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Genre: Action, Adventure, Thriller

Directed by: Sam Mendes

Starring: Daniel CraigChristoph WaltzRalph Fiennes, Monica Bellucci, Léa Seydoux

Spectre begins with a small but significant bang. If the reintroduction of M, Q, and Moneypenny in the sensational Skyfall confirmed that, following the unstable convolution of Quantum of Solace, the franchise had finally found its footing, then the return of the gun barrel sequence here, at the start of 007’s 24th outing, suggests that it now has the ability and self-assurance to moonwalk across a tightrope without spilling a drop of its Martini. As was promised, James Bond really has returned.

Attempting to try and follow Skyfall, unquestionably the most commercially successful and arguably the best Bond film to date, is something of an unenviable task – certainly, in terms of the title song, Sam Smith’s shrill falsetto is no match for Adele’s brooding tones. And yet from the first frame, returning director Sam Mendes shows such confidence behind the camera that it barely registers as a challenge, opening with a tremendous Touch of Evil-esque tracking shot, at least 4 minutes in length, which follows our hero through the streets of Mexico City during the Day of the Dead festival, and continues to shadow him as he enters a hotel on the ground floor, exits through a window on the third, and nonchalantly makes his way across a number of rooftops.spectre-still-04Bond (Daniel Craig) is attending Día de Muertos on the posthumous orders of his former boss (Judi Dench), who’s “refused to let death get in the way of her doing her job”. His mission is to assassinate notorious mobster Marco Sciarra (Alessandro Cremona), an operation that eventually puts him into contact with Sciarra’s wife Lucia (an elegantly excellent Monica Bellucci), who tells of the crime syndicate her husband belonged to, leading 007 right into the lair of the sinister SPECTRE organisation and face-to-face with its cold-blooded leader, Franz Oberhauser (Christoph Waltz).

It’s fitting that the insignia engraved on the eponymous criminal consortium’s membership rings is the outline of an Octopus, as for much of the film’s lengthy setup, it feels as if Mendes is battling with a number of narrative tentacles. While Bond, with the help of Q (Ben Whishaw) and Moneypenny (Naomie Harris), goes off the grid and globetrots in search of SPECTRE, his current chief M (Ralph Fiennes) finds himself in the midst of a power struggle with Whitehall weasel C (Andrew Scott), who’s lobbying for the termination of the Double-O program, and insistent that the recently formed Joint Intelligence Service instead rely on drones to do their dirty work.spectre-still-02With so much story to establish, it’s perhaps no surprise that the unending deluge of information delivered during the weightier first half is liable to overwhelm the audience. And even less of a shock that certain elements are detrimentally underdeveloped – SPECTRE’s strategy for global supremacy is ambiguous for the most part, as is C’s plans to develop an international surveillance scheme; the latter being on obvious, but not entirely successful attempt to scrutinise the current controversies surrounding the technological tactics employed worldwide by the security services.

The way writers John Logan, Neal Purvis, Robert Wade and Jez Butterworth manage to connect Spectre with the events of Casino Royale, Quantum, and Skyfall, however, is irrefutably impressive. Bringing the Craig era full circle, Mendes and his creative team once more delve deep into Bond’s backstory, and his psyche, hauntingly exposing the ghosts of his past, and establishing a modern mythology that definitively defines this complex 21st Century take on cinema’s master spy.spectre-still-01Mendes maintains the gritty undercurrent distinctive to Craig’s incarnation of the role throughout, but, gleefully, he’s not shy about compounding the mood with the grandiose nature characteristic of previous Bonds. Acting as a mixologist looking to offer his patrons a beverage infused with a greater kick, the director serves up a combustible cocktail of classic and contemporary flavours that, though occasionally too sharp on the tongue, settles smoothly on the stomach.

Aided by Hoyte Van Hoytema’s use of 35mm film, Mendes captures the lavish skylines of Rome, Mexico, Tangiers and London with a buttery beauty, pervading the picture with rich velvety textures that are reminiscent of Connery and Moore’s past adventures. This is very much a film happy to acknowledge its ancestry, with notable nods to You Only Live Twice and Live And Let Day, as well as a train brawl between Bond and SPECTRE assassin Mr. Hinx (Dave Bautista) that’s effortlessly evocative of From Russia With Love – as ever, the series’ dedication to practical effects is second to none, with a pre-credits throwdown between Bond and Sciarra within the cockpit of a spinning helicopter standing out as one of the franchise’s finest single sequences.spectre-still-03Spectre is also a film, however, with its eye on the future, something embraced in the character of Madeleine Swann (Léa Seydoux), who accompanies Bond on his quest following a flurry of early excitement in the Austrian Alps. Seydoux has already proven herself to be a powerful performer, and here she once more substantiates that strength, channelling a layered emotional intricacy and incisive intelligence that’s shamefully so often been missing in the personas of previous Bond girls. Commanding performances from the likes of Christoph Waltz – a strikingly malevolent, if somewhat underused villain – and a delightfully deadpanned Ralph Fiennes make a mark, but it’s Seydoux who leaves an indelible impression.

Holding it all together, of course, is Daniel Craig, whose innate integration of tortured soul and acidulous wit once more confirms him as the best Bond to date. If this is to be his final outing, and evidence in the coda suggests that it might, then he leaves the franchise in a far better way than when he arrived; an actor who was never interested in simply stirring the mixture, but one who was determined to shake it up.

★★★★

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