Rated PG-13. Running time: 2 hours 28 min.
Our content ratings (1-10); Violence 5; Language 1; Sex /Nudity 4.
Our star rating (1-5): 4
See how they conceive evil, and are pregnant with mischief, and bring forth lies. They make a pit, digging it out, and fall into the hole that they have made. Their mischief returns upon their own heads, and on their own heads their violence descends.
If, as some critics have said, this is Daniel Craig’s last time playing James Bond, he is certainly going out with a flourish, the film being full of thrilling action and a dash of reflection on Bond’s past. The action film, superbly directed by Sam Mendes, is like one of those European high-performance “driving machines” that boasts it can go from 0 to 60 miles in a zillionth of a second, It begins with the costumed Bond and a lover in Mexico City during a colorful Day of the Dead parade. The pair enter a hotel room for what she thinks is a tryst, but Bond, having seen his quarry in the parade, leaves her, stepping out onto the roof with his gun drawn. The objective of his pursuit is the master assassin Marco Sciarra (Alessandro Cremona). Bond overhears Sciarra talking with two men about bombing a stadium.
When the three see Bond, the goons shoot at 007, but he kills them instead and blows up their bomb. The building collapses in the blast, but the unscathed Bond calmly walks out in pursuit of the fleeing Sciarra.
The two, on opposite sides of the massive parade, wind their way through spectators and paraders until the assassin is picked up by the helicopter he has summoned. Bond, of course, manages to jump onto the craft, and there ensues a wild fight with our hero struggling with both the killer and the pilot. During all their struggle the helicopter dips up and down, swerving erratically, coming far too close to the crowd numerous times. Managing first to kick Sciarra and then the pilot out of the craft, Bond assumes control and flies away. He notices that in the fight he has snatched a ring from Sciarra’s finger. The ring’s decoration is an octopus.
In London M (now played by Ralph Fiennes) is very upset with his agent because he was in Mexico City without authorization. He grounds Bond, and then introduces him to the new head of the Joint Intelligence Service, Max Denbigh (Andrew Scott). Taking an instant dislike to his new boss, Bond calls him by his code name of C, much to the man’s displeasure. Bond’s dislike is well grounded, as later he learns that C is setting up a new surveillance program involving nine countries. The program is so sophisticated that M16, no longer needed, will be decommissioned. There follows in rapid succession a series of events involving Moneypenny (Naomie Harris), fellow agent Bill Tanner (Rory Kinnear), and technical genius Q (Ben Whishaw). Bond is soon in Rome where, after Sciarra’s funeral, he begins his relationship with the widow Lucia (Monica Belucci). After he saves her from the thugs sent to kill her, she asks if he killed her husband. He replies matter of factly, “He was an assassin. He wouldn’t have taken it personally.”
It is from Lucia that learns of the secret organization Spectre, so Bond, uses the octopus ring to gain entry to its secret meeting in the Eternal City. He enters the palatial building and joins a group looking down from the balcony upon the heads of the organization seated around a very long table. The shadowy figure presiding over the violence-infected meeting is Franz Oberhauser (Christoph Waltz), who spots Bond watching from above. Bond barely escapes, there ensuing an exciting chase scene along the edge of the Tiber River.
The action moves to Austria, then to the Austrian Alps, where he meets the daughter of a former enemy Dr. Madeleine Swann (Lea Seydoux). Though they are off to a rocky start, she becomes his main love interest and companion in adventure, the two making a long, danger-filled journey by train to a Spectre laboratory presided over by Oberhauser in the North African desert, and at last back to London. Bond learns of a past connection with Oberhauser and how the tentacles of Spectre has reached even into the Joint Intelligence Service. Oberhauser turns out to actually be someone else closely connected to the younger Bond.
Thus the plot is complex, and so, we see, is the character of James Bond. I especially appreciated a decision he makes at the climax, bringing out something that M, then played by Judi Dench, says about the power given an 00 agent. This mellowed my feeling of distaste over the series casual acceptance of killing opponents right and left—an acceptance shared by virtually all such action thrillers.
What I especially enjoyed is the literate script chock full of humorous exchanges, a sampling of which are:
Gadget maker Q handing him his latest creation, a watch, Bond asks, “What does it do?” “It tells time.”
It is in Rome that Bond utters his signature introduction when Lucia warns her uninvited visitor, “If you don’t leave now, we’ll die together.” Bond, “I can think of worse ways to go.” “Then you’re obviously crazy, Mr…” “Bond. James Bond.”
Arch villain Oberhauser asks, “Why did you come?” Bond, “I came here to kill you.” “And I thought you came here to die,” to which 007 says, “Well, it’s all a matter of perspective.”
When Bond meets the beautiful Madeleine Swan she says, “You shouldn’t stare.” He replies, “Well, you shouldn’t look like that. “ Later she asks him, “Why, given every other possible option, does a man choose the life of a paid assassin?” Bond, “Well, it was that or the priesthood.”
So, although I am not a big fan of the series (in my 900+ collection of DVDs there is not one 007 film), there was plenty to appreciate and thus enjoy during its overly long running time. If one is looking for a worthy escape film, this certainly beats Dumb and Dumber. And the scenery is often as gorgeous as the women.
This review with a set of discussion questions, will be in the Dec. issue of Visual Parables available for sale on this site early that month.