved-up supercar scenes and several high-speed chase sequences on road, river and snowy mountain slopes. The story is tangled and complicated, but not in a revelatory way: at times it felt pointlessly obtuse. This is perhaps because every Bond movie eventually trades in ambition to get down to the chartbuster business of hurling everything — bodies, bullets, fireballs, debris and money at the screen.”
No doubt the individual stunts and action hold our interest— but the story itself is not convincing on its own terms, playing like a series of boxes “Spectre” contains enough dazzle to keep the Bond brand afloat. At nearly two and a half hours running time, it is the longest of all 24 Bond films but it doesn’t feel like it, with a reported budget of £200m well spent.
Spectre features all you would expect from a great Bond film: amazing gadgets, exotic locations, stunts, a new Aston Martin and a sprinkling of humour. Craig is superb yet again in the title role ensuring that whoever eventually fills his shiny shoes will have a hard act to follow.