During what should be a routine handover, the world’s most feared terrorist Qasim (Elyes Gabel) manages to escape, bringing shame on the MI5, and resulting in the departure of Intelligence Chief Harry Pearce (Peter Firth). Faking his own death, Pearce remains compelled to track down Qasim unofficially, and restore some pride in the disgraced organisation he feels so entwined with, while saving the lives of potentially millions in the process. But he can’t do it alone, and so requires the assistance of rogue, former agent Will Holloway (Kit Harington) as the pair attempt to resolve this matter before it’s too late.
There is an overriding, generic nature to this title, as a film that has not enlarged in scope or immensity quite enough to warrant this cinematic endeavour. What transpires is a very televisual experience, and though from a narrative perspective the stakes have been upped, this isn’t just a matter of stumbling across the show from your sofa on a Tuesday night, you need to get your money’s worth, and that’s simply not the case. Part of the frustration derives from the consistent double crossing between characters, and while that’s essential, it’s implemented so often that it becomes disorientating and you lose interest. There is an indelible atmosphere that exists however, as both London and Berlin are painted in a grey, unforgiving light – where it’s always raining, creating a certain mood that lends itself well to the narrative at hand.
In spite of the generic approach taken, there’s an enjoyable subversion in regards to the antagonist, as Qasim is an articulate, intelligent, seemingly composed individual, and while that works in his favour in many regards, conversely he never quite seems infallible nor formidable enough, and you never doubt he can be overcome. The nature of the villain taps in to a pertinent fear amongst the public too, taking a terrorist from a real life war, who is threatening to blow up populated areas of London, a scary thought that has crossed many a mind in the last 15 years. However this is fiction, and the chance to try and deviate away from real life and bring about a sense of escapism – not to mention the fact that making the antagonist of Middle Eastern, Muslim descent feels somewhat irresponsible. There’s already a lot of unwelcome Islamophobia in this country – and it doesn’t seem very helpful to perpetuate a stereotype in fictional cinema.
There did seem like the chance here for a new franchise to be unearthed in British cinema, but sadly it feels like a chance wasted. There is a lot of scope in rebranding the MI5 on film, away from the traditionalist tropes of 007, and vie for a more naturalistic take – but sadly Spooks: The Greater Good fails to deliver. It’s neither great, nor very good, unfortunately.