As Daniel Craig Bond movies go, this will do. It’s not great like Casino Royale or Skyfall. But it’s still better than anything the post-Connery years threw down. The problems are writing failures. Dumb things like Bond and new squeeze Madeleine Swann (Léa Seydoux, whose name is closer to Proust than Pussy Galore) showing up in designer clothes, though they never shopped or packed a suitcase. When they tear apart a train’s interior during a battle, they simply disembark the next morning without an askance word from the conductor. But the Bond McGuffin is the worst specter hanging over this movie. The story’s conflicts derive from cliché Hollywood ideas like, “We’re shutting down the 00 program,” or, “Once we get all the computers in the world to unite, we can prevent evil before it happens.” So many franchises are stuck in these same ruts (from Mission Impossible to X-Men) that it’s too tedious to drag Ian Fleming’s James Bond down the same path.
Yet the movie is better than its own bad writing. The chase scenes rock: Bond in a Day of the Dead parade or a falling-apart airplane chasing cars across snowy terrain. The plot ties together loose ends of the last three films, involving a final message from recently deceased M (Judi Dench) sending 007 into super-bad spy lairs up against an archvillain played by Christoph Waltz. And the obligatory torture Bond scene is particularly sadistic, so that’s cool.
The interesting twist is a marked change of perspectives. Bond is now not a spy, not a gatherer of intelligence: He’s an assassin. It’s a theme that’s developed slowly, but never sounded so loud before. And his girlfriend keeps interrogating him about how much he drinks and what he would do if he didn’t chase stuff all the time. Later, when he contemplates a sure-bet kill, we wonder if it’s Craig stepping down or another idea of Bond is about to launch. Either way, let’s hope the writers can find more creditable foes than unemployment or technophobia.