“The dead are alive” – so proclaims the stark title card that opens Spectre before we plunge into an absolutely riveting pre-credits sequence set amid the throng of the Mexican Day of the Dead celebrations.
As the camera follows the male and female grinning-skull protagonists through the colourful and macabre masquerade, we are treated to simmering sensuality, building-crumbling explosions, and high-speed vehicular carnage – in short, all the elements that makes up a classic James Bond film.
In 10 action-packed minutes, director Sam Mendes shows that 53 years and 24 films on, there seems to be life left in James Bond.
Yet as bold a statement as the opening one is, it pales in comparison to Daniel Craig’s blundering assertion last week that he would rather “slash his own wrists” than think about reprising the role of 007.
The eight-month shoot and the subsequent promotional obligations seemed to take its toll on Craig as he made clear that he feels as if he has reached a natural conclusion with Spectre, and any further Bond films he may appear in will solely be for financial reward.
And while the Bond franchise under Craig’s watch has generated outstanding revenue, it seems that at some point between Skyfall and Spectre, things have shifted.
This latest film sees Bond following leads to uncover a shady organisation known as SPECTRE.
Meanwhile at MI6, new boss Denbigh (played by Dubliner Andrew Scott) is threatening to shut down the undercover programme, insisting that a global mass-surveillance system complete with drone strikes will provide a more effective form of security than vodka-soaked secret agents milling around the world in expensive sports cars.
In the hunt to find out more about Spectre there are plenty of distracting avenues for the plot to wander down over the two-and-half hour run-time. But while the story stays busy, there is no denying that once we get into the meat of the film, something essential is lacking.
While Craig remains a powerful physical force on screen, there is certainly less of him as an actor on it.
Following on from Skyfall, which managed a great balance of emotional engagement and action, Spectre falls back into that familiar groove of filmmaking that values brawn over brains.
Craig’s first Bond film paved the way for a new kind of 007, and while Casino Royale ushered in a more modern kind of action, Spectre feels less pioneering and more reflective – spending its time referencing earlier films rather than creating something new and memorable.
On his quest for answers Bond is a like a weapon: brief, blunt, and impersonal.
While there are things to be excited about – as usual we have some stunning outdoor locations, there are some fun action sequences dotted throughout, and the supporting cast is powerful – but the ceaseless barrage of nods, winks, and doffs of the cap to former Bond films dulls the action.
While the opening 10 minutes will astound you, the best that the remainder of Spectre can offer you is mild entertainment. Perhaps it is time to give up the ghost.
Spectre (Cert 12A, 150 mins)