Tongues are firmly in check in this edition of James Bond. And not all of it is Pahlaj Nihalani’s doing.
This dreary, and thanks to the Censor chief, sex-less film has Daniel Craig’s solemn Bond shooting up the world during a confusingly circuitous route towards the ‘SPECTRE’. That, Bond fans know, stands for Special Executive for Counter-intelligence, Terrorism, Revenge and Extortion, a global terrorist organisation encompassing almost all Bond villains.
If that sounds unimaginative, Spectre does well to never spell it out. The villainy in this film, both in the hands of the government and in the hands of SPECTRE, is about global surveillance, and who controls it. Convinced that’s the way ahead, the new head of a committee that has taken over the running of the MI6, now merged with MI5, Max or ‘C’ (Scott) keeps telling M (Fiennes) that the 00 programme is now obsolete. He even has a catchy word for the new online programme — “the digital ghost of the world”, linking the film more closely with its title.
Just so to show he still means business, Bond kicks a lot of bad guys around — on rooftops, in basements, on helicopters, cars, planes, boats, and even a very Orient Express-ive train that is devoid of any other human presence. There is an explanation for why so much killing is required on course to a digital behemoth, but you have to take their word for it.
After the high of ‘Skyfall’ — from the song that kicked it off to the dying of M played by Judi Dench — Spectre would have been a hard act to follow. Mendes tries by making a complete break and not giving Daniel Craig the emotional baggage he has been hauling in the last two Bonds. However, Craig remains his stern self, not even cracking a joke when denied his Vodka Martini. He remains as sternly clad too, though that frequent tug at his coat sleeve perhaps has been calling for something different.
Still that’s not what makes Spectre such a pleasure-less, workman-like exercise. The worst of the problems is its plotting with its fruitless montages, its insubstantial jabbings at technocrats out to control the world with no time for democracy, its apologetic attempt at explaining the licence to kill, and the amount of time it wastes before Bond actually goes head to head with Oberhauser/Blofeld (Christoph Waltz).
Waltz vamps up his role as much as he can but he now seems perennially trapped in the mannerisms of the German general from The Inglourious Basterds. What’s more imaginative about the casting is how similar the profiles of Blofeld and Bond are, though that’s a strain touched and then left unexplored.
Careful watchers will also appreciate the twist in the choice of Scott to play Bond’s new boss. The delightful Moriarty from the Sherlock TV series is very, very good here too, but never given a chance to blossom.
That’s not what one can say for the women. If Monica Bellucci is there just to be seduced in an Italian mansion, Seydoux can never shake off that sullen expression to generate any kind of chemistry — or live down that name, ‘Dr Madeleine Swann’, “from Oxford and Sorbonne, who has worked for Medicins Sans Frontieres”. Talk about changed times.
At the same time, in what could be Craig’s last Bond — though we have heard that one before — frequent odes are paid to the previous Bonds, in the settings, the cars, and even the villains who died.
However, you may never see Bond being called a “cuckoo” again (and only in the sense of the bird), and a trick such as the “oldest meteorite known to be owned by a man” being pulled out of the hat. “We are meant to be impressed,” says Bond. Clearly.
But what was Bond doing when he says and then repeats, for our ears and Blofeld’s, in Latin, “Tempus fugit” — “Time flies”? Not a wise thing to say in a 128-minute film, with the kisses “slashed by half”.
Director: Sam Mendes
Starring: Daniel Craig, Christoph Waltz, Lea Seydoux, Ralph Fiennes, Andrew Scott