Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Movie Review: Spectre

Directed by: Sam Mendes.   
Written by: John Logan and Neal Purvis & Robert Wade and Jez Butterworth based on characaters created by Ian Fleming.
Starring: Daniel Craig (James Bond), Christoph Waltz (Blofeld), Léa Seydoux (Madeleine Swann), Ralph Fiennes (M), Monica Bellucci (Lucia), Ben Whishaw (Q), Naomie Harris (Moneypenny), Dave Bautista (Hinx), Andrew Scott (C), Rory Kinnear (Tanner), Jesper Christensen (Mr. White), Alessandro Cremona (Marco Sciarra), Stephanie Sigman (Estrella).
The Daniel Craig era of James Bond films has tried, with mixed results, to have more continuity than the previous Bond films ever had- making the four films really feel more like a series rather than four stand alone movies. The first, Casino Royale, is one of the best Bond films ever – a corrective of the Brosnan era, which had gotten increasingly goofy, too heavily reliant on gadgets and quips to the point that they had almost become a parody of Bond films. Casino Royale stripped all that away, and went back to the basics – and was a superior film as a result – it made Bond relevant again. The follow-up, Quantum of Solace, is widely regarded as one of the worst Bond films – and even if I wouldn’t be quite that hard on it, the film, which is heavily reliant on the events of Casino Royale, is essentially a revenge film – and not a particularly great one at that. Skyfall may just be the best Bond film ever made – it gives Bond more backstory than ever before, which gives the film more emotional resonance than any other film in the series. It is also an expertly crafted action film, and thanks to Roger Deakins amazing cinematography, the best looking Bond film ever made. In a way, Skyfall set the standard too high, and made it very hard to follow-up. Where does this series go from there?

 Apparently the answer is Spectre, which doesn’t come close to matching Skyfall or Casino Royale – and is basically just a solid, if unspectacular, entry in the long running series. The Craig Bond films always had a relationship with the past – Casino Royale rebooted the franchise, Skyfall paints Bond as a man out of sync with modern times, but both call back in various ways with what came before, without being beholden to it. Spectre on the other hand is simply too beholden to what happened in Bond films of the past – so much so that it relies on the audience knowing things about Bond’s past, or else the meaning of the movie is lost. It introduces a famous Bond villain from the past – but doesn’t bother to do anything to set up this version of the character, instead relying on the assumption that audiences will know who he is. If you don’t, then many of the films big, dramatic moments will certainly fall flat – they still did for me, and I knew who the character was.

The movie does start out brilliant – a Day of the Dead sequence in Mexico, including a brilliant tracking shot that first follows one character, before switching to Bond and then follows him until he comes back into contact with the original character. It is a brilliantly staged sequence – the best in the movie by far – and ends with a bang – and gives Bond a clue – a ring with an octopus on it, which will lead him on the chase for the rest of the film.
The movie strains for modern relevance in other sequences – where the new M (Ralph Fiennes) has to try and protect the OO program from C (Andrew Scott), who feels the whole thing in antiquated, and instead wants to rely on constant surveillance of everyone, and drone warfare – as well as a partnership with other world powers to share Intelligence. The ins and outs of this plot give Fiennes something to do, and does eventually reconnect with what Bond is doing, but is also the reason why this movie runs two and a half hours – and unlike Skyfall, which was the same length, this film feels that long.

The much touted appearance of Monica Bellucci as the “oldest Bond girl” ever is much ado about nothing – she’s barely in the film, and although she looks amazing (of course she does, she’s Monica Bellucci) she barely even qualifies as a Bond girl. That honor falls to talented (and much younger) Lea Seydoux, who should be a good match for Craig’s Bond, and but she is little more than a damsel in distress, especially in the last act. Christophe Waltz fulfills his destiny to play a Bond villain – but unfortunately, the movie undercuts his character at every turn – so much so that the two-time Oscar winner is never really able to become a character. Ben Whishaw is once again a pure joy as Q – I especially loved the moment he laughs at his own joke – but after Skyfall made brilliant use of Naomie Harris as Moneypenny, it is extremely disappointing to see how little she is given to do this time around.

For the most part the action sequences are well handled – even if I couldn’t help but wonder if the production somehow got a great deal on helicopters as they seem to factor in every one of them. If the cinematography by Hoyte Van Hoytema doesn’t come close to matching that by Deakins that’s more because of how good Deakins work was, not that the work here is bad.

The further away I get from Spectre, the less I like it, the more problems I have with it. While I was watching the film, I enjoyed it – it moves quickly enough that it allows you to turn off your brain and have fun with the movie. If that’s all you want, than sure, Spectre gets the job done. But given the standard this series has set in recent years, Spectre cannot help but be a pretty major disappointment.

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