(Film Review)

By Martin Hickes

JAMES BOND is one of those movie figures who is in danger of becoming a victim of his own machismo.

Over time, not only can he become nothing other than a caricature of himself but his sheer bravado, the Bond connoisseur must realise, must become his ultimate weakness.

Sure, he has an Aston Martin with an ejector seat, he has known more women than many have had hot dinners, and his impressive array of gizmos is a schoolboy’s dream.

What separates him from the man in the street is his very antithetic nature.

Imagine him queuing at the confectionary stall in the cinema. ‘Maltesers please..’  Or struggling with the rinse aid and catchy flap on a dishwasher.

Or knocking a baby’s feeding bottle over the kitchen floor when answering the door to the milkman.

Not only would 007, Licence to Kill, look foolish doing such things, his sheer image almost prohibits him from doing so.

But perhaps therein lies the essence of the man.

His inability to do any of these things – just as mortal men would struggle with a Walther PPK or in drinking a Martini in a dinner suit without looking prattish – perhaps reflects that for which he longs the most. The wholesomeness, if slightly mundane, pipe and slipper world of family life away from all the classy crumpet and the crash bang wallop.

Wasn’t he once married –  in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service – only to be cruelly robbed by the men from SPECTRE?

It might sound fanciful for so suave a spy but cleverly the new film, SPECTRE hints at exactly that.

We see a Bond for whom the writing is seemingly on the wall. The 00 program is about to be mothballed and new technology looks set to bring together secret service intel from across the world into one huge hub – courtesy of a new character call ‘C’ played by the charismatic Andrew Scott – Moriarty in ‘Sherlock’. Surely he must be a nice guy….?

Enter then a convoluted but never boring plot which again looks into Bond’s past to give us a glimpse into the how and why of the person he is today.

On a mission in Mexico, unofficially ordered by the previous M (Judi Dench), James Bond kills two men arranging to blow up a stadium; in doing so the building they are in explodes and collapses.

Bond gives chase to Marco Sciarra, who survived the blast; Sciarra boards a helicopter to escape in spectacular fashion.

Bond follows and in the ensuing struggle he throws both Sciarra and the pilot out of the helicopter, stealing Sciarra's octopus ring as he does so.

On his return to London, Bond is indefinitely taken off field duty by the current M (a very good Ralph Fiennes), who is in the midst of a power struggle with C. C wants to create the "Nine Eyes" intelligence co-operation agreement between nine countries, and close down the '00' section in the process.

Bond disobeys M's order and travels to Rome to attend Sciarra's funeral. That evening he visits Sciarra's widow Lucia, who tells him about a criminal organisation to which her husband belonged and where they are meeting that evening.

Bond enters the meeting by showing the octopus ring, where he sees the head of the organisation. The head mentions the events in Mexico, and Bond by name, turning to face him as he does so. Having been recognised, Bond escapes and a car chase through Rome ensues, with Bond pursued by Mr. Hinx, an assassin for the organisation.

Moneypenny informs Bond that a reference he heard in both Mexico and the meeting will lead to Mr White, a former member of ‘Quantum’. Bond also asks for a check on the name Franz Oberhauser.

Perhaps the star of the show this time is Christoph Waltz, who brings real menace to the role in what is a quite an unsettlingly violent film at times.

SPECTRE draws on Ian Fleming's source material, most notably in the character Oberhauser. He shares his name with Hannes Oberhauser, a background character in the short story "Octopussy" and is named in the film as having been a temporary legal guardian of a young Bond. Indeed, this is a key plot point when all is finally revealed.

The Quantum organisation (introduced in ‘Quantum of Solace’) is shown to be a cadet branch of SPECTRE.

And while a further final revelation has chilling results, it's perhaps around this mystery that the plot will either lose or engage the audience. But Bond aficionados won’t be disappointed.

After the franchise’s reboot with Casino Royale and the first class Daniel Craig, the producers took an obvious step to change the look and feel of Bond films. In came the muscle bound, slightly visceral Craig who occasionally manages to look thuggish and beautiful by equal measure.

A little like Dr Who, each audience-goer has their favourite, most often associated with time and place.

Whichever Bond you prefer, Craig deserves every credit for the rebirth of the franchise.

What Connery was to suave, Craig is to pecs and power-packed punch.  Thankfully, this time around, we see a more wistful Bond/Craig who literally wonders perhaps how much time both he (as actor) and (character) have.  Mr Craig is now 47/8.

Dear old Roger Moore went on too long despite his popularity and Connery looked a bit paunchy by the time he made the iconically off-beat and slightly creepy Diamonds Are Forever.

Could this finally be the end, as Skyfall hinted musically? The last thing we need to see perhaps is what could be a puffy-faced ageing Craig in one last hurrah.

The ending of SPECTRE certainly leaves open the possibility of his departure – and indeed that of Bond himself from the spy scene. Does the land of pipe and slippers beckon?

Bond isn’t that far removed from other screen heroes; like Sherlock Holmes he’s a cerebral aloof loner who has a problem with women and commitment; for both, there was only ever one woman (who was lost), and whose parents are also either lost or who are a mystery. The fictional Lara Croft has a similar backstory and lineage.

Whichever path Craig or the EON franchise chooses, it has come a long way from the flabby, wilderness years of For Your Eyes Only and Octopussy.

Piecre Brosnan, as good as he was, seemed to carry his latter Bond films on looks alone – does anyone remember the plot of The World Is Not Enough?  Moore’s Moonraker only worked for some because it was the peak of his cliché-ridden near-camp approach. Remember that:  ‘I think he is trying to attempt re-entry’ quip? At the time, the franchise was in danger of becoming Carry On Spying.

In short is SPECTRE as good as Skyfall? Well, perhaps not, but it certainly is the second best Craig outing and its production values simply cannot be faulted.

Will James Bond/007 return? Let’s hope so – as a cultural icon and badgeword for Britain at least, in a world of cuts, perhaps we all need a bit of the Bond bling every few years or so.

The smart next step, hopefully with Craig, would be to remake On Her Majesty’s Secret Service – ironically one of the best early Bond films whose plot has been eclipsed by the paucity of its star, George Lazenby.

With a recognised Bond in a recognised story, it would perhaps represent some sort of an epiphany for star, audience and the Bond franchise alike; the exorcism of a slight ghost perhaps which has haunted the series of films for a long time. Sometimes it’s easy to forget that the Craig era is a succession of reboots.

In a Britain which is increasingly uncertain of its identity and future, we’ll be expecting you, Mr Bond.