The challenge for the makers of the 24th Bond film couldn’t be tougher: how do you follow Skyfall – not only the most successful Bond film ever, but also the biggest money-maker in UK box office history, and arguably the best 007 film yet? The producers’ solution is to gather the same core creative team, give them an even bigger budget (at least $250million, reportedly), throw in more spectacular set-pieces, exotic locations, a bigger Rolls Royce of a cast and a story that attempts to tie up all the previous Craig-era Bond movies, no less.
It all kicks off when 007 is left a secret video message telling him to track down an assassin who turns out to be a member of SPECTRE, a secret organisation of top crims responsible for terrorist attacks around the world. As Bond follows the trail of SPECTRE’s main psychopath Oberhauser (Christoph Waltz – totally menacing with a touch of camp giddiness), back home his colleagues Q (Ben Whishaw), M (Ralph Fiennes) and Moneypenny (Naomie Harris) have to deal with slick new surveillance supremo Max Denbigh (Andrew Scott – Moriarty off Sherlock) who’s threatening to shut down the “double-0” program entirely.
It gets even more complicated and contrived from then on, with a series of trips to beautiful locations so that Bond can have punch-ups with a seemingly indestructible heavy played by Dave Bautista (Guardians Of The Galaxy) and get hot and heavy with Léa Seydoux’s brilliantly named Madeleine Swan – in classic Bond style she resists his advances at first then (spoiler alert) gives in about five minutes later. Quite how Swan, Oberhauser and Bond are connected forms the crux of an intriguing final act, which features our hero in a technologically advanced torture scene so viscerally unpleasant it’s pretty amazing it managed to stay in a 12A rated film. But for those of us who want our Bond villains to be really nasty, it’s absolutely justified.
There’s also some major horribleness in the wonderfully atmospheric scene in which we first meet Oberhauser and his deeply sinister SPECTRE gang. The violence is just one element that feels ramped up, in what ends up being by far the Bond-iest of all of Daniel Craig’s Bond movies. Every fight, car chase, stunt, villain, location, gadget and seduction feels super-sized to the max, as if director Sam Mendes and star Daniel Craig wanted to get absolutely all the best and most iconic things about Bond into one gigantically enjoyable 007-fest of a movie. From the stunning pre-credits sequence opening with a breathtaking single tracking shot, this feels like an attempt to mine all the legendary 007 elements for a truly old-school Bond adventure, while also feeling totally fresh and contemporary – and huge.
There’s even – joy of joys – a massive villain’s lair carved into a crater. Bond’s colleagues Q, M and Moneypenny are given cunningly expanded roles (Ben Whishaw’s Q is a total delight), while newbie Andrew Scott dazzles as the oily Denbigh (aka “C”) and Waltz is a perfect creepy super-villain. But in the end it’s all about Daniel Craig – tough, smouldering, wryly funny. And kudos to him for being the first Bond to get his impressive chest out in the credits sequence rather than the traditional dancing ladies.
There are a couple of sequences that feel unnecessarily long, and to understand some of the plotting it helps if you’ve brushed up on the previous three Bond films. But in the end, if Skyfall was a superb reboot of the franchise, Spectre is more of a grandiose and gloriously fun celebration of absolutely everything we love about Bond.
Spectre hits cinemas on 26 October 2015.