Following their hugely successful collaboration on Skyfall, director Sam Mendes and actor Daniel Craig reunite for their second and possibly final mission with ‘Spectre’. Taking place shortly after the aforementioned predecessor, a merger between MI5 and MI6 and the introduction of a surveillance agreement could cause the 00 section of intelligence to be surplus to requirements, much to the dismay of M (Ralph Fiennes). Against orders, Bond goes on a rogue assignment given to him from beyond the grave to track down and kill a man called Marco Sciarra (Alessandro Cremona). In doing so, he discovers the global criminal organisation which gives the film its name led by Franz Oberhauser (Christoph Waltz) and meets Dr Madeleine Swann (Léa Seydoux) along the way.
Most James Bond films begin in spectacular fashion with an action-packed pre-credits sequence, and this is no different. The opening scene unfolds at the Day of the Dead festival parade in Mexico City, featuring a superb long tracking shot which culminates in an intense helicopter fight. The bar is set high early on, and unfortunately what comes after fails to live up to expectations. The plot plays out a little like a wild-goose chase, with Bond travelling from location to location ticking off franchise clichés as he goes, outwitting his foes on the usual planes, trains and automobiles. The ‘bond girl’ storyline is as cheesy as they come, reverting back to tacky Roger Moore style dialogue, and where Skyfall included playful nods to series nostalgia, Spectre completely overindulges in it. This distracts from the overarching theme of the technological transformation of modern espionage, which had the potential to be very interesting.
Daniel Craig remains a powerful screen presence, and despite the material letting him down on this occasion, he is still my personal favourite 007. He’s as dark and brooding as ever, and carries the grief suffered by the character with aplomb. Waltz brings the same nuanced menace to the villainous role of Oberhauser as he did as the evil Colonel Landa in Tarantino’s WWII movie Inglourious Basterds. He is underused for the most part but effective and entertaining in the limited screen time he is given. Léa Seydoux has her moments as the strong-willed and feisty love interest, but her strength of character is undermined by flimsy writing which sees her opinion of Bond alter at the drop of a hat, which stereotypically results in the dropping of another item of clothing. WWE wrestler turned movie star Dave Bautista essentially plays a modern-day version of the classic Bond villain Jaws, turning up every so often for another showdown. His appearances never feel short of ridiculous and seem out of place in the Daniel Craig era, which up to now has largely avoided comic effect bad guys.
Spectre is by no-means a bad film, and succeeds in offering up solid entertainment with cool landscape cinematography, sharply edited chases and gadgets galore. It is back-to-basics Bond, replacing the gritty seriousness of the past few instalments with much lighter fare, and for franchise enthusiasts it is not to be missed. However, after the originality and invention of the Daniel Craig era to date, with the exception of Quantum of Solace, this is an average effort, and definitely a misfire.
The latest addition to Quentin Tarantino’s filmography, ‘Django Unchained’, set in 1850s America, ticks all the boxes and features everything you would expect: strong bloody violence, punchy dialogue and Samuel L Jackson. Here, QT pays tribute to the ‘spaghetti western’ genre and tells the epic story of Django (Jamie Foxx), a freed slave and Dr. King Schultz (Christoph Waltz), a German bounty hunter, who come together on a journey to rescue Django’s wife from a brutal plantation owner.
A ‘road movie’, a ‘buddy movie’, ‘gangster film’: ‘Django…’ can almost fall into each of these categories but could only have been made by one writer/director. With trademark cinematography, a killer soundtrack and excellent plot tangents (one involving a hilarious scene poking fun at the Ku Klux Klan and getting away with it) this is unmistakably Tarantino. He even has his own minor but explosive cameo as a slave trader, putting his own dodgy slant on the Australian accent, however, he has overstepped the mark with the blood and gore a little, cheapening what is an extremely well made film. The bubbles and splats of guts and brains are out in full force as per and sadly try to overshadow the performances and script.
As the eponymous Django, I feared that Jamie Foxx would get lost alongside the blockbuster names and after my first viewing, I thought he had fell short of the podium with Waltz, DiCaprio and Jackson taking gold, silver and bronze respectively. However, after watching again, the character seems to have grown on me and I found myself rooting for him more on my second viewing. Will Smith fortunately turned down the lead role and was later replaced by Foxx who plays the transition from downtrodden slave to cocky, and sometimes arrogant, bounty hunting hero very well. Waltz is effortlessly magnificent as the educated trilingual killer, whispering words of wisdom to Django throughout and for me, he steals the show and fully deserves his Oscar for ‘Best Supporting Actor’. His gain is Leo’s loss, as despite playing the schmaltzy but sadistic Calvin J Candie to perfection, he is second best on this occasion. I thought it would be difficult to take Di Caprio seriously in a villainous role as we are so used to seeing him as the hero but here he shows his versatility and is at times terrifying, particularly where the violence is there but hidden, rather than flaunted. He appears to be an ideal choice. Unusual casting decisions have paid off for QT in the past, such as reviving the career of John Travolta playing Vincent Vega and Brad Pitt as Lieutenant Aldo Raine in ‘Inglourious Basterds’, and this time it is no different. No hesitation is shown in taking an established Hollywood ‘heartthrob’ and giving them a character which nobody would expect them to portray. I should also mention Samuel L Jackson who plays a blinder as the house slave with misguided loyalties. Visually, he is almost unrecognisable but his voice instantly stands out and he enjoys his share of the witty one liners.
This will slot in nicely alongside Pulp Fiction and Reservoir Dogs in an impressive portfolio, although whether it will live up to Tarantino’s high expectations of his own work as ‘the greatest Western of the 21st century’, only time will tell. He has shown again he can take the most serious of subjects and add his own personal touch, whilst keeping the harsh reality of the topic at hand. This film may be remembered for the silly shoot out physics instead of the bouncy conversations exchanged between Schultz and whoever he parleys with. Tarantino can nearly be seen as an overrated director but an underrated writer. A terrific piece of cinema nonetheless.