Thor: The Dark World (2013, Alan Taylor)

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Spoiler warning: these reviews reveal plot twists.

Thor must defeat a foe who wants to plunge the universe into eternal darkness. His quest leads him back to Earth and old flame Jane Foster, and also means an uneasy alliance with brother Loki…

Ask a fanboy to name some all-time great bad guys in superhero films and he wouldn’t need to stop playing with himself: one hand is enough to count off Gene Hackman’s Lex Luthor, Terence Stamp’s General Zod, Jack Nicholson’s Joker, Heath Ledger’s Joker and Ian McKellan’s Magneto. But ask him to list mediocre examples and he’d need dozens of tweets’ worth of space.

For example, the antagonist in Thor: The Dark World is the spectacularly forgettable Malekith, a Dark Elf who wants revenge for a long-ago defeat and plans to take his anger out on the whole universe. He’s played by Christopher Eccleston, though from under so much prosthetic make-up and with such non-descript alien dialogue that they could have cast anyone. And he’s such a drab, lifeless villain that you wonder why Thor bothers leaving the gym to give him the time of day.

As the story gets underway, Thor (Chris Hemsworth) is preparing to take over as king of the magical realm of Asgard, but is still pining after Jane Foster, the human woman he met in his first solo film. The current king is still Thor’s dad, Odin (Anthony Hopkins); the queen is still Frigga (Rene Russo, given much more to do this time round); and the all-seeing Helmdall (Idris Elba) is still standing guard at that fancy teleport-booth place. Meanwhile, Jane (Natalie Portman, bright and likeable) is in London. She’s on an awkward date with Roy from The IT Crowd – but when her colleague Darcy (Kat Dennings, the comic relief) interrupts, Jane has to leave to investigate a weird time/space portal in a warehouse. Before you know it, she’s been transported to an alien world and infected with a strange space gas called the Aether (ie, yet another meaningless Marvel plot device). It’s bad news for her health, but it does attract Thor’s attention.

So he journeys to Earth to see how she is. She responds by slapping him and saying, “Where were you? I was right here where you left me. I was waiting and then I was crying and then I went out looking for you. You said you were coming back.” He replies that the Bifrost bridge was destroyed, the Nine Realms erupted into chaos, wars were raging, marauders were pillaging, and he had to put an end to the slaughter. “As excuses go,” she concedes, “it’s not terrible.” They then travel to Asgard, leaving Darcy and her intern Ian (Jonathan Howard) to break old friend Erik Selvig (Stellan Skarsgård) out of a psychiatric facility. Traumatised by the events of Avengers Assemble, you see, he was committed after running around Stonehenge in his birthday suit…

As with the first Thor film, there’s a clash of tones going on here: ever-so-earnest scenes on an Asgard full of ceremony and glean and people in capes… versus comedic scenes in the London of the Shard and the Jubilee Line and high-viz-jacketed Metropolitan Police officers. The contradiction is heightened by Thor himself, who switches his attitude depending on which world he’s in. He’s clearly aware of irony on Earth, yet at home talks like he’s in an am-dram Shakespeare.

The film’s not a disaster, by any means, and is very watchable at times. But sadly the cross-cutting between worlds doesn’t flow at all, the pace sags in the middle, and because the plot needs so much explaining – it’s something to do with the convergence of planets, which only happens once every five thousand years – everything feels very stodgy. Some action scenes have little meaning because we’re not experiencing them through a character’s point of view, while drama scenes are shot like television, with flat coverage and some epileptic editing. (Darcy’s first appearance, for example, lasts for 66 seconds and contains *35* separate shots. It’s just a scene of three people talking and not moving.)

Thank the Nordic gods for Loki, the bad guy from both Thor’s first movie and Avengers Assemble. We see him briefly at the beginning of the story, then the film comes alive at the hour mark when he takes centre stage. Tom Hiddleston’s performance fizzes and pops as trickster Loki has to team up with his brother. In fact, thinking about it, we’re going to need that extra hand – let’s call Loki the sixth great bad guy in a superhero film. It’s just a shame that he’s not *this film’s* bad guy. It could do with him being more than just a subplot.

Six men who’d like their shoes back out of 10

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A self-indulgent appendix: The big action climax of Thor: The Dark World is both set and filmed in Greenwich, south-east London, which is about three miles from where I live. For the Dark Elves’ battle with Thor and his pals, the production team used the beautiful site of the Old Royal Naval College. It was designed by Sir Christopher Wren and built between 1696 and 1712; originally a hospital for seaman, from 1873 it became a Royal Navy training college. The Navy left in 1998, since when the buildings have been both a tourist attraction and a university campus. Over the years, many films and TV shows have shot there: once you clock its architecture and layout, you never stop spotting it. For example, I first visited the site in 2010 specifically to see a filming location from the Harrison Ford movie Patriot Games (1992). The scene of Jack Ryan foiling an IRA assassination attempt was filmed at the ORNC, which was standing in for central London. Having been there in person, I then noticed the buildings being used in dozens of other films: Octopussy (1983), Four Weddings and Funeral (1994), The Madness of King George (1994), The Avengers (1998), Lara Croft: Tomb Raider (2001), Starter for 10 (2006), The Queen (2006), The Golden Compass (2007), The Duchess (2008), Sherlock Holmes (2009), The Wolf Man (2010), Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows (2011), Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides (2011), Skyfall (2012), The Dark Knight Rises (2012), Les Miserables (2012), The Man from U.N.C.L.E. (2015), even a spoof Doctor Who episode in 1993. I mention all of this because over the last seven years I’ve been back to the ORNC hundreds of times. I go most weeks for one reason or another: to attend a free music concert in its Chapel, to see a new art exhibition in the visitors’ centre, to show it off to friends, to see the Painted Hall (perhaps the most beautiful room in Britain), for a walk round its grounds, for a pint in its pub. It’s become a very special place to me, as has Greenwich in general. So, when it came to blogging about Thor: The Dark World, I took my laptop there to write the review.

Dracula (2013/14)

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An occasional series where I write about works inspired by Bram Stoker’s 1897 novel Dracula…

These reviews reveal plot twists.

Setting: London, 1890. (The show was filmed in Hungary.)

Faithful to the novel? Vaguely… This British/American TV show uses Bram Stoker’s basic elements and character names but rearranges things quite a bit. The vampire Dracula (Jonathan Rhys Meyers) moves to London and poses as an American entrepreneur called Alexander Grayson. In public, he promotes scientific endeavours; in private he seeks revenge on those who have wronged him. In episode one he meets Mina Murray (Jessica De Gouw). She’s the reincarnation of his long-dead love, Ilona – a plot device stolen from Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1992) – so Dracula/Grayson works hard to keep Mina close to him without giving the game away. He even takes an interest in her boyfriend, a journalist called Jonathan Harker (Oliver Jackson-Cohen), and helps arrange their wedding. Elsewhere, Mina’s friend Lucy Westenra (Katie McGrath) is secretly in love with her, while her university professor is Abraham Van Helsing (Thomas Kretschmann). However, this Van Helsing is very different from Stoker’s version. For a kick-off, he’s in league with Dracula. The two team up because they both have beef with the Order of the Dragon, the sect that killed Ilona, turned Dracula into a vampire and murdered Van Helsing’s family because he wasn’t loyal to them. While all this is going on, Dracula also has a fling with non-book-character Lady Jayne Wetherby (Victoria Amurfit). She’s connected to the Order of the Dragon, but doesn’t know that Grayson is a vampire. The only other person in on Dracula’s secret is Renfield (Nonso Anozie), here repurposed as a non-insane African-American lawyer-cum-enforcer.

Best performance: The cast is mostly either boring or actually rubbish, so let’s champion the production-design team. Some stunning locations have been used to represent London of the 1890s, while the interiors are regularly gorgeous. There’s a steampunk/Victoriana vibe to everything, while the warm, candle-lit colours are often very pretty too.

Best episode: Episode five, The Devil’s Waltz, is centred on Mina and Jonathan’s engagement party. Several plots bubble to the surface.

Review: This recent television show was axed after just one season of 10 episodes. It did well to last that long, frankly. Cheesy dialogue, poor plotting and a weak cast made it a slog to sit through. As mentioned above, the look of the series is really nice, while Trevor Morris’s incidental music is often fantastic – almost John Carpenter-like. But the superficially similar Penny Dreadful (2014 onwards) beats it on every level.

Five words guaranteed to dispel any manner of mediocrity masquerading as conventional wisdom out of 10

The Dark Knight Rises (2012, Christopher Nolan)

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Spoiler warning: these reviews reveal plot twists.

Batman has been missing for eight years, having taken the blame for a killing spree. But a mercenary called Bane is threatening Gotham City…

Good guys: Bruce Wayne (Christian Bale) – bearded, injured and using a walking stick – has been hiding in his rebuilt mansion for years. False rumours have spread that he has eight-inch fingernails and pisses in jars. When he catches a thief nicking his dead mum’s pearls, he returns to the Batcave to investigate her; then when Jim Gordon is critically injured by a new baddie, this motivates Bruce to rejoin the world properly. However, he loses control of company – and therefore his fortune. He also meets and sleeps with a sexy woman called Miranda Tate, so swings and roundabouts… Batman gets the burglar, Selina, to take him to see the mercenary threatening the city, but is soundly beaten by Bane. Broken and injured, Bruce is dumped in a medieval prison in a non-occidental part of the world – the same pit where Bane grew up, in fact. He’s forced to watch TV news of Bane terrorising Gotham City. A friendly prisoner helps Bruce get back on his feet, and after a few months he’s able to escape (only the second ever person to do so). He returns to Gotham – how he sneaks in, given that the city has been cut off by Bane, is not explained – and with help from Selina, Jim Gordon and policeman John Blake, takes on and defeats Bane. Batman then flies a ticking nuclear bomb out to sea. We assume he’s been killed, but then Alfred later spots him happily having a coffee with Selina in an Italian cafe… John Blake (Joseph Gordon-Levitt, good) is a decent cop who grew up in a kids’ home. He becomes a trusted ally of Commissioner Jim Gordon. After Gordon’s injured, Blake insists on seeing Bruce and reveals that he’s (rather implausibly) worked out that he’s Batman. At the film’s conclusion, we find out that Blake’s real first name is Robin and he’s given the coordinates of the Batcave: the mantle has been passed… Gordon is again played by Gary Oldman. He also learns Batman’s real identity during the course of the film. Alfred (Michael Caine) is unhappy with Bruce hiding away in Wayne Manor, but is then equally grumpy about him becoming Batman again – there’s no pleasing some people. Lucius Fox (Morgan Freeman) has been trying to run Wayne Enterprises in Bruce’s absence, but it’s not been going well.

Bad guys: Bane is played by Tom Hardy. We have to take that on good faith, though. His face is hidden by a permanent gasmask, while all his dialogue – pretty obviously dubbed on afterwards – is muffled and in a strange sing-song accent that leaps about all over the shop. At the start of the film, he gets caught on purpose (like the Joker in the last film… And Silva in Skyfall… And John Harrison in Star Trek Into Darkness… And Loki in Avengers Assemble…). It’s so he can get his hands on a scientist being held by the CIA. Bane’s lair is built in Gotham’s sewers, underneath Wayne Enterprises, and he has loads of dumb henchmen. We’re told he was behind a coup in Africa and grew up in a prison – described as “hell on earth” – but killed all the other inmates. He became a student of Batman Begins baddie Ra’s al Ghul, but was then excommunicated for being too much of a fruit-loop. He holds Gotham to ransom with a nuclear bomb, cutting the island city off from the rest of the country for months. It descends into chaos with kangaroo courts and rich people being attacked by mobs… Although initially presented as a friend to Bruce Wayne, Miranda Tate (Marion Cotillard, attractive but unconvincing) is actually Talia al Ghul, daughter of Ra’s and an old ally of Bane’s. She used to be in that prison too; Bane was her protector until she escaped and returned with her dad to free him. Posing as Miranda, she weasels her way onto the Wayne Enterprises board so she and her pal can get hold of its clean-energy machine, which they then adapt into a nuclear bomb. The clues are liberally sprinkled before she reveals her true identity… We also see Ra’s al Ghul: Liam Neeson returns for a ghostly cameo, while Josh Pence plays him as a young man in flashbacks.

Other guys: Never referred to as such – although newspapers have dubbed her ‘the cat’, as in cat burglar – Catwoman is played by Anne Hathaway. Selina Kyle is a thief who poses as a waitress to break into Wayne Manor and half-inch Bruce’s fingerprints (an assignment given to her by Bane). She’s been promised a ‘clean slate’ in return: a computer virus that wipes all records of a person from every database in the world. Blake arrests her, but she’s freed when the prisons are emptied – she’s tempted to flee, but ends up helping Batman defeat Bane. Hathaway is sassy, slinky, sarcastic and sexy. Nestor Carbonell returns from The Dark Knight to play the mayor (ironically, he looks slightly older here), while Cillian Murphy completes his trilogy of Batman movies by appearing briefly as Dr Jonathan Crane.

Best bits:

* Oh, look: it’s Aidan Gillen off of Queer as Folk as a CIA agent.

* The prologue on the plane – the perspective is all over the place as the plane is tipped up, and there’s a dramatic shot from above as it falls to the ground.

* Oh, look: Wollaton Hall is the new location for Wayne Manor. It’s a country house near Nottingham. In June 2002, I went to a one-day music festival in its grounds and saw Green Day, Iggy Pop, The Levellers, Rival Schools and many other acts.

* Oh, look: it’s Brett Cullen from Lost as a politician. He’s mates with Meat Loaf, don’t you know.

* Bruce rumbles Selina as she steals from his safe. At first, she’s coy and innocent, then the facade drops: “Oops,” she deadpans.

* Oh, look: it’s the Old Royal Naval College in Greenwich, standing in as a Florence cafe. I live near the ORNC and visit it very often: I was there in the morning of the day I rewatched this film, actually. The scene is a dramatisation of a fantasy of Alfred’s, which pretty much tips you off as to what the ending of the movie will be.

* Oh, look: it’s Burn Gorman from Torchwood as Philip Stryver, the intermediary who hires Selina.

* Oh, look: it’s Juno Temple as Selina’s mate Jen.

* Selina beating people up, then pretending to be helpless when the cops burst in.

* Bane and his goons have raided the stock exchange and are fleeing through the streets. The lights in the lower-level streets all go out in sequence – then Batman appears. (It’s a good chase, though it does appear to go from day to night in about 30 seconds.)

* The cops think they have Batman corned in an alley, but he comes out of it in his massive hovering Batwing aircraft. “Sure it was him?” asks Blake sarcastically after he’s flown off.

* Lucius Fox taking Miranda down to the secret underground bunker where the clean-energy generator is stored. They get there via a Bond-villain-esque sinking floor.

* Selina: “Mr Wayne, I’m sorry they took all your money.” Bruce, after a beat: “No, you’re not.”

* Oh, look: it’s Tom Conti as an inmate of Bane’s prison.

* Oh, look: It’s Ben Roethlisberger and his Pittsburgh Steeler teammates as the squad of Gotham’s American football club.

* “Let the games begin…” Bane sets off a series of explosions all over the city, including most dramatically underneath a football stadium – the grass falls away into the ground as the kick-off returner obliviously runs downfield. All the bridges are destroyed, and all the police – yes, all of them – are trapped in the sewers.

* Oh, look: it’s William Devane off of 24 as the president.

* Bruce’s attempts to escape the pit. The imagery smartly echoes the scene from Batman Begins when Thomas Wayne pulled his son out of a well.

* The improvised courtroom, with Dr Crane sat high in a judge’s chair.

* Philip Stryver is given a choice of sentence by the court: exile or death. He chooses exile, which means being forced to walk across the frozen river… Of course, the ice breaks and he falls in.

* Lucius refers to Selina as Batman’s girlfriend. “He should be so lucky,” she purrs.

* Miranda to Batman: “[Bane’s] not the child of Ra’s al Ghul. [Movie-villain dramatic pause] I am.”

* Oh, look: it’s Desmond Harrington from Dexter as a policeman.

* Selina, on the Batpod motorbike, kills Bane by firing a cannon at him. She says to Batman: “About the whole no-guns things. I’m not sure I feel as strongly about it as you do.”

Review: Being the final part of a trilogy, The Dark Knight Rises draws together themes and plotlines from Batman Begins and The Dark Knight – and it feels tonally more connected to both of them than they do to each other. It’s also director Christopher Nolan merging his Batman cast with the cast of Inception, the film he made immediately before this. Michael Caine and Cillian Murphy had already been in both, but now he’s brought over Tom Hardy, Marion Cotillard and Joseph Gordon-Levitt to play this film’s three main guest roles. There’s a complex (convoluted maybe) story, which throws information at you in clumps at a frantic pace. It’s too long. Eagle-eyed viewers will easily spot the twists coming. And there are also a few *very silly* plot developments. The entire police force go down into some sewers when they get a tip-off – does that seem either plausible or smart? And yet… And yet… I really enjoyed seeing this again. Christopher Nolan at 80 per cent is still a fantastic experience.

Eight vertebrae protruding from your back out of 10.

Next time: Superman rebooted! For real this time.

Skyfall (Sam Mendes, 2012)

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SPOILER WARNING: These reviews reveal plot twists.

The most recent James Bond outing is tremendous entertainment, full of vim and zip and energy. It’s also an engaging character story that weaves M and Bond’s pasts together for a sensational final act. “Where are we going?” asks M at one point. “Back in time,” replies Bond… The last half-hour is mostly set at Bond’s childhood home, and sees him given two surrogate parents. As the trio defend the house from the bad guys’ assault, the movie becomes some kind of hybrid of Straw Dogs and The A-Team, and it’s gripping stuff. After the clean slate of Casino Royale and the po-faced Quantum of Solace, director Sam Mendes is deliberately embracing classic Bond traits and motifs. We get a new Moneypenny, a new Q, the return of an Aston Martin DB5, and even a belting title song sung by a large-lunged diva. The final few moments coalesce our new team, and the final scene is set in a deliberately 60s/70s/80s M office. But it’s far from by-the-numbers. After a great opening action sequence, which starts in a small dark room then constantly opens up and gets bigger and bigger in scale and ambition, we get surprises galore – M’s moving death, a new M, the new Moneypenny, what the film’s title refers to. Huge chunks of it are set in London, which is great fun and new for a Bond movie, and the whole film looks amazing. Director of photography Roger Deakins gives each location its own colour scheme and feel: Shanghai is bright neon, expensive sheen and glass; London is grounded and everyday; Macau has the soft, warm glow of lanterns and lots of yellows, reds and oranges; the Highlands are desolate and airy, while Skyfall itself on fire at night produces some beautiful and surreal imagery (pictured). It’s such a shame the superstructure of the plot is so poor – when you sit back and analyse Raoul Silva’s plan, it’s reliant on monumental coincidences and him knowing precisely what would happen when far ahead of time. The film loses a mark because of this haphazardness. Nine ceramic bulldogs out of 10.

Bond: In three films, he’s gone from reckless rookie to washed-up veteran. He says “bring me to him” when surely he means “take”. When Silva tries to unnerve him with a bit of homoerotic flirting, 007 acts nonchalant (“What makes you think this is my first time?”).

Villains: Ola Rapace plays assassin Patrice. There are numerous heavies and bodyguards, none of whom is featured. Headline bad guy Raoul Silva enters the story at the 67-minute mark (a beat after the DVD layer change, in fact!). He’s an arch, melodramatic lunatic who knows full well he’s a Bond villain. Javier Bardem plays him camp and cruel, and excels in the character’s brilliant opening scene (he’s introduced with a monologue all shot in one lengthy take as he walks from 30 metres away up to the camera). It’s a shame his plan is head-scratchingly full of plot holes.

Girls: Bond has a beach-hut shag, who we don’t learn anything about, and there are some bob-cut babes working in the casino. French actress Bérénice Lim Marlohe – Jesus Christ, how beautiful is it possible for one human being to be?! – plays Silva’s haunted girlfriend Sévérine. She’s not in the film for long, but it’s a terrific performance. (The less said about Bond twigging she was a sex slave from the age of 12 then shagging her in the shower the better.) Basically, Judi Dench is Skyfall’s female lead…

Regulars: …M has a large and vital role in the story; Judi Dench is excellent, as always. She is absolutely Bond’s equal in their various one-on-one scenes – it’s the best ever Bond/M relationship, butting heads but always conveying underlying affection. Also, Dench becomes the first person in a Bond film to say fuck. Her aide, Tanner, returns from Quantum of Solace. We meet three new characters who will presumably become our new gang of regulars. Eve Moneypenny (her name is held back until a few minutes from the end) is initially a slapdash agent cocking up a mission, then gets grounded and becomes a secretary (anyone remember feminism?). Naomie Harris is distinctly unlikeable in the role, and she and Daniel Craig have no chemistry whatsoever. Conversely, Bond and the new Q (played well by Ben Whishaw) instantly strike up a fascinating relationship of grudging respect. He’s a young, anorak-and-glasses geek who’s clearly off-the-chart clever and a bit stuck-up. Their first meeting is a lovely scene that nods to the past and also inverts the clichés. Finally, Ralph Fiennes (really excellent) appears as Gareth Mallory, the Chairman of the Intelligence and Security Committee. He’s one of the genre’s great you-think-he’s-a-twat-then-he-proves-his-worth characters, and by the end of the film he’s earned both Bond’s trust and M’s job.

Action: The opening chase sees Eve driving erratically, causing chaos and naming the brands of cars for product-placement reasons. Bond then gets on a bike to chase Patrice across Istanbul rooftops and through markets. (It’s a common action-movie trope, isn’t it? Filming a chase in a Mediterranean city? Gotta go across rooftops! This, Quantum of Solace, The Living Daylights, The Bourne Ultimatum, Taken…) There’s the stuff on the train, with a ridiculously tongue-in-cheek JCB gag, then a train-top punch-up. Bond is then shot – accidentally, by Eve – and falls a terribly, terribly long way down to a river. There’s the explosion at MI6 headquarters, with a shocked M watching on from Vauxhall Bridge. In Shanghai, Bond tracks down Patrice to a skyscraper: he hangs onto the bottom of a lift as it climbs dozens of floors, then watches as Patrice assassinates someone. In a tremendously beautiful sequence – impressionistic lighting, constantly moving reflections, lots of shadows and silhouettes – Bond and Patrice fight to the latter’s death. Bond also has a brawl at the Macau casino, and falls into a pit with some komodo dragons. He later kills four or five of Silva’s goons in a sudden burst of ultra-violence. Silva’s escape from MI6’s prison includes Bond chasing him through tunnels and the London Underground – he has a near-miss with a train, has to run along a platform to jump on a train as it leaves Temple station, then slides down the dividing bit of a pair of escalators. (This last stunt makes no sense: any Londoner will tell you those middle bits have regular ‘Stand on the right’ signs sticking out of them.) Silva sets off a small, prepared explosion to cause a train (which is empty for some reason) to crash down towards Bond. Silva storms the parliamentary committee and there’s a huge gunfight. The climactic battle at Skyfall house is all Home Alone improvised defences, machine guns, grenades, fire, gas explosions and helicopter action. Bond and a henchman fight underwater after falling into a frozen lake. During the final confrontation in the chapel, Bond kills Silva – then M dies in his arms.

Comedy: There’s an arch moment of Bond ‘shooting his cuffs’ after his daring leap onto the moving train. When Bond turns up unexpectedly at M’s townhouse (a scene that echoes one in Casino Royale), he’s told MI6 have sold his flat as he was presumed dead. “I’ll find a hotel,” he says. “Well, you’re bloody not sleeping here,” replies M. Bond’s word-association session with a psychologist is witty stuff. When 007 returns to active duty, Tanner says to M, “I didn’t know Bond passed the [evaluation] tests.” M dryly replies, “He didn’t.” Bardem has great fun with his opening scene, hamming it up knowingly. When Bond races along the platform and jumps onto the back of a speeding tube train, a laconic man nearby says to his wife, “He’s keen to get home.” Bond is then hanging off the back of the carriage and shouts through the glass to an off-duty driver: “Open the door!” (Never mind Thor or Jack Bauer, seeing James Bond on the London Underground is the best ‘iconic-fictional-character-rides-the-tube’ moment of recent years.) When James and M are in his Aston Martin DB5 – originally intended to be the motor he won in Casino Royale, then changed to the Goldfinger car for 50th-anniversary hijinks – he threatens to activate her ejector seat. “See if I care,” deadpans M. When they reach Scotland, Kincade assumes ‘M’ is short for Emma.

Music: The incidental music is by Thomas Newman (Jumpin’ Jack Flash, The Lost Boys, American Beauty), and it’s great. It’s especially effective during Silva’s escape and his attack on M, when it powers us through and distracts us from asking too many awkward questions. The title song, by Adele, is trad but good: the best Bond song of the 21st century.

Personal connection: I first saw Skyfall with Fraser Dickson and Carena Crawford, on Monday 29 October 2012 at the Odeon Marble Arch. As someone who’s lived in London for 12 years now, I adore seeing lots of locations I know well in the film. I’ve gone past the MI6 building on the 436 bus many, many times; I’ve often been to Whitehall and Trafalgar Square; I’ve been in the undercrofts of the Old Royal Naval College (where the scene with M and the coffins was shot); of course, I use the tube all the time; and – most excitingly – when Bond and M are driving out of London, they turn off Lewisham Way (where I used to live) onto New Cross Road! Whoever thought that grimy student dive The New Cross Inn would be in a James Bond movie?

Octopussy (John Glen, 1983)

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There’s certainly not much wrong with Octopussy. But then again, there’s not a huge amount about it that especially excites me either. Perhaps because there’s no ‘ticking clock’ for the first half of the film – Bond is investigating some smugglers because of nebulous rumours they might be raising money for the Soviets – there’s no real motor driving the story. We’re also, sadly, back to a very quip-heavy and flippant script – co-written by Flashman novelist George MacDonald Fraser. No situation or bad guy’s death can pass without some tiresome pun. Mitchell and Webb could easily have has this movie in mind for their Moneypenny’s friend sketch.

As we’re in India for a large clunk, we get cliché after cliché: snake-charmers, curry, a bed of nails, hot coals to be walked across, sahris, elephants… And, although it does all make sense, I found trying to keep track of which Fabergé egg was which distracting. It’s not a disaster, by any means, and at times very enjoyable. But it is one of the series’s weakest entries, I think. Six Miss Penelope Smallbones out of 10.

Bond: Bless him, Roger’s starting to look a bit long in the tooth now. (From 1979 to 1985, James Bond 007 was in his fifties. Before and since, he’s always been younger.) Before production, out-of-contract Moore said he didn’t want to do another one – so American actor James Brolin was courted and screen-tested. Brolin talks warmly of the experience on Octopussy’s DVD extras. But Rog then changed his mind and played Bond for a sixth time.

Villains: General Orlov is the main threat: a total fruitloop of a Russian agitator played, um, rather theatrically by Steven Berkoff. His ally is Afghan smuggler Kamal Khan (Louis Jordan, who was Dracula in my favourite adaptation of the novel). He has four main lieutenants: turban-headed Gobinda, who crushes some dice to powder when Bond out-cheats Khan at backgammon; nameless twins who know a lot of circus tricks; and sexy Magda, who flirts with and beds Bond with super-model elegance. Octopussy herself is played soft-spokenly and with sympathy by the striking Maud Adams (who was also in The Man With the Golden Gun).

Girls: Bond’s Hispanic helper in the not-related-to-the-main-story opening sequence flashes side-boob and legs to distract a goon. Moneypenny has been given a one-film assistant, a Slone Ranger called Penelope Smallbone – shame she has no personality. There’s also the cute girl in India who shows Bond to his hotel room. In Q’s lab, James childishly plays with a video camera, zooming in and out of a conveniently nearby cleavage. And, of course, there’s Octopussy’s all-female army.

Regulars: As mentioned, Moneypenny has a secretary herself now. The Minister of Defence appears again. General Gogol has a vital role in the story; his secretary returns too. Q’s lab is on tour again – this time, they’ve decamped to India (do all double-O agents get this back-up?) – while his assistant Smithers is back from the previous film. Most notably, we have a new M (actor Bernard Lee had died in 1981). There’s no acknowledgement on screen that this is a replacement so it could be simply a recasting of the same man – but he is now played by Robert Brown, who appeared as a navy bigwig in The Spy Who Loved Me (the kind of position from which an M could be promoted). He comes out to Berlin to brief Bond – would the real head of MI6 in 1983 escort one of his secret agents to within 20 yards of Checkpoint Charlie? Isn’t that asking to be rumbled?

Action: Bond uses a cool, fold-up mini-plane in the pre-titles. The resulting action includes some excellent model work. There’s a well-staged chase through downtown Dehli with Bond and the bad guys both in three-wheeled tuk-tuk taxis. Bond is the prey in an Indian hunting sequence – he must tackle elephant, a tiger and a snake as well as blokes with rifles. Bond and Octopussy are attacked in her palace and one of the heavies ends up with an octopus attached to his face. Bond escapes some Russians in a car; the tyres are all shot off, so he drives onto a train track, chases after their train and jumps onto the last carriage. A good sequence follows in which 007’s on top of, hanging off the side of, and underneath a speeding train. During the climactic battle, Bond slides down a bannister, legs akimbo and firing a machine gun. Then he climbs on top of a plane as it takes off and hangs on for dear life.

Comedy: Lots. Too much, frankly, though some of it works well. Bond pulls into a petrol station in his mini-plane. “Fill her up please,” he smiles. There’s a nice moment in the auction scene when James bids on the Fabergé egg just to piss off Khan. MI6’s man in India (tennis star Vijay Amritraj) plays The James Bond Theme on his snake-chamer’s whistle to get 007’s attention. (As my friend Robert Dick points out, what’s odder: that he plays it, or that Bond recognises it?) During their post-coital scene, Magda says to Bond, “I need refilling.” He pauses and she holds up her empty glass. He has a similar reaction when he says of her tattoo, “Oh, that’s my little octopussy.” As mentioned, I think the surfeit of corny one-liners and silly gags gets quite tedious – see Bond telling a tiger to “Sit!” He later hides from some baddies by putting on a gorilla suit (him checking his watch when the bad guy specifies the time the bomb would go off made me laugh). Bond having to hitch-hike and then steal a car in order to get to the bomb in time is well mined for humour (and tension and frantic driving). There’s something pleasingly oddball about James Bond dressing up as a clown so he can sneak into a circus to tell people they’re in mortal danger. (Although, when you analyse it, he paused his mad-cap dash to the ticking time bomb in order to apply some pretty damn detailed clown make-up…)

Music: Rita Coolidge (no, me neither) sings the cheesy theme tune. It’s called All Time High: they baulked at a title song. Pulp’s 1997 cover version is much better. John Barry’s back on incidental-music duty.

People I’ve met: One of the Hooray Henrys who slow down as if to give hitch-hiking Bond a lift then drive off laughing before he can get in the car is played by my friend and former boss Gary Russell. We shared an office for four years and, every single day, I miss him.