Thursday, 22 October 2015


James Bond is back, in case you hadn't noticed, and this time his mission is even more impossible than ever: to top Skyfall. Off the back of the most successful, cannily post-modern and downright surprising Bond film ever, Sam Mendes and his crack team of operatives needed to pull something unbelievably amazing out of the Bondbag with Spectre. So does it top Skyfall? Well, no, not quite. Does it top Casino Royale? Er, no. Wait... does it top Quantum Of Solace?

No. It does not.

In actual fact, Mendes didn't need to make a film bigger and better than its predecessor at all; just one that lived up to it, justified our faith in him and rewarded fans with another glorious slice of world-class Bondery. Spectre does none of those things. Where Skyfall was a daringly-structured rolling boulder of excitement, full of knowing winks and arch commentary on the place of the series in modern cinema, Spectre is a paper chase from A to B to C, deviating only to take in M and Q. It's all surface, like most of the pre-Daniel Craig era; given that we've had three films reinventing the character for modern audiences, the temptation to take him back to his 1970s incarnation - as if that's some kind of benchmark - is both understandable and utterly ill-advised. Parts of it work, sure, but so much of it just feels... ordinary. And if there's one thing Bond must never, ever be, it's ordinary.
Chess, for example. Ordinary. Why not 3D hologrammatic space chess?

Things start well - extremely well - with the return of the gunbarrel to its rightful place at the front of the film, Craig finally getting the walk, turn and shoot right on the third time of asking. What follows is a blinding single shot, maybe five minutes in length, following Bond through the Day Of The Dead parade in Mexico City on his way to take down a bad guy for reasons as yet unclear. It's a virtuoso sequence that takes your breath away and promises so much for the two and a bit hours to come. It's no exaggeration, though, to say that things never get this good again. After a great gag involving a sofa and some typically impressive helicopter stunt work (marred slightly by some unconvincing green screen), Sam Smith's pitiful theme song whines in and brings everything back down to earth. Rumour has it Radiohead were strong contenders to perform the song, and in fact they already had the perfect theme for the film: No Surprises.

If you've followed any of the film's build-up, even just the officially-sanctioned synopsis, trailers and so on, you'll know exactly what happens in Spectre. And what they haven't told you, you can probably guess. Bond was sent to find his Mexico target by a "message from his past", which turns out to be a nice touch but makes zero sense when you think about it. Acting against orders (for a change), he jets off to Rome, where the much-trumpeted "Bond woman" Monica Bellucci is wasted in a staggeringly Moore-esque scene that won't do anything to help the argument that Bond girls women females are treated better by writers these days. He also meets Dave Bautista's Mr Hinx, a henchman whose classically bizarre (but frankly silly) USP is introduced in shocking style, and then NEVER REFERRED TO AGAIN. Imagine if Jaws had come on at the beginning of The Spy Who Loved Me, smiled to show his metallic teeth, then never actually used them. That's what we're dealing with here.
That's right, he can bend flexible rubber tubing WITH HIS BARE HANDS

A semi-spectacular car chase is hobbled by the film's decision to dollop jokes throughout, which grate more often than not; Daniel Craig has a wicked sense of humour, and showed it in Casino Royale and Quantum Of Solace, but he can't do the cheesy stuff that Moore and Brosnan effortlessly pulled off. It just looks out of place. And it's carried through the film in the decision to have Bond treat everything with levity - again, we're going back to the "golden age" of 007 here, but it removes all the threat and menace we've come to appreciate from the Craig era. Sometimes the humour lands - the word "stay" is put to excellent use - but only when it's not trying too hard.

Before long we're in Austria, where previous über-villain Mr White is hunkered down in his cellar, tossing himself off to rolling news channels. This is where we expect to find out the connection between Quantum and the mysterious new organisation, but it's inadequately explained. You'll know from the trailers that Spectre, and its boss man Franz Oberhauser, are responsible for all Bond's pain, but my god does that involve some clumsy ret-conning. "It's always been me", says Oberhauser in his later, inevitable monologue, but frankly we've only got his word for it. The facts don't really add up and nobody can be bothered to show their working out.

It's nice to see Q pop up in Austria, although how he got there is a mystery: remember in Skyfall when Moneypenny said he was afraid of flying? No, neither do the writers. Still, it's fun to see Ben Whishaw - along with MI6 engine roomers Ralph Fiennes, Rory Kinnear and Naomie Harris - get involved in a bit of the action; Fiennes, especially, teases out his M's military background in some of the film's classier dialogue. It's just a shame he has to keep arguing with Andrew Scott's government wonk about how vital the Double-0 section is, given that he spent most of Skyfall disagreeing with Judi Dench's M, who said exactly the same things he says here but with added Tennyson.
"I know a little Roger McGough, will that do?"

If it's Act III, it must be Tangier, and a decent stretch of good stuff plays out in a hotel room between Bond and Léa Seydoux's Madeleine Swann, which is then undone by a conversation on a train which draws inevitable and unfavourable comparisons with Casino Royale's superior Bond / Vesper train-based chinwag. Possibly the film's best action sequence follows, and it owes a huge debt to From Russia With Love, but even that is immediately dampened by an unnecessary coda.

And then, after about a hundred minutes, Christoph Waltz finally shows his face. Was it worth the wait? You guessed it. Waltz is wasted here, trying desperately to add some idiosyncracies to his two-dimensional villain but never being allowed to explore the character like we know he can. His scheme is depressingly low-key, and his personal beef with Bond means nothing and goes nowhere. He will, however, make you even more terrified of going to the dentist. Fortunately the final act picks up considerably, and contains a neat in-joke for hardcore Bond fans (hello, I understood that reference), but by then it's too late to save the film. Nothing we've seen has been especially new, exciting or unexpected, and in a post-Skyfall world that seems like a huge missed opportunity.
I know, man. I know. Let it out.

If you've made it this far, then I'm sorry for your loss, but let me just add one more personal thing: special mention must go to Spectre's chief villain, Thomas Newman, for whom a sauna in hell is reserved for his score. I found his work in Skyfall brilliantly up to date and innovative, different enough from David Arnold's preceding work but recognisably Bondian even without much of the James Bond Theme. It appears Newman felt the same way, because around half of Spectre's score consists of cues lifted directly from Skyfall. Almost every set-piece is scored by music I instantly recognised, and it repeatedly pulled me out of the film, making me more and more furious. That's unforgivable enough, but he also chooses to ignore the Bond Theme again, when it would have lifted so much of Spectre's action. God only knows what John Barry - who knocked out eleven distinct but connected Bond scores, all brilliant, and one of them in just three weeks - would make of it.

We're not dealing with Die Another Day levels of dreadful here, and there's plenty in Spectre to please casual Bond fans and unfussy cinemagoers. But I'm writing this review as someone who cares so much about these films it's embarrassing. I don't expect perfection and I can forgive a lot in Bond; I mean, I actually really like Quantum Of Solace. But Bond is at its best when it ignores what's going on around it and reaches further and pushes harder to be its own thing, to surprise and excite, and to tell audiences what they want to see rather than react to what it thinks they want to see. Spectre doesn't do that, but, you know, maybe Bond 25 will. James Bond will always return.


  1. Ha, I remember being puzzled by reviewers who applauded that Bond has come "full circle" with Sykfall (which, I have to admit, I didn't like at all). I wondered what was the point of Casino Royale to then finish with Skyfall's last scene. Now, on your good word, it moved on from there and everybody's disappointed. Mendes should never have done a second Bond, but nobody listens to me...

  2. At the end of the day, you knew the score...

  3. I don't mind which direction they take the films, as long as the story holds interest and the action is exciting. Spectre failed on these fronts. All the gloss and beauty is wasted.

  4. Worse than Quantum of Plot? Fuuuuck...

  5. You guys are either drunk or stoned!!! Spectre is another great bond movie helmed by Sam Mendes! Of course It was never supposed to be like Skyfall... Spectre is a different sort of beast! I don't think that you guys know what you want from a Bond movie anymore! For the first time in this Craig era (2006-) the character has been able to breath a little bit and start having a little fun with himself and the legend of Bond. I think the movie rocks! The action is breathtaking, the script was spot on and the cinematography is beautiful. And forget about everything that our beloved writer said about Thomas Newman's brilliant, evocative score. I don't think you know but composers have a certain characteristic and style to their music. Everytime that I hear soundtracks by the same composers (for different movies of course) I tend to spot similarities between them but they are NEVER the same and they aren't lifted from existing material. If we start to think like that, we can safely say that James Horner's Titanic score was lifted from Braveheart from two years earlier. I really do think that our writer and editor was completely disenchanted by life and movies when he went to see Spectre... But then again, reading his reviews for other Bond movies, I'm starting to sense that he isn't a bif fan after all. He says that we cares about these movies but let's be reasonable, look at the way he talks about Roger Moore? Oh, and in his review for Quantum of Solace, he says it isn't great, he also says it's confusing and lost. And now he says he likes that movie?? Are you kidding? Give me a break...

  6. I agree with Mr. Leonardo Lotti (surely a future Bond villian by name), Spectre is not as good as Skyfall, that movie was tightly written and had no room for baggage, however Spectre takes it's time and that is a good thing. This is more in keeping with the Bond of the 60's. It may be going from A to B to C but it takes its time just as Connery and Lazenby did. I didn't feel the 2.5 hours was too long. In fact, I wanted more.

    The main review is right in that Monica Bellucci is wasted but she is a stepping stone in getting the plot going. Also agree that the CGI at the beginning takes you out of the film but it's such a great sequence that it doesn't matter (at least it doesn't have Superheroes or Robots destroying another city).

    Sam Smiths much derided theme song works well. I am not in any way a fan of Mr Smith but in the context of this film, it works well and is incorporated into the score later on.

    On the subject of the score, yes it takes themes created in Skyfall and build on them for Spectre. The point about lifting music from one film to the next is utter claptrap. Every composer does it if they score a sequel. John Barry did it (how many times do we hear the 007 theme? - (From Russia With Love, Thunderball, You Only Live Twice, Moonraker). John Williams did it for Star Wars. Thomas Newman adds new themes here, specifically for the Bond girls and its a great score. I loved David Arnolds score for Tomorrow Never Dies but the bleepy-bloopy music in TWINE and DAD were awful and relied on the Bond Theme too often.......although he did get Casino and Quantum right.

    Anyway, some points in the review were spot on (the empty train), I'd like to add that Rome literally goes to sleep at night. I also think that everywhere should celebrate Day Of The Dead because that looks cool.

    So, not as good as Skyfall or Casino Royale but take the four Craig Bonds as a whole and the four movies work very well together. Who should we thank? That Blond Bond who would ruin the franchise (2005).

    Get lost Benedict Cumerbund. These movies work so well because of Daniel Craig. Please don't go!

  7. In your review of QoS you state (regarding the score):

    "The score's menacing opening tones set up a mood that permeates the entire movie, while the subtlest hints of the Bond theme and the Casino Royale score laced throughout connect Quantum to its prequel."

    Hang on, isn't that what Newman has done with Spectre?

  8. Ha! Yes, I guess so. Not that straightforward though: QoS could arguably get away with only subtle hints to the Bond theme because it was kind of still "Bond Begins", and its references to the CR score were thematically and narratively relevant. Also they were just hints. Newman lifts entire cues from Skyfall for Spectre which don't serve the narrative, and given that this is an "old school" Bond in so many other ways, a few blasts of the Bond theme really wouldn't have gone amiss.

  9. May I quote your Skyfall review?
    "The roughly ten-year cycle that Bond films go through from knockabout caper to frowny revenge thriller looks to be heading back to the former, and for once I'm excited about it. I love Serious Bond, but I'm ready for him to relax now, enjoy himself, maybe find Quantum and blow up a volcano or two."
    Why are you complaining about Bond reverting back to the style of the pre-Craig era when you implied it was a good thing three years ago? Did you forget how the series, as much as I love it, rarely pushed the boundaries of escapist action-thriller 13 years ago and before?
    It's James Bond! Don't go in expecting Hitchcock or Kubrick, go in expecting 2 & 1/2 hours of pure fun - I think Spectre delivered that in spades. Sure it's not Casino Royale or Skyfall, but it's not trying to be. If you want serious stuff, go back and read an Ian Fleming novel - sure, it would be nice if the film series tried to replicate the tone of the novels a bit better, but it's too late for that now - the Moore fans and the Brosnan fans would revolt if the producers ever did that.
    Besides, Spectre was far better than Quantum of Solace, which is arguably one of the worst Bond films, if not the worst Bond film. At least Spectre tells a coherent story with a well written script and is edited properly.

  10. You're right, I did say that. And I meant it, and still do; I'm not complaining about Bond reverting back to the style of the pre-Craig era as such, I'm complaining that Spectre didn't do it well enough. Obviously I don't expect Hitchcock or Kubrick any more than I expect a musical or a western, but from a James Bond film in 2015 I do expect excitement, surprises and that certain Bondness you don't get anywhere else. I didn't get those things from Spectre. If you did, then that's great. We'll have to agree to disagree on Quantum Of Solace.

  11. Hmm...maybe you're right. To be fair I've only seen it the once and haven't given it time to sink in - maybe another trip to the cinema is in order. I doubt it'll sink any lower than 10 on my rankings (where it currently resides) but I doubt it'll raise any higher. Perhaps another Bond-athon is required so I can reassess the series.
    As for expecting a musical...well you obviously haven't heard what Harry Saltzman's daughter Merry is cooking up.

  12. Caught it last night at the BFI IMAX in London. Kudos to the hysterical Scottish announcer they had on staff who was more entertaining than the film. I'm deep in the Dalton/Craig camp, and watching Spectre was like watching all the accomplishments of the last ten years go up in smoke. For all the talk of taking Bond back to a grittier and more serious incarnation, it seems that eventually the producers always loose their nerve and just can't help themselves. Coming off critical failures like Lazenby and Dalton it's understandable, but Skyfall was the most successful thing in the history of cinema ever, so what the fuck was the excuse this time? Try putting this next to Casino Royale, Skyfall or even QoS, and the difference is jarring. Like watching View to a Kill and Living Daylights back to back. Which would be fine if we had a new Bond and a clean break but Spectre insists on trying to link itself to those superior installments in the most cack-handed manner possible. So let me get this straight. Silva, the guy who tried to sell Bond on the idea of working completely independently, was actually part of Spectre? The Quantum/Spectre issue is explained by having Mr White leave Spectre to join Quantum, yet Spectre was somehow responsible for Vesper Lynds death anyway? Eh? Yeah, I know, I'm a tedious nitpicker, but at the end of the day you should never refer to your great movies in the middle of your shitty sequel. Stop pretending you had a master plan, because it's blatantly obvious that you fucking didn't. As for Waltz, he was actually doing a pretty decent job and I was willing to go with the massively silly twist on his identity (which when you think about it makes you wonder how MI6 can ever trust Bond to go after Spectre again), but in the end they had to have him sporting *that* injury, cavorting around behind conveniently bullet-proof glass in a pre-prepared obstacle course like the fucking Joker. Maybe it'll improve with rewatching. There are some great scenes scattered here and there (the opening tracking shot, the bit with the drill), but right now I'm more inclined to rewatch QoS. God help me.

  13. I'm quite happy with Spectre. Yes it has flaws but what a cracking film and it looks gorgeous. I do think it ties up nicely to the previous three films, although agree with the previous comment, Silva should have been left as a standalone villain (like Goldfinger), not tied to Spectre. Silva was not a career criminal or a larger organisations puppet. He was a nut-job operating alone (with his own army of goons).

    Oh well, Christmas is coming so it's time to watch On Her Majesty's Secret Service again. Still the best.

  14. Bang on the money with this one!! Love the site too and am gonna link over from my humble film review blog too ( - Keep up the good work!

  15. My God, I honestly didn't expect this film to fail at being Bond like THIS. When I read you didn't like it, I tried to believe you were exaggerating, but damn, your review is so spot on with my feelings regarding this film. It's just so...irrelevant, I can actually choose to ignore its existence and Craig's Bond filmography would still be near-perfect. Keep up the good work!

  16. When I saw your first review on Twitter, I didn't believe it. Then I saw the film and sadly you were right. I'd actually go further and say that Spectre now holds my 'Least Engaging Bond film' award.

    I've seen it twice, just to make sure I wasn't in a wrong mood or something and my problem with the film is this: it's inert, lifeless, dull. The most unenergised Bond film I've seen. And I think it's because of four main aspects.

    1) Everyone raves about the cinematography, yet it's bonanza of browns and greys makes everything feel turgid, bland, washed out. The visuals on screen are literally dull and beige. I could not have picked a less energising colour palette. Every brown scene looks the same. It's 50 Shades of Brown.
    So the entire film has a visual mood that works against itself.

    2) The action sequences are soulless, threatless affairs. When I say soulless, I mean they literally have no souls in them - nobody is around. Rome apparently has no people. Everyone on board the train, ceases to exist when the fight starts. The finale sequence from leaving the safe house to crashing on Westminster bridge is devoid of people.
    Except for the opening sequence, all of the action sequences happen in a void of threat and consequences. And in the car and plane chase, protaganist and antaganist barely interact with each other. It's just weird.
    The helicopter sequence is hampered by ropey CGI I thought had been thrown out with Die Another Day. Sadly not.

    3) There is too much of people standing around talking in rooms, in a way that doesn't progress things along. So they feel boring lifeless scenes. Think about when Bond and Blofeld finally meet. It's basically four scenes in a row of talking in rooms. And talking about stuff that means nothing, because:

    4) I have no problem with the Blofeld/Bond backstory in principle. My problem is that makes not the faintest bit of difference to Bond in this film, because he doesn't address it, engage with it, care about it, at all. He literally has no reaction to Blofeld being a character from his past that has been screwing with him out of revenge. So if he doesn't have the slightest interest in it, why should we? So the heart of the film's drama is basically irrelevant. Great. Glad I paid money for that.

    There are plenty of other niggles I have: Hinx has no character whatsoever. The score is incongrous at times, and doesn't have anything vaguely Bondian about it, Monica Bellucci is disgracefully wasted, Madeline Swann's 'love' for Bond...nope, there is no surprise in C's reveal as he is played as a 'sinister man not to be trusted' from his opening scene.'s done now. I totally respect the creative team's huge efforts to make the best film they could, but I hope Mendes moves on and someone else can come along and reinject some vigour, because Spectre has drained Bond of all his pizzazz.

  17. Thanks as always for your entertaining Bond reviews. Sadly I agree with it

  18. You lost any credibility you had, as a serious Bond 'fan', the minute you claimed Quantum of Solace is superior to Spectre.

  19. saw it at last. It's been a long time.. and finally.. here we are.

    Wasn't really in the mood to see it but felt I had to as figure it must be at the end of its run now and have seen every Bond film at cinema since Never Say Never Again in Dec 83 (so yes my first Bond was actually Connery despite being born into the Moore era) oh wait no I didn't see LTK as it was a 15 and was too young (and was just that bit too young to sneak in unnoticed. I remember being quite annoyed about that). Was surprised the theatre was quite full in what surely must be its final week.

    Best to worst I'd put it behind CR & SF (with QoS last of course.)

    some boring obs:
    -Monica Belluci is almost playing the Paris Carver role she missed out on in TND (with maybe even less screentime than Teri Hatcher)

    -the plot was quite similar to MI:RN as was the London set end - even down to the glass shots (as discussed in the Empire podcast that must be why MI5 was brought forward)

    -I thought the villains desert lair felt very Quantum..(was quite surprised QOS got referenced as much as it did. be like Star Trek VI making reference to Sybok and Vger)

    -the end when Bond leaves Blofeld and walks away. What if Blofeld had a Beretta .25 in an ankle holster?

    -the introduction of Blofeld means the Craig films are absolutely a reboot. no code name theory which could sort of been explained until now (ok I know theres Bonds wife and a few other things that get in the way)

    -if Craig dosnt come back (as he and Mendes seem to be saying - I don't buy it though, think both will return Michael Bay style) will Bond 25 reboot CR style or carry on with the Craigverse? my bet is on the latter with same M, Moneypenny, Q, Blofeld. with Bale or Hardy or Fassbender as Bond (no I don't think those guys are too famous to be bond and aren't really tied to any franchise/role. No way Cavil though as he's currently tied to Superman). Chris Nolan would obviously direct (hes probably already signed the contract to do his when Craig/Mendas finally do leave. or maybe if mendas didn't come back and Criag learned Nolan was going to direct hed want to do another)

  20. Honest thoughts on Spectre from a Bond fan of 29 years - less plot holes than Skyfall, more plot than writer's-strike-stricken Quantum, less Bourne than Casino, still too terrified to use the James Bond Theme less Monty Norman gets paid even more for doing nothing but raking in Eon's hard earned cash for the last 53 years, even less supporting cast or extras than Golden Gun (something I thought impossible), weirdly blah car chase, Hinx seriously under written, Monica Belluci should have stayed main girl throughout film, Swann character unnecessary and had almost no chemistry with Bond, opening set piece amazing, score phoned in, title theme shockingly bland but works with the titles, gunbarrel finally returned to former glory, Craig finally gets a decent haircut. Overall it's an improvement over the colander plotted Skyfall but it seriously needed another re-write as so much of it doesn't make sense. Not something you'd think was needed with 4 writers on board. Please, Eon, just don't keep going back to Purvis and Wade, they clearly can't see the wood for the trees anymore. And steer clear of auteurs like Nolan and Tarantooti. Let someone else read script before you start filming. It's enjoyable, fast and funny in places and I had fun but it's bubble gum and after caviar and lobster (Casino Royale), you don't want bubble gum ever again.
    C+ An improvement but must try harder.

  21. You talk up "Skyfall" at the beginning (which I love), but isn't its final act seriously borrowed from "Home Alone"?

    1. No. The film makers would never be so transparent as to lift the entire ending from Home Alone.
      It's from Straw Dogs.