Spectre

Posted: November 1, 2015 in Film reviews, James Bond

Directed by Sam Mendes. Starring Daniel Craig, Léa Seydoux, Christoph Waltz.

mexico_city

Whilst supposedly on leave James Bond (yes we’ve been expecting him) travels to Mexico City where he thwarts a terrorist incident and kills a vicious assassin named Sciarra. Back in London M (Ralph Fiennes) demands to know what Bond was up to in Mexico. Unhappy with 007’s glib response M relives him of duty.

That evening Bond receives a visit from Moneypenny (Naomie Harris) who hands him the few bits and pieces that survived the destruction of Skyfall, amongst them a photo of the young James in Austria with the man who took care of him after his parents death, a man named Oberhauser. After Moneypenny departs it becomes apparent that Bond tracked Sciarra down acting on information supplied by an old friend, the old friend told him to kill Sciarra, but insisted that Bond then attend his funeral. After paying a quick visit to see Q (Ben Whishaw) Bond sneaks off to Rome for the funeral.

There he meets Sciarra’s wife, Lucia (Monica Bellucci). After saving her from assassins she explains that her husband worked for a secret organisation and that a meeting will be held that evening to choose the person to replace Sciarra. Bond infiltrates the meeting but his presence has been expected and he just escapes with his life.

Following the trail to Austria Bond encounters an old nemesis who provides information of the secret organisation after Bond promises to protect his daughter, Madeline Swann. As Bond and Madeline draw closer to the organisation, known only as Spectre, it becomes clear that Spectre is more powerful than they can have imagined, and that at its head is a man who’s known James Bond for a very long time, a man who would very much like to see Bond dead…

I really should have done this review quicker after seeing the film, but I hesitated. I have a renowned blind spot when it comes to Bond films. As something of an aficionado I tend to be quite critical, particularly the first time I see a film, and I toyed with the idea of waiting for a second viewing before reviewing it, but then I figured; I don’t give any other film that kind of luxury so why should I do so for Bond? So here it is, just bear in mind my view is likely to shift over time (it usually does!)

There’s a sporting aphorism that states that football is a game of two halves, and with that very much in mind I’d like to suggest that Spectre is a film of two halves, a film that elicited quite different reactions from me at different points.

For quite a while I thought it was awesome, in fact at one point the thought that this might be the best Bond film ever likely flitted across my mind, however as time marched on I found myself enjoying it less and less. Whether this is down to my own high expectations, or down to the film losing its way is, well, a matter of opinion I guess.

Early doors though the film is swaggeringly magnificent. The pre-title sequence set amidst the Day of the Dead festival in Mexico is quite stunning and this leads into a wonderful title sequence that even manages to make Sam Smith’s bland ballad sound good. Then we’re back in London for some wonderful interactions between Bond and his MI6 colleagues. M’s not happy with 007, but Moneypenny and Q are more amenable. Fiennes continues to make for an excellent M, although I can’t help thinking he can only get better because at the moment he’s too close in age to Bond to feel enough like his superior. Harris continues to excel as Moneypenny but the standout is Whishaw as Q who gets all the funniest lines and who gets to trot out into the field at one stage, ably assisting Bond in Austria.

The scenes in Rome look gorgeous, as does the truly stunning Monica Bellucci, in fact the only problem with Bellucci’s role is that it’s way too small, which is a shame. The mysterious meeting is suitably creepy, as is the entrance of Mr Hinx (hulking wrestler turned actor Dave Bautista) and the car chase through Rome is stunning—and quite amusing— even if the tension’s drained out of it a little by Bond having a phone conversation in the middle of it.

The Austrian bits quite obviously evoke On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, and there’s a great set piece car/plane chase.

It’s at this point that the film, for me, loses its way a little, and I’m afraid much of that is down to the nature of the villains. Christoph Waltz is a fine actor who can be genuinely menacing (see Inglorious Basterds for further details) and when he was cast I was thrilled, especially given who he was likely to be playing. And yet at the moment I feel he was miscast. I think this role needed someone with a bit more oomph about them, he’s too subdued. You can argue Javier Bardem went too far the other way but I like my Bond villains over the top and Silva beats Oberhauser by a mile in my opinion. It might not be so bad but the manufactured nature of the connection between him and 007 feels utterly false. There’s also the issue of the big reveal (which any Bond fan worth their salt can’t help but know is coming) because it’s only there for the audience, it has no relevance to Bond at this point. Throwing in certain other elements treads perilously close to making the character seem like a parody. It might not have been so bad but his grand scheme lacks a certain pizzazz as well. I realise that the days of laser satellites and stolen nuclear bombs may be behind us, but even in this post Snowden world the notion that the bad guy will just be able to read all our emails lacks a certain sense of threat.

In many ways this film parallels how I felt about Mission Impossible Rogue Nation, in that it’s a film that is spectacular but plateaus too early and then coasts to a finale that’s nowhere near as exciting as what has gone before. It also reminded me somewhat of Die Hard 3, a great film that’s somewhat lacking in the final stages—rumour has it the script for Spectre was worked and reworked quite substantially, and Mendes was, by all accounts, still editing with just a few days to do which may explain this.

None of this makes this a bad Bond film, far from it. Daniel Craig continues to seem born for the role and even if his sometimes grumpy nature infuriates me I’d love to see him come back for another one. The casting of Fiennes, Harris and Whishaw (along with the longer serving Rory Kinnear) continues to pay dividends, with Q especially proving a wonderful foil for Bond. Hinx is a decent henchman, even if his muteness seems a trifle odd given Guardians of the Galaxy proved Bautista can be quite funny, although certain elements of his role make no sense (why does he try to kill them on the train when clearly Oberhauser wants them to reach his lair?)

Bellucci is wonderful, and Seydoux makes for a decent and capable Bond girl as Madeline Swann, even if the character seems a trifle thin. The only real let down is that she and Craig lack chemistry, which would be fine only the film wants us to believe they’re madly in love and I just don’t quite buy it.

The film looks gorgeous, the set pieces are, for the most part, spectacular, the film is more playful, and funnier than any other Craig era Bond film, and if I walked out disappointed this is mainly down to it ending up a solid 7 or 8 out of 10 rather than the 9, or even 10, out of 10 film it promised to be early on.

But as I say, it’s perfectly possible that repeat viewings will make me realise it’s a masterpiece 😉

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Comments
  1. I still want to see this. So many people have said it’s best at the start, though, and peters out.

  2. […] and more specifically the motivations of the main villain. Whether or not you’re read my actual review of Spectre I would urge you not to read on unless you’ve seen the film because, unlike with my reviews which […]

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