It's an odd thing reading notes and scripts from early in the production phase. You get wedded to certain ideas, and really excited about how they'll play out on screen - and of course, when you get to the movie, some are gone. It's not a disappointment, it's just another way of seeing things. On the flipside, the early drafts were littered with problems and weakly developed gags - too many to list here. However, to see how they've straightened the script out and plugged almost all of the plot holes is a real treat. For my money, this is a simpler, more logical and less troubled plot than SKYFALL.
Another great success/relief for me is that the Oberhauser back story is explained in a way that I'm fine with and doesn't seem utterly ludicrous. We know they toyed with a few different ways of making the connection, and I still don't know what my preferred option would be, but the way it plays out is perfectly okay. The nods and winks to the SPECTRE leader of old is done subtly enough to not get into the realms of parody. Waltz is great to watch, and makes Oberhauser's motivations reasonable. However, I would say he's not at full stretch of his acting capabilities. Hopefully he'll still get the chance to set that straight.
We've come to expect the best from Craig, and this is another effort which firmly cements him as the best actor to play Bond on screen. Bruising fight scenes left me wincing (the soundtrack-less train fight is brutal and brilliant), and his delivery of the humour is absolutely spot on. This is the funniest Bond movie; I can't think of another one that can come close pound-to-pound in terms of gags and punchlines.
That brings me onto the rest of the cast. 10 years ago, I didn't expect to be able to ever say this with sincerity, but there are no bad performances in Bond films any more. With the calibre of the cast, that shouldn't be a surprise, but SPECTRE is definitely up there in terms of head-to-toe strength in depth. Bellucci, Scott, Kinnear and Harris are underused but inevitably solid as can be. Fiennes inhabits the role of M in a way that makes it seem he's been doing it all his life, and I only hope he does do it for the rest of his life. He's human, principled and firm.
The stars of the show are Whishaw and Seydoux though. In two performances, Whishaw has created a unique version of a beloved character and make it stand for itself. The easy repartee and fledgling friendship with Bond is the core to a lot of the movie's key developments, and his wit gives him a lot of the best dialogue driven moments of the film. As for Lea Seydoux, I'd liked her, not loved her in previous movies - but in this, I thought she was fantastic and truly impressed me. The character of Swann is layered, but she unfolds the trust issues very well, and (I know people will disagree with me on this), I think makes the Bond/Swann love story feasible - more so than Bond/Vesper (controversial, yes). I hope she returns.
Most of what I'd say about the direction, design and photography has been said before - but the opening tracking shot is a real gem and should go right towards the list of top Bond moments. The whole Mexico sequence is an astonishing achievement, perhaps with a slightly overdone helicopter fight sequence, but I'm happy to give them that one. Austria gleams, London glowers, Rome shines and Morocco sizzles. We've been spoilt visually for these last three films, and long may it continue.
That's not to say SPECTRE is perfect, but it's strong enough to brush off most gripes. I could be pedantic in the usual way and ask what happened to everyone else on the train, all the cars in Rome, how Bloferhauser was able to cross the Thames and get into his helicopter in about 20 seconds etc - but the answer is always the same - it's a Bond film. The action sequences look good, and are expertly put together by the best in the business, but the Rome car chase in particular seems a bit disjointed, with the intercutting of the Moneypenny phone call and Bond trying to play with all the gadgets not quite working for me. It seemed odd to have important plot exposition taking place while competing with the roar of two supercar engines and Newman's muscular scoring of the scene. I'm reaching slightly though; of course, in the heat of the action, I was still gripped as ever - and the pay-off of the elderly Fiat driver was brilliantly done, and got a great laugh.
Have no doubt, this is Bond as Bond can be. Does that mean it's the best of the series? No. Does that mean it's Bond by numbers? No. But my initial sense is that we'll look back at SPECTRE at being among the truest sense of what a Bond film should have - a powerful lead performance, an engaging love interest, an interesting villain, memorable locations, an intimidating henchman and the rest of the MI6 team playing more than a passing role.
It opens up truly exciting possibilities for BOND 25, with intriguing opportunities for characters to return and directions to take the plot with or without Craig. Let's see. We'll all have lots to discuss over the next few years, that's for certain.
These are of course all first impressions. I'll add more thoughts as they come, as this has already got a bit long, and became a stream of consciousness. I've got a few more viewings lined up, so I may look back at this in a few years and cringe, but I don't think so. My initial instinct is this is easily a top 10 Bond, probably pushing towards top five. 8 out of 10 for starters.
The bottom line is that SPECTRE is Fun from start to end, and, after all, isn't that why we're all here and have invested so much time in these films
(I've definitely forgotten things I wanted to mention, so fire away with any questions.)
Edited by Vauxhall, 27 October 2015 - 08:26 PM.