James Bond – you’ll have to remember his Christian name as the arrogant cad neglects to announce it – is grieving the loss of lover and betrayer Vesper Lynd (Eva Green). You’d best remember the plot – and Lynd’s necklace – of the earlier film, too, as director Forster throws us immediately, eye-smackingly into the frenetic activity and globe-traversing travel that is the angry, increasingly unorthodox, ‘soul-destroyed’ world-saving agent’s way of dealing with betrayal, grief and loss.
Eight minutes of highly impressive, parallel-edited, SFX-assisted, stunt-laden action are up before the ears, eyeballs and brain get their first momentary repose. Before then, our hero chases down Mr White in the Aston dodgem-car through Alpine tunnels. Cough or blink and you’ll miss how our bold spooks link the last film’s Le Chiffre to bug-eyed faux environmentalist Dominic Greene (Mathieu Amalric), a destabiliser of US backyard governments with a laughable, pudding-basin haircut-ed sidekick. Almost immediately, he hops, skips and jumps across Siena’s roofs and the horse-loving, harlequin-ed Palio crowds – and we soon follow Bond ‘running wild’ from the palatial villas of Italy to the slums of Haiti, the neo-Reifenstahl opera houses of Vienna, and the menacingly beautiful, otherworldly moonscapes and deserts of Bolivia.
So much dash, flash and thrill – so many boat chases, tight rope-dangling fight scenes, bi-plane dogfights, architectural flourishes and flat-table computer displays – there’s scant time left for character, let alone, story, fun, seduction, humour or wit. You can sense the older, traditionalist viewers wanting to go home early to take their nostalgia pills. True, there are some cute one-liners – presumably the product of Paul Haggis’s polish of Neal Purvis and Robert Wade’s screenplay taken from producer Michael G Wilson’s first inspirational treatment and itself repeatedly pencil-marked by Forster and Craig.
Also, new Bond Woman Olga Kurylenko is impressive as 007’s Latin helpmeet Camille. But, strange for a supposedly ‘humanising’ franchise, Craig’s Bond comes dangerously close to being a cipher himself: only a ‘Bourne’-again, action superhero could perform his physical feats.
It’s a cynical movie, too: half the Brit agents are double and all the US spies seem untrustworthy – save Felix Leiter, of course, whom the excellent Jeffrey Wright reprises in arguably the film’s sole sympathetic, low-key performance. (Though, intriguingly, Judi Dench’s ‘M’ has gone all maternal – couldn’t she be renamed ‘SM’, for Surrogate Mum?) Okay, maybe real life is, pace Hobbes, brutal, nasty and short – like this movie. But can’t we sneak in the odd moment for some occasional quiet conversation, maybe even a leisurely martini or a game of baccarat, even if we can’t afford luxury rail travel or – God forbid – some protracted, guiltless sex? Go on, Bond, next time, indulge yourself a little more. We like to watch.