The long take is one of the ultimate tests for a film director. Many remember Children of Men for the remarkable five-minute tracking shot of a lovely drive along the countryside that turns awry. Gravity’s epic space disaster captured in one fluid take spanning several heart-wrenching minutes is another one worth watching. Both bear the handiwork of Mexican director Alfonso Cuarón. It’s his calling card. So I had to do a double take at the visually intense opening sequence of Spectre, a five-minute tracking shot of Bond and his companion making their way through a Mexican parade. It’s a take made more difficult due to the huge set piece but Sam Mendes helms it brilliantly.
I wish I could say the same for the rest of Spectre. It’s Daniel Craig’s fourth outing as 007 and you can tell. The British actor with the blue eyes seems tired of the franchise, putting on a passable performance without any of the charm, grace and nuanced emotions that he first displayed in Casino Royale, the one that breathed life into the dying Bond series. The rest of the cast too plays it safe. I had high expectations for Christoph Waltz’s villainous character; the actor was impeccable in Inglourious Basterds playing a German colonel nicknamed The Jew Hunter. Instead, Waltz decides to become a discounted version of Raoul Silva, the antagonist in Skyfall played by Javier Bardem. He shuffles around the film in loafers, projecting neither menace nor malicious tendencies. He’s just your average eccentric middle-aged man who happens to have a lot of money and who has hatched the most convoluted plan in the world to kill Bond simply because he was spurned as a young boy.
Having said that, Spectre explores a lot of interesting themes – surveillance and freedom, modern technology and old-fashioned ways, etc. – and the scriptwriters throw in numerous references to past Bond films, both in Craig’s Bond arc as well as the 007 movies of yesteryear. The verbal sparring between Vesper and Bond in the train car, and one of my favourite scenes in Casino Royale, is delightfully recreated in Spectre between Bond and the female lead, psychologist Madeleine Swann played by Léa Seydoux.
And yes, while Daniel Craig is the lead actor, his Tom Ford suits deserve supporting cast status.
The action sequences are also classic exhilarating Bond. There’s a fight scene in a helicopter, a royal rumble between three cars and a plane, and fisticuffs in almost every location imaginable. And yet, while all the ingredients are there to make this an unforgettable Bond film – the car, the watch, the suits, the women, and the locales – it falls short, as though Spectre cannot shake off the weight of expectations heaved on it. The whole could have been greater than the sum of its parts. Instead Spectre has unnoticeably but once again flirted with the campy fringes of the depressing pit that Casino Royale managed to pull the Bond franchise out of.
Don’t get me wrong. Spectre is entertaining, visually glorious and is definitely worth a watch. But it could have been so much more.
Spectre will be in cinemas islandwide on 6 November.