It may be no coincidence that Agent 007’s latest love interest, played by French actress Lea Seydoux in the new James Bond movie “Spectre,” is called Madeleine Swann, because the film seems like a swan song for some of the participants.
Both Daniel Craig, playing Bond for the fourth time in the film screened for the press in London on Wednesday, and director Sam Mendes, in his second outing for the now 24-film franchise, have been widely reported as saying they want out.
Craig has even gone so far as to say he would rather slit his wrists than play Bond again.
In the ways of the movie world and successful franchises – the last Bond film, “Skyfall”, raked in some $1.1 billion at the box office worldwide – all that could change come Bond 25.
But this slick but overlong, at well over two hours, outing that takes viewers on an armchair journey from Mexico City to London to Rome to Austria to Tunisia and then back to London, has a somewhat tired feel about it, as if it had overgorged on a diet of Aston Martin cars, Omega watches and Belvedere vodka – among the main product placements.
Michael Wilson, a co-producer of the film, said onstage at a central London screening in advance of the British premiere next week that he hoped the press would tweet opinions, but not spoilers.
The film, though, trumpets roughly within the first half hour — so no spoiler here — that the high-rise, high-tech offices of a new uber intelligence agency being created in London, which will make double-0 agents like Bond superfluous, has been paid for with private funds — a heavy hint of what is up.
In other scenes, Mendes and the scriptwriters have had fun, referencing scenes from gangster and crime-steeped films like “The Untouchables” — for an underworld boardroom ghastliness — to “The Italian Job” where Bond’s latest Aston Martin supercar and an Audi replace Minis careening down steps in Rome.
There is a ring which will unite them all, as in “The Lord of the Rings”, but saying what it will unite and why — that would be a spoiler.
That leaves Bond and his villains — in this case the Austrian Christoph Waltz, reprising a Bond villain of the past — but there are 23 previous films, so that is no spoiler — and his Bond girls.
There are three, but the only one who makes an impression is Seydoux, who gets a great catwalk moment in the dining car of an “Orient Express”-style train, wearing a mostly not-there dress.
Which brings us back to the Seydoux character’s name – Madeleine Swann.
This film, with its villain from the past, and Bond rummaging back in time for answers to the film’s mysteries, is riffing on the French author Marcel Proust, one of whose main characters was Swann and whose memories of childhood were triggered by eating a sweet madeleine cake.
That is no spoiler, but unfortunately it also may be one of the film’s best takeaways, and surely literary allusions are not what audiences want from a Bond film.
(Michael Roddy is the Entertainment Editor for Reuters in Europe. The views expressed are his own)