Skyfall cast a massive shadow over the box office back in 2012 as the twenty-third installment in the James Bond franchise, to coincide with its fiftieth anniversary and London's hosting of the Olympic Games. High on British culture, Skyfall became the franchises first to hit the elusive $1billion dollar mark worldwide, gaining acclaim in the process and a stronger appetite for 007. Following it up would be a tricky task – is Spectre, the latest blockbuster in a year literally bursting with them, able to do so? Or will it fall foul to its predecessor’s critical and commercial enormity?
Audience meet James Bond (Daniel Craig) during the Day of the Dead festival, on an unofficial mission to assassinate targets who threaten to blow up a stadium. Back in London, globe change is spearheaded by M (Ralph Fiennes) and Max Denbigh (Andrew Scott), who chose to monitor 007 and ground him to the UK. Of course, he doesn't though, seeking Q (Ben Whishaw) and Eve Moneypenny's (Naoime Harris) assistant to carry out orders that Judi Dench's M left, as the enegmatic SPECTRE organisation watches over, planning and plotting.
As James Bond films go, this is pretty standard viewing, striking a balance between heart-pumping, firing on all cylinders action, and the nostalgic and cheesy Bond that many have yearned for since Craig's reinvention of the franchise. Bond references galore, it's a formulaic structure and pretty unsurprising; but it really does seem that it was a conscious decision, as it is the way audiences like, supported by the fact they keep coming back for more. Stunts are as undaunted, brash and bold as ever, from corkscrewing helicopter tricks and an unprecedented level of exploding buildings.
Daniel Craig manages to keep up with the madness, during his fourth tenure as the guntotting hero, despite initial fears that he may be unassertive, due to some certain comments he made about stepping down from the role that some fear would be reflected in a half-hearted performance. Throwing himself into it as enthusiastically as before, he of course needed a 'Bond Girl'; Leá Seydoux as Madeline Swann is complex and compelling, offering a more dynamic performance in the supporting role that many consider inferior and submissive to Bond. She instead portrays a mixture of vulnerability and strength, thanks to Seydoux's portrayal. It's great to see Fiennes, Harris and Whisaw with more substantial roles this time round, with Andrew Scott - who I believe to be one of the most promising and underrated actors at the minute - serving arrogance and shade in a role that keeps you guessing and questioning throughout.
Despite great performances and impressive stunts, it's the narrative that causes the film to faulter, most noticeable in the middle of the film. It occasionally feels very padded, no thanks to its extensive runtime, yet appears to be going nowhere, with the 'villains' of the piece not quiet embossing the fear and discomfort that others have before. I put this down to the writing, opposed to Christopher Waltz's performance, who does his best at seeming sinister with substandard material. It's almost as if the success of its predecessor, Skyfall, is playing on the mind of the writers constantly, which unfortunately shows. What they do get right though, is Bond's one-liners, which offer a comedic stance on some more intense moments.
Spectre is not at all a bad film - it's entertaining and intense as we expect, but lacks a clear direction and emotional punch that Skyfall delivered in abundance.
Summary: Spectre is an engaging and thrilling 007 entry, but a victim to its own success, daunted by the Skyfall shadow that looms so large.
Highlights: The stunt team have worked well on thrilling audiences, 24 Bond films in. The cast prove strong too, illustrating some of Britain's finest actors and actresses.