LONDON, Oct 27, (Agencies): James Bond has a licence to thrill once more in new film “Spectre”, which premiered Monday at a glitzy event attended by Prince William, his wife Kate and brother Prince Harry.
Broadly praised by critics, the film is directed by Sam Mendes and sees Daniel Craig play the suave, Martini-quaffing MI6 spy 007 in what is Bond’s 24th outing since the first — “Dr. No” — in 1962.
“I hate watching myself on screen but I love playing James Bond,” Craig said on the red carpet at London’s Royal Albert Hall, where he was joined by co-stars Monica Bellucci and Lea Seydoux.
“There’s different sides of his character that we explore in this,” said Craig, who was in black tie. He added that the film was intended to honour Bond classics while trying to “freshen everything up.”
Mendes, who won an Oscar for “American Beauty” in 1999, said: “We sweated blood over it and I’m really, really thrilled and a little bit relieved”.
Asked about what it felt like to be a “Bond girl” — a term that is sometimes seen as patronising towards the actresses who play the roles — Seydoux smiled: “I don’t know if I’m a Bond girl, I’m just a blonde girl.”
French Seydoux, who wore a gold lame dress, plays Madeleine Swann, the daughter of a former Bond villain.
Italian Bellucci — at 51, reportedly the oldest ever “Bond girl” — plays Lucia Sciarra, a criminal’s widow who warns Bond off his dangerous quest.
Ralph Fiennes, who plays Bond handler and loyalist MI6 chief “M”, said it was “a very well-crafted film.”
“It has great energy and forward momentum,” he said.
The film begins with a final mission set by the previous M, played by Judi Dench, and sees a haggard-looking Bond shaken, not stirred by his past.
Bond early on in the plot brushes off a question about what he would do if he was not an assassin, but spends the rest of the film working it out.
Along the way he faces his chilling nemesis, who wears a collarless Nehru jacket like in classic Bonds past but has a data-driven domination mission with a contemporary ring to it.
The film’s title stands for Special Executive for Counter-Intelligence, Terrorism, Revenge and Extortion — which last made an appearance in 1971’s “Diamonds Are Forever”.
Craig said he had been “desperate” to face the shadowy organisation again.
Its members include historic Bond villains Dr. No and Ernst Stavro Blofeld, but the group disappeared from the films for decades due to a legal rights dispute that was only resolved two years ago.
Britain’s Guardian and Telegraph newspapers gave Spectre a maximum five stars, the latter praising the film’s “swaggering show of confidence”.
However, the Financial Times gave it only two stars and said the film was attempting to tinker with the winning formula of 2012’s blockbuster “Skyfall” while “clearly being thrown into panic at the thought”.
“Spectre” was filmed in Austria, Britain, Italy, Mexico and Morocco and includes the usual Bond ingredients: high-speed chase scenes, sultry female leads, exciting gadgets and witty one-liners.
“I came here to kill you,” Bond tells new bad guy Franz Oberhauser, played by Christoph Waltz.
“And I thought you came here to die,” Oberhauser counters.
“Well, it’s all a matter of perspective,” Bond replies with a smirk.
There have been doubts over Craig’s future as the sixth actor to play Bond after he voiced unhappiness at the prospect of doing a fifth film — despite being contracted to do so.
He told Time Out magazine he would rather “slash my wrists” than play the famous spy again, adding: “If I did another Bond movie, it would only be for the money.”
An online poll by Britain’s Independent newspaper on who should play Bond in the next instalment of the franchise found that most respondents would pick Craig, followed by British actor Tom Hardy, who recently starred in “Mad Max: Fury Road”.
Under Craig, Bond has transformed from urbane and dandyish into a rugged and troubled intelligence professional, a change not all critics appreciate.
“Daniel Craig, as Bond, looks like a security guard, not a man who moves easily at the highest levels of society,” Telegraph columnist Charles Moore wrote.
Fans who lined the red carpet not only got to see Craig — resplendent in a dark tuxedo and earthy smile — and glamorous co-stars Lea Seydoux and Monica Bellucci, but could also catch a glimpse of Prince William, his wife Kate, and Prince Harry, still sporting a beard.
All eyes were on Kate, the Duchess of Cambridge, who was among the last to arrive at the Royal Albert Hall before the film rolled. She chose a light blue Jenny Packham dress for the event. The two princes wore tuxedos, which have been something of a Bond trademark since the days when Sean Connery played 007 for the first time in “Dr. No” in 1962.
The royals, who arrived in a Bentley, were greeted by director Sam Mendes and co-producers Barbara Broccoli and Michael G. Wilson. Craig, accompanied by his film star wife Rachel Weisz, patiently posed for dozens of selfies with adoring fans. He told reporters he had “loved every minute” he’s spent as Bond and declined to answer questions about whether he would return for a fifth turn as the sexy, world-saving British agent.
Seydoux wore a shimmering gold backless gown for the night that marked her emergence as the latest in a long line of romantic interests for the suave British agent. Bellucci, also a love interest in the film, wore a dark gown with a plunging neckline.
When a film franchise lasts for more than five decades, it’s bound to gather a few unrealized projects along the way, and the James Bond series is no exception. Over the years, actors as varied as Michael Caine, Dick Van Dyke, Clint Eastwood and Liam Neeson have come close to playing the suave Agent 007, leaving fans to speculate on the vastly different directions the series might have gone in had they been cast.
Similarly, rejected theme songs from Johnny Cash, Blondie and Alice Cooper, along with discarded titles like “From a View to a Kill” (shortened by one word upon release) and “Licence Revoked” (changed when test audiences responded poorly to it) suggest an alternate history for the cinematic super spy. Even more curious, however, are the following four films which, to varying degrees, came close to actual production.
Alfred Hitchcock’s “Thunderball”
While A-list directors like Steven Spielberg and Quentin Tarantino have flirted with the idea of helming a James Bond film, perhaps none was better suited to the material than Alfred Hitchcock, who was approached in 1959 to direct the very first entry in the series.