Spectre and all the images you see in this review are owned by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Pictures and Columbia Pictures
Directed by Sam Mendes
Has it really been three years since Skyfall!? That movie was absolutely fantastic, wasn’t it? Well now the same crew (minus Roger Deakins) is back to give us the next entry in the James Bond franchise! Will they be able to make another fantastic entry in the long running franchise, or will this fail to live up to the massive expectations that Skyfall left us with? Let’s find out!!
As expected, the movie is about the lovable spy James Bond (Daniel Craig) and his latest efforts to find the mysterious organization that’s been hunting him and causing chaos from behind the shadows! I though they already figured out it was Quantum, but whatever. After a VERY explosive mission in Mexico, he’s one step closer to finding this evil organization but problems arise when it turns out he went out on his own without MI6 approval. This is particularly troubling for the organization (and M played by Ralph Fiennes) due to the government still wanting to shut them down which you may recall being a subplot in the previous film. In its place, the government wants to establish a worldwide surveillance program that’s being headed up by Max Denbigh (Andrew Scott) who seems just a bit too eager to get Bond out the way. Bond once again goes out on his own (has he listened to anyone since maybe Casino Royale?) to follow up on his leads to find whoever it is that’s pulling the strings behind recent events and is probably controlling Quantum, though that’s still a bit unclear. Will Bond discover what this organization is that they spoil in the title? Will he find the mastermind behind this (Christoph Waltz) who we’ve been told is NOT Blowfeld but who the hell else would be the head of Spectre? Will James Bond finally get to the bottom of something without having to kill every lead he has!? It’s probably gonna be a no on that last one.
The movie is pretty much a carbon copy of Skyfall which is unfortunate considering that each of the Craig Bond films up until now have been their own unique animals, even the much maligned Quantum of Solace. While I did like this quite a bit, it’s ultimately a disappointment considering how good the last film was and how this tries so hard to recreate that magic. It just feels kind of tired which makes sense considering that Sam Mendes wasn’t expecting to make another film and Daniel Craig’s recent comments about playing this character.
Things start out okay with James Bond in Mexico during the Dia de los Muertos celebration to tail a bad guy of some sort, but it doesn’t take long for the scene to devolve into complete anarchy in a way that just doesn’t belong what James Bond should be. Granted, the opening to Skyfall did have some collateral damage, but this? This is straight up Team America shit right here. He blows up a building, then he chases the bad guy into his helicopter, then the helicopter takes off and starts flying completely erratically over gigantic crowds of people partaking in the celebration, then just casually throws both the bad guy and the pilot out the fucking door, and then flies off into the sunset like nothing happened!
This of course leads us into the opening title sequence which is a staple of the James Bond films, and like almost everything else in the movie it ends up being fantastic in execution, but slightly off in terms of context. Sam Smith is on hand this time performing the song Writing’s On The Wall which is a very lovely song (bro can hit those high notes like a champ) and the visuals for the sequences are usually breathtaking, thought the inclusion of an octopus makes the sex scene in the sequence a bit awkward. Where it kind of falls apart though is that the song doesn’t fit into the movie AT ALL. The song is melancholy and full of vulnerability about the sacrifices that are sometimes necessary in the name of love. That has nothing to do with the movie or James Bond!! Think about the theme songs for each of the Craig films. Chris Cornell’s You Know My Name from Casino Royale? The music is bombastic and the lyrics are a warning to everyone that he is the best. It’s perfect for a neophyte Bond who has amazing skills and a lot to prove. Quantum of Solace’s Another Way to Die by Jack White and Alicia Keys? It’s very much an anthem about James Bond being a badass with lines like “Another ringer with the slick trigger for Her Majesty” and “One with the golden gun poison in your fantasy”. This works because an important plot point here is the reputation that James Bond is starting to build up and how it ends up working against him. Hell, Skyfall by Adele is perfect for that film because the song is apocalyptic and devastating which considering how much damage Silva causes by the end is very much appropriate. This is what I’m trying to get at in this review. Almost everything in here is fantastic and polished and well-acted as should be expected from a James Bond film, but it just feels like they weren’t careful enough with the script, the staging or the production in general to make sure that it all fits. The Mexico scene? Super fun, but out of place in a Bond film. The opening credits? Beautiful and moving, but doesn’t gel with the movie they made.
Another example of this problem is Monica Bellucci’s who comes in very early on and has some strong scenes, but she disappears from the movie entirely. Now earlier movies had a similar character (Solange, Strawberry Fields, Séverine) and while they didn’t have much to do and exited the movie early quickly, they at least had definitive endings. Monica Bellucci just… goes away at some point. I guess MI6 helped her out, but then there’s also the subplot that’s continuing from the last movie where the government is trying to shut them down AND the fact Bond is working solo in this part of the movie… so did MI6 just do him a solid when the entire government is looking over their shoulder? They got this woman a new identity and ferried her off somewhere? Even if that was the case, it’s clear that Spectre is a Hydra like organization so for all we know she DID get killed and we just never saw it!!
There are so many problems like this throughout the movie (people can get noisily kidnapped right out of their offices without security lifting a god damn finger, Mr. White apparently left a shit ton of VHS tapes in a wall of some random hotel that was thankfully never renovated at any point in the last twenty or so years, no one’s suspicious that a terrorist attack took place in a country mere days after representatives of that country did not approve a sweeping international surveillance program, there’s yet another giant facility in the middle of a desert that’s apparently filled with explosives a la Quantum of Solace), but I want to reiterate that this is still a damn good movie. All three of the villains in here are amazing with Christoph Waltz as the big bad, Andrew Scott as the obvious double crosser, and Dave Bautista as the muscle. I’ve got to give it up to Dave Bautista especially. The Craig films have always erred on the side of realism which has been great for this interpretation, but it’s always been a bit disappointing that we never get some of the goofier aspects of the franchise into these. With Dave Bautista, we’ve got ourselves a badass henchman in the vein of Jaws or Oddjob. His name is Mr. Hinx but it should be Brick Shithouse because he’s built like one and seems to be impervious to damage. He bursts through scenes like a maniacal Kool-Aid Man and is an absolutely blast to watch when he’s hunting down James Bond like a god damn terminator.
Andrew Scott doesn’t get much to do here but spout clichés about surveillance being the future and be the worst double agent of all time (who would hire this creepy mother fucker to be your mole?) but the guy is always fun to watch on screen and his role gives Ralph Fiennes as M an excuse to show up a lot more than you’d expect. That whole subplot, while entirely predictable, is actually quite enjoyable as it gives other members of MI6 something to do other than just begrudgingly support Bond in whatever wacky schemes he comes up with (although they definitely do that as well). Speaking of MI6, Q (Ben Whishaw) gets a much larger role in this as well, but he’s very poorly handled in this. He obviously comes in with the gadgets and what nots (Metal Gear Solid nano-bots are apparently in the James Bond universe now) but he’s also expected to be in the middle of action scenes and he just comes off like the poor man’s Simon Pegg from the mission impossible movies. He just kind of bumbles and scampers around but this is somehow enough for the trained killers (who are giving Bond a hard time) to not get their fingers around him. He’s just too darn slippery!!
Of course, we can’t talk about a Bond film without getting into our villain. Christoph Waltz as Blowfeld is PERFECT. He’s already proven himself to be a fantastic actor with a lot of range in films like Django Unchained as well as be an unconventionally intimidating presence in films like Inglorious Basterds (and the Green Hornet even though that wasn’t a great film), which makes him probably the best possible choice for a character as iconic as Blowfeld. I don’t think the movie uses him as much or as carefully as they should, but Christoph Waltz makes the most of whatever it is they give him. He shows up fairly early in the movie but disappears for quite a long time which isn’t uncommon for Bond villains, but when he does come back it’s a bit lackluster. His plan is pretty standard for a modern day super villain, and he makes a very obvious mistake that kind of undercuts his effectiveness and takes him out of the movie once again. He does come back though and he’s menacing once again as he’s there to close out the film. Even if Craig is absolutely finished with this series (and I’m not sure I would want to see him again if the only reason he comes back is for the money) but I REALLY hope that Christoph Waltz sticks around for a couple more movies and gives some more depth to this character.
So what we have is a somewhat shaky storyline that feels slapped together with elements from previous films that’s counterbalanced but some great new villains and a stronger emphasis on the other MI6 operatives. That all the stuff surrounding the main element though, so the big question is how is Bond and the new Bond girl? Well Craig is still great at what he does and is carrying this movie when it’s starting to crumble a bit, but he’s not at his best here. He’s always been a cold bastard, but in this he seems a bit bored. Maybe a bit too self-assured and short tempered that makes him seem not so much aloof and threatening as whiny and frustrated. Not to a HUGE degree, but enough to distinguish it from his other Bond performances. Léa Seydoux as Madeleine Swann on the other hand is acting her heart out here and has some very impressive moments, but the movie doesn’t really know what to do with her at the end. She doesn’t show up until about half-way through the movie and has a believable transition between hating Bond for bringing all this carnage upon her and then respecting him for what he’s trying to do. She’s pretty much a reluctant version of Olga Kurylenko’s character from Quantum of Solace, in that she’s had to deal with a lot of shit and became a highly trained person because of it, but where Olga had a clear goal that Bond was interfering with, Léa just wants to leave all this in the past and eventually realizes that she can’t. The problem is that she makes a decision right before the final action scene that seems a bit odd and the only reason I can figure it’s there is to give the movie an excuse to kidnap her. It’s really baffling here that they took a character as tough as her and then just relegated her to a damsel in distress (she’s literally tied to a chair) feels really outdated, especially when Quantum of Solace is such a great example of having that kind of character work in this franchise.
At the end of the day, what can we learn from this movie? Well it’s pretty simple. You can’t make lightning strike twice no matter how hard you try. Now if you’d ask me right after that movie if I wanted another Sam Mendes Bond film, I would have gotten on my hands and knees to beg you for it. Maybe he does have another AMAZING Bond film in him, but this just ends up feeling forced and underwhelming despite being REALLY close to the last film. I applaud them for not making a near disaster like Christopher Nolan did with The Dark Knight Rises, but this is not the Bond film we needed after Skyfall. At best, it’s a holding pattern as MGM sets up where the franchise is headed next. Should you go see it? OF COURSE YOU SHOULD! What kind of silly question is that!? It’s a really good film. Just know that this is less of a true sequel and more of a hold over as we wait for whatever the future will bring for James Bond.
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