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Stars: Daniel Craig, LĂ©a SĂ©ydoux, Christoph Waltz, Ralph Fiennes, Ben Whishaw, Andrew Scott, Monica Bellucci, Naomie Harris, Dave Bautista, Judi Dench, Jesper Christensen

Director: Sam Mendes

Bond, in the now familiar guise of Daniel Craig, is back after a three-year absence - but this time round, all work and too little playfulness sometimes makes James a dull boy. Although there are bursts of action throughout and an exciting, London-set finale, it seems that, in retrospect and at a bum-numbing 148 minutes, almost nothing has happened. Bond's best ally here is not the writers - four of them, rendering the film a thing of set pieces rather than cohesive narrative - but Thomas Newman's music, which does its stylish best at every opportunity to up the pace, crashing along and trumpeting the familiar Bond theme fortissimo at the crux of any small piece of action.

In London, MI5 is being merged with other security services, rendering the double-0 program obsolete. It's the brainchild of Whitehall suit C (an edgily good Scott), who plans to bring the surveillance departments of all countries together, much to the chagrin of M (Fiennes).

Meanwhile, Bond himself, after foiling a plot to blow up a Mexico City stadium in a dazzling opening sequence set against the Day of the Dead, is on the trail of an old adversary. And if you don't think these two storythreads are connected you haven't seen too many spy thrillers.

Of course, there are girls along the way: Bellucci, with precious little to do but succumb to Bond's alleged charm, and SĂ©ydoux, as the daughter of another old foe, who suffers the indignity of the high-tech equivalent of being tied to railroad tracks at the end.

As the man himself, Craig strikes the requisite poses and does embody Fleming's original concept of a 'cold and brutal' agent, but, apart from the odd sly smile, his face seems to have hardened into immobility; it really is time for a fresher Bond, preferably one with a ready supply of wisecracks, which to date only Sean Connery, purring like a sated leopard, has been able to deliver in style.

The highlight here is undoubtedly a fiercely staged battle on a train, recalling the fight between Connery and Robert Shaw in From Russia With Love, but in this instance pitting Craig and SĂ©ydoux against a silent, Jaws-type assassin (Bautista) - one of several scenes that do liven up an unevenly paced film that will undoubtedly produce another box-office bonanza.

David Quinlan

UK 2015. UK Distributor: Sony (MGM/Columbia). Technicolor.
148 minutes. Widescreen. UK certificate: 12A.

Guidance ratings (out of 3): Sex/nudity 1, Violence/Horror 1, Drugs 0, Swearing 0.

Review date: 22 Oct 2015