Note: This review was written as an April Fool’s joke for Forced Viewing–the joke being that I reviewed it as if it were a horror movie.
Government-sponsored killer James Bond is back once more in his twenty-fifth outing (which makes the Bond films, by my reckoning, the longest-running horror franchise). When a cock-up by Bond’s bosses (a shadowy government agency who, Dexter-style, employ Bond to take down other serial killers) results in a list of counter-terrorism operatives falling into the hands of vicious mass murderer Raoul Silva, Bond takes it upon himself to take Silva down before he can assassinate his real target: “M,” the head of the intelligence agency that signs Bond’s paychecks.
It’s no secret that the Bond franchise has been reinvigorated by the “reboot” that began with 2006’s Casino Royale and Daniel Craig taking over the role. Gone are the more fanciful elements that typified the series in the ’80s and ’90s, replaced by a grittier and grimier aesthetic clearly influenced by more modern franchises such as Saw and Hostel. Also stripped out are Bond’s moral fig-leaves–while Craig maintains the tradition of Bond being charming and seductive, he’s also an undeniable and unapologetic psychopath, something that Pierce Brosnan could never quite get a hold of during his tenure. Craig pulls it all off with gusto and aplomb, and he’s clearly the best Bond since Sean Connery.
Craig has been supplied with a crack supporting cast that includes series mainstay Dame Judi Dench as M, who shocks the audience before the opening titles by proving ruthless enough to order Bond’s murder in order to protect her job. (All is forgiven, of course.) Javier Bardem is one of the most memorable Bond villains yet as Silva, whose raw charisma barely masks the roiling madness of his psyche…and, as we saw in No Country For Old Men, few modern actors do “roiling madness” as effectively as Bardem. Ralph Fiennes shines as a slimy, ambitious public servant, and Ben Whishaw steals several scenes as the enigmatic Quartermaster.
But let’s be honest here: we don’t watch a Bond movie for the cast, we watch it for the elaborate stunt and kill sequences. While there’s nothing here that matches the highs set by Casino Royale–whose parkour sequence inspired breathtaking awe, and whose interrogation sequence not only called but raised the best excesses of the torture-porn genre–there’s nothing here that will disappoint. A passenger-train chase will satiate an audience’s need for action, and a deadly game of William Tell will scratch your itch to see attractive actresses get offed in memorable ways. And the final showdown is able to reconcile its broad scope with intimacy. Director Sam Mendes (as the director of The Road To Perdition) is intimately familiar with this territory and is to be commended for finding fresh ways to exploit it.
Overall, while it’s easy to mock the franchise at this point for being a bit long in the tooth, the truth is that it’s been more exciting, compelling and frightening than it has in a long time. If the producers can keep the quality up in future installments, its longevity will have been more than justified.
My rating: 9 of 10.
143 minutes. Directed by Sam Mendes. Starring Daniel Craig, Judi Dench, Javier Bardem, Ralph Fiennes, Naomie Harris.