Ah, Mr Bond – we’ve been expecting you. For some time, as it happens; the best part of two years. Ah well, good things are worth waiting for, as I’ve said in almost every review over the last couple of months. If you are one of my wonderful loyal regular readers, gentle reader, you’ll know that I am currently undertaking a James Bond Challenge where I’ve gone back to Dr No and am working my way through the entire oeuvre. Currently I’m stuck between The Man with the Golden Gun and The Spy Who Loved Me, and I confess it’s been several months since I’ve strayed into the world of MI6. This review won’t be in the style of my usual James Bond Challenge posts, more an instant reaction to what we saw in the Northampton Filmhouse on Monday night.
A retired Bond is approached by his old pal and CIA agent Felix Leiter, to help find scientist Valdo Obruchev who has been working on the Heracles project under direction of M, but has been kidnapped by SPECTRE villians. Heracles is a bioweapon containing nanobots that infect like a virus upon touch and are coded to an individual’s DNA, rendering it lethal to the target but harmless to others – definition courtesy of Wikipedia. Spoilers abound online everywhere, so I’ll try not to add to them, apart from mentioning there are a number of villains and a number of potential Bond Girls in this film, and I have to say I did get a little confused trying to keep track of them all.
Despite the most up-to-date cinema techniques, and some fabulous gadgetry from Q – Bond’s Aston Martin has more tricks up its sleeve than the late Paul Daniels – there’s a distinctly retro feel to the film. Old colleagues and adversaries reappear. There’s a massive laboratory on a secret island that gets bombed to smithereens – where have I seen that before? There’s a pool of obviously radioactive water and anyone who falls into it dies a horrible death – that rings a bell or two as well. Bond visits the tomb of Vesper Lynd who dies in Casino Royale; and the film is bookended with verbal and musical reminders of We’ve Got All the Time in the World, the ironic accompaniment to the death of Teresa in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. Above all, there is the return of Madeleine Swann, from Spectre, as Bond’s love interest, and a highly explosive and dramatic climax. All these elements (and there are probably many more) borrow from previous films. Of course, there are fresh themes too. Sexual equality in MI6 comes to the fore with the presence of new spy Nomi. Madeleine has childcare issues. But I was struck at how similar so much of the content was to so much of the content in the earlier films.
Visually, it’s the usual treat for the senses. The car chases and motorbike scenes through the streets of Matera are absolutely brilliant – and it definitely comes across as somewhere you’d like to go for a relaxing holiday when all this has died down. Billie Eilish’s Grammy Award winning theme has been a significant commercial success in its own right, but to my ears is instantly forgettable.
A friend advised me that I shouldn’t see this film until I’d seen all the other Daniel Craig Bonds in sequence (and of those, I’ve only seen Skyfall) and, whilst that was impractical and surely a film should always stand on its own merits, I completely get what he means – there will have been many nuances that I missed. Nevertheless, it’s a very entertaining and enjoyable film – at two and three quarter hours it’s more than a tad too long – and it throws up a very complicated problem for the next Bond movie, which is promised in the most final of final reels. There are a number of very significant fatalities in this film; I’ll say no more. Woman of the hour Phoebe Waller-Bridge was apparently brought in to smarten up the script and inject more humour into it; I can only say that without her input it would have been the least humorous of any Bond film I’ve seen!
Daniel Craig is, of course, superb in the role of Bond; dignified, yet crusty, totally believable as an individual with none of that basic silliness that some earlier Bond actors gave us. I’ve still only seen a dozen Bond films but I’m sure that this film shows Bond at his least suave and most gritty. This was always going to be Craig’s last outing as Bond, and he certainly does him justice. Léa Seydoux is very charming and convincing as Madeleine, getting deep down into the emotions that you don’t normally associate with a Bond movie. Lashana Lynch is excellent as the no-nonsense Nomi, struggling to manage the inevitable competition and comparison she feels when Bond comes back to work, and I loved Ana de Armas as Paloma, Felix Leiter’s CIA assistant who gets the job done with refreshing ease and breeziness.
From the recurring cast of characters, Ben Whishaw has really made Q his own; so much more hands-on than the Desmond Llewelyn characterisation, Q is now a genuine nerd effortlessly masterminding massive computer systems, taking Bond through precarious procedures with detailed precision. I still haven’t quite got a grasp on Ralph Fiennes’ M – he seems like a dark, distant mysterious bloke and I can’t see how he would motivate excellence in the workplace.
Which brings us to the villain of the piece (the main villain, that is), Rami Malek’s performance as Safin, the deeply disturbed son of parents murdered by Mr White (Madeleine’s father) on Blofeld’s orders. Seeking revenge against all things SPECTRE – and from there, the rest of the world – Safin is a vengeful psychopath, and Rami Malek excellently conveys his quietly unhinged rage against everything. He’s had mixed reviews on this performance; if you’re looking for a maniacally twisted, outrageous evildoer then you might find Safin dull as ditchwater. Instead, he’s traded venom for veracity in an understated performance that gets to the heart of the character. Basically, you can’t have both.
All in all, a pretty good Bond movie, and one from which there’s no turning back (or there isn’t until the next one comes along). Good characterisations, great chases, and an engaging – if sometimes perplexing – storyline. I normally need to watch a Bond film three times to understand it fully, and I’m sure it will be many years before I see this again! If you’re a Bond aficionado, you’ve probably seen it already, and I’m sure you enjoyed it.