I never thought I’d think this thought, let alone dare to express it publicly, but here goes.
The problem with Daniel Craig’s fourth outing as James Bond is there simply isn’t enough of the spirit of Roger Moore.
Yes, Roger Moore. Yes, the guy who skipped blithely across a lake of crocodiles in Live And Let Die.
He does have one thing in common with Moore, mind you. Both Bonds share a commitment to impeccable tailoring even in the most implausible of circumstances. Near the climax of the remarkable opening Mexico City sequence, Craig somehow sprints down a crowded avenida without even unbuttoning his suit jacket. Later in the film he manages to pull off a range of rapid costume changes in a range of remote locations without so much as a suitcase, let alone a travel iron.
But Roger Moore knew that Bond was a little silly, and that his films were supposed to be fun. And I’m not sure Daniel Craig knows how to have fun, other than by belittling inane journalists.
If Casino Royale was an attempt to strip Bond back to Fleming’s basics, to purge the series of invisible cars, Spectre wants to unite the new style with the old, more outlandish conventions.
On paper, it’s a brilliant theory for how to top Skyfall, the most commercially successful entry in the series’ long history. Since Craig’s films are more or less a reboot – except keeping Judi Dench as M, however that makes sense – there’s no reason they can’t bring back Bond’s most legendary adversaries.
To cap it off – and this is no spoiler, since it’s clear in the trailer – they not only hired the brilliantly sinister Christoph Waltz as the baddie, but used him to unify the three entries in the series thus far.
You can imagine the studio executives giving the pitch a standing ovation. All the Craig realism we’ve come to love, combined with the classic elements of the genre – a ski chase, an Aston Martin full of gadgets, and an outlandish, remote lair in which Bond is strapped to a chair while ominous machinery draws ever closer to his manly British frame. (Plus a few more genre box-ticking elements that I won’t mention to avoid spoiling the non-surprise. I particularly liked what they did with the martini order).
And yet, somehow Spectre is less than the sum of these parts. In a world where even Austin Powers’ pisstake of 007 is old hat, there are surely only two approaches to Bond. You can either shrink down the scale, as they did so successfully with Casino Royale, where nailbiting drama was generated in only one exotic location via a simple game of poker. Or you can go for the full-blown, Dr Evil-style supervillain-plots-to-destroy-the-world-with-his-moon-laser approach, and have some fun with it.
The producers of Furious 7 understood the joy of outlandish action scenarios when they dropped vehicles out of aeroplanes and drove a sports car through the upper levels of multiple skyscrapers. When The Rock shatters that plaster cast with a simple flex of his basketball-sized bicep, he’s no longer an even slightly plausible police officer. But it doesn’t matter, because it’s fun.
Moore’s Bond operated in this same cartoon world. Daniel Craig, though, is not wired for this kind of fun. He does intense, he does serious, and he does it brilliantly. But he’s not the guy you send to the evil lair where the bad guy recites his entire plan before somehow failing to kill him. It’s too ridiculous a scenario for an actor who brings enormous credibility but very little charisma or swagger.
Craig’s Bond originally felt like a real agent, in our familiar world. But Spectre takes him somewhere else entirely. The film sits in the implausible quadrant in the action genre, with a dastardly evil army that has somehow remained hidden for decades, like Hydra in the Avengers movies. In this film, Q can hack into anything using just a laptop in the back of a moving car, like Simon Pegg in the Mission Impossible movies, and there’s ‘smart blood’ that somehow magically transforms the body in a manner reminiscent of The Phantom Menace’s midichlorians.
What’s more, the plot feels derivative. The film’s central premise, yet again, revolves around whether there’s a place in this world for double-0 agents. And yet again, Bond proves that there is, as he must, because otherwise why are we watching him?
But in Preposterous Action Land, such questions should be redundant. Of course there has to be One Super Goodie, just as there’s One Super Baddie. There’s no need for the filmmakers to feel self-conscious about this, as they evidently do – they just need to have fun with it, because it’s no longer our world that Bond’s operating in.I would have been perfectly happy watching Bond trying to stop a plausible conspiracy that’s not too far removed from what we’ve seen happen in our world. The terrorist attack he thwarts in the first, incredible scene (the highlight of the entire film) could have been enough of a premise for a whole film.
But if you want to pit Bond against the SPECTRE we all remember, you need to do what Q is ordered to do in this film, and give the tricked-out Aston Martin to a different agent.
Ben Wishaw’s ‘Q’, like Ralph Fiennes’ ‘M’ and Naomie Harris’ Moneypenny, is so terrific that I wish the supporting players had more to do in a less overblown situation, while Andrew Scott’s hyperbureaucratic ‘C’ could have sufficed as a fine villain in a more realistic movie. But Waltz, while good, is better when Tarantino scripts his dialogue.
Next time, the producers need to go one of two ways. Either they should give Craig a more plausible, dramatic scenario, and let him play the flawed, vulnerable hero, as he does so well. Or they should bid him a grateful goodbye and hand his license to kill over to someone like Idris Elba with the charisma to play Bond as a superhero fit to take on a supervillain.