Friday, 30 October 2015

Spectre

The secret agent reveals an introspective side as he takes on the computer geeks and gets the girl

Written by Jason Solomons
Film-Jul17-JasonSolomons-176On his 24th outing, James Bond is showing his age. There’s a weariness to Spectre, clouds of regret and winds of change. In every askance look, Daniel Craig might as well be saying: ‘I’m getting too old for this.’ Even the Bond girl (Léa Seydoux) doesn’t have a silly, sexist name any more. Instead of Honey Rider and Pussy Galore we now get Madeleine Swann. She’s practically Proustian.

Spectre still whips along to familiar Bond beats. Indeed it checks them off, like a bucket list, and even the credit sequence features exploding shards reflecting the faces of characters past. You have to know your Bond to enjoy Spectre because it’s haunted by so much of what has come before.

On the surface, Spectre’s got everything you want from a Bond movie: Aston Martins; cable cars and ski wear; a brute of a baddy hurling Bond through a train carriage; an exotic parade through Latin American streets; M’s woodpanelled office with Miss Moneypenny at her desk; Q in his gadget lair; women; Martinis; tailored suits – hell, it’s even got the villain’s fluffy white cat.

How, then, does it avoid spoof and cliché? Director Sam Mendes achieves an elegant spectacle with his impressively shot scenes and, more crucially, a deepening of character. It’s as if Craig has been building his Bond performance over time and this is easily the best he’s been; but then not many Bonds have been allowed the level of introspection he portrays here. He even changes his Martini order, dirtying the familiar cocktail.

If Skyfall peered behind the Bond facade, Spectre goes further, at one point even penetrating right into 007’s brain. The characterisation cements Craig as one of the best in the role but his Bond isn’t as knowable as, say, Sean Connery’s or Roger Moore’s. He’s certainly the most serious of the Bonds, closer perhaps to Ian Fleming’s blunt instrument in a Savile Row suit.

The plot is about the titular organisation, run by Franz Oberhauser (Christoph Waltz – he’s good, but was far scarier in Quentin Tarantino’s Inglourious Basterds), using surveillance and cyberinformation in a bid for world domination. All this is a bit dull to be honest – computers don’t make interesting foes on the big screen. So there’s a feeling of mild confusion, perhaps, but no global peril, no real threat. It’s all got very localised and internalised. We’re worried about Bond himself, rather than the fate of the world. He may be a killer, but he’s a killer with a brain, not a microchip or remote drone.

He’s also got a heart and as such, we don’t just want him to get the girl any more, we want him to begin a meaningful relationship, like he did in the often-overlooked On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, the George Lazenby Bond film to which, I think, Spectre bears most resemblance. And this says much for Seydoux’s excellent performance as Madeleine, a girl who falls asleep muttering ‘liars and killers everywhere’ but who tells James off for gawping at her in her clingy silk evening dress. ‘You shouldn’t stare,’ she says. ‘You shouldn’t look like that,’ he counters, nicely.

I know some fans argue that Bond should remain mysterious and amoral. But after so many years, it feels right to humanise him, to see the inside of his sparsely furnished flat. Anyway, this Bond’s only got doubts and qualms – it’s not like he’s opened a Twitter account.

Spectre’s got everything bar the spaceships and the crocodiles. I was disappointed Naomie Harris’s Moneypenny was sidelined so much, as her growth had been a significant boon to the recent films. Still, we got a bit more of Ben Whishaw’s Q and that’s never a bad thing, even if his jumpers are.

There’s far more to like in Spectre than dislike. And as played by Craig, nobody could hate Bond more than he hates himself.


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