I sat through this cinematic smash (Smersh?) hit, this latest sprouting of the Broccoli franchise yesterday afternoon, even though (or, rather, because) I had far too much work to do. I confess I did not go with any great expectations, being a fan neither of the original books nor of the movies, although I accept that the humour of the cinematographic treatments has mitigated to some extent the casually misogynistic and racially patronising tone of Fleming’s novels.
I didn’t see any of the previous Daniel Craig outings, so this visit was something of a revelation and, when I offered a tentative critique of the film’s mores on the walk home, Jill cut me off. “For Christ’s sake” she said, “it’s a Bond movie”.
Of course it is. And it has its moments, notably a stunning opening tracking shot which lasts for about five minutes without a cut. It is a tour de force, dramatic and dynamic, but it does not set the tone for the next two and a quarter hours.
What does is the epigraph. The dead are alive it announces, reversed out of funereal black.
Well, up to a point, Lord Copper.
In the form of Daniel Craig, Bond is very much alive and, as a nod to the contemporary, the evil Blofeld is not now concerned with blowing up the world but putting it and everyone on the planet under surveillance.
There is a movie in here somewhere, something along the lines of a macro-The Conversation. But it sinks without trace like an Aston Martin in the Tiber. For Christ’s sake, it’s a Bond movie.
Which means we get the action sequences, the love interest, the mandatory torture scene, the random changes of scene and costume, the smashed cars and helicopters, the technological wizardry, the full Bond monty. We get the occasional apparent profundity – “a licence to kill is also a licence not to kill” – which informs us of the essential decency of the traditional British spook-cum-assassin. And we also get the stereotypes, the clichés and the conventions. Pretty much all of them.
It’s the equivalent of going to see a rock band performing nothing but their greatest hits note for note. But if that’s your bag …
For me, the final hour especially was tediously repetitive and the final twists predictable. But the saving grace was Ben Whishaw as Q, who actually made me laugh out loud. And, coincidentally, we were watching Ben again later last night in London Spy on the Beeb. It's by Tom Robb Smith, who wrote Child 44.
Apart from inhabiting the same genre, this could not have been more different. It was atmospheric and intriguing, it was carefully calibrated. It was a spy story but, primarily in this first episode, it was a love story. It was beautifully shot, beautifully acted, beautifully scripted. In other words, everything that SPECTRE is not.
But no-one at SPECTRE will give a damn about that.
For Christ’s sake, it’s a Bond movie. The dead are alive.