0389 | Spectre

SPECTREOK let’s cut to the chase. Spectre (or should that be SPECTRE?) isn’t quite up there with the very best of the James Bond films, and there’s nothing here as surprising as the intense, moody final half hour of its predecessor Skyfall, which was also directed by Sam Mendes, but it’s certainly one of the better efforts of the last thirty years and will undoubtedly keep fans entertained. It feels like it could be a suitable end to the Daniel Craig era though that would be a shame after just four films and the multi-authored screenplay nods repeatedly to deceased characters from the actor’s three previous films, giving the impression that a big story arc is drawing to a close (though, in truth, there are elements at play in the screenplay that suggest Spectre can be viewed as the beginning of a longer story). Time will tell if this is Craig’s last appearance in the role, but if it is he ought to be satisfied with his work; the same goes for Mendes, who seems to be indicating in recent press junkets that he has little interest in making a third Bond film.

An opening title card mysteriously suggests that ‘the dead are alive’, and although there isn’t anything as silly as a Bobby Ewing-style return for Judi Dench’s M in Spectre we do feel the presence of figurative ghosts, as the criminal organisation-referencing title suggests: requests are made from beyond the grave and certain faces come back to haunt our hero, while the villain is a throwback to an earlier era. It is quickly revealed that recent enemies of Bond, such as Casino Royale‘s Le Chiffre, were part of a wider criminal society one that will need no introduction to fans of the series and naturally it’s 007’s job to infiltrate this shadowy cabal while simultaneously fending off accusations of SITE_LEAobsoletion (which emanate from a Whitehall that would rather use drones in the field than actual agents); soon enough there’s a nemesis in place (Christoph Waltz’s Franz Oberhauser), a henchman who refuses to die (Dave Bautista’s muscular Mr Hinx) and the requisite love interest (Léa Seydoux’s Dr. Madeleine Swann), all vying for the secret agent’s time and attention. Throw in some rather smart clothing, a Martini or two and a swish car and there you have it: the series may have moved with the times over the years, and this latest installment pays lip service to modern technology, surveillance and the pursuit of information, but some things will never change.

Mendes begins his film with a bravura sequence that features a long, impressive tracking shot through the skeleton-faced crowds of Mexico City’s Día de Muertos celebrations and ends with a thrilling action set piece which, for my money, tops the celebrated prologue to this year’s Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation. It is fantastically tense, but as with Rogue Nation you get a feeling while movies-spectre-daniel-craig-ben-whishawwatching the rest of the film that nothing is going to match those opening ten minutes. It’s also worth mentioning at this point that both movies feature slightly similar endings, shot at night about a mile or two apart from one another. As a former Londoner of 15 years I definitely prefer it when my globetrotting spy thrillers stay in locales that are exotic to my eyes and ears, such as Mexico City and Tangiers; when said blockbusters climax in London I’m usually disappointed with the scenes, though on balance I prefer Spectre‘s tense finale to Rogue Nation‘s, despite the fact that the city seems weirdly underpopulated.

The hard edge that was introduced a decade ago to the Bond franchise, as it sought to catch up with the Jason Bourne films, is present once again: Craig continues his portrayal of a tough, cold, statuesque version of the character and as per usual his fight scenes feature brutal, bloody beatings instead of cheesy one-liners. He does have a few cheeky rebuttals for his seniors and there are also the standard moments of dry, flirty wit, but most of the film’s humour arrives courtesy of Ben Whishaw’s Q, a character with a slightly more enhanced role than usual (ditto Ralph Fiennes’ M and Naomie Harris’ Eve Moneypenny). Indeed for a split second, as the four team up on English soil, it almost seems as if Mendes is actively courting comparison with the Mission: Impossible series. Surely not?

There are several nods to older Bond films throughout, and anyone familiar with the Connery/Lazenby/Moore years will enjoy spotting the references, the obvious ones being Goldfinger, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, The Spy Who Loved Me, Thunderball, Dr. No and Live And Let Die (though there are probably even more). The main problem with this is that it’s hard not to think of the Austin Powers films that mercilessly lampooned the very same scenes, especially when we see SPECTRE meetings taking place at long oval tables or Bond being tortured for an unnecessarily long time instead of simply being shot in the head when first taken captive. You half expect Dr Evil to walk in front of the camera and explain that he’s going to leave him alone and not actually witness him dying…he’s just going to assume it all went to plan. But of course such silliness is entertaining enough in itself, and Mendes is a sound judge of tone; there are plenty of camp moments here, and one must suspend disbelief as always, but the director blends the more laughable aspects of the franchise with spectacular action and grit, resulting in a winning, multiplex-pleasing mix. Spectre isn’t the best of the recent James Bond films, it has a forgettable theme song and I wish there was a shorter cut to compare with the 150 minute released version, but overall: good.

Directed by: Sam Mendes.
Written by: John Logan, Neal Purvis, Robert Wade, Jez Butterworth. Based on James Bond by Ian Fleming.
Starring: Daniel Craig, Christoph Waltz, Léa Seydoux, Ben Whishaw, Naomie Harris, Dave Bautista, Andrew Scott, Monica Bellucci, Ralph Fiennes, Rory Kinnear.
Cinematography: Hoyt van Hoytema.
Editing: Lee Smith.
Music: Thomas Newman.
Certificate:
12A.
Running Time:
148 minutes.
Year:
2015.

Comments 26

  1. Cindy Bruchman October 27, 2015

    Very well written review, Stu. What an impossible task it must be to figure out how to blend and balance the iconic history and the expectations infused in Bourne/MI fans whose franchises are themes and variations of each other. If Mendes was too radical or original, it wouldn’t feel like a Bond film. Too much like a Bond film can be boring or worse, ridiculous. One aspect of the Bond film I feel originality can find a fresh stage is the Bond villain. What do you think of Waltz as villain? I was quite impressed with Javier Bardem’s performance.

    • Stu October 27, 2015

      Thanks very much Cindy. I think you’re right – it is a tough job, and probably one of the most impressive aspects of this film is the way that Mendes keeps on nodding to the past while effectively offering the audience a very sleek, very 2015 action blockbuster. Waltz is OK – quite creepy at times and his performance kind of fits in that it also nods to the Bond villains of 40, 50 years ago. Are you going to see it when it is out in the US?

  2. Tom October 28, 2015

    Damn. I’m afraid ‘good’ is not what I’m looking for with this. I’m expecting great, and anything else will pretty much be disaster for me. I blame this on the relentless hounds of the marketing/advertising firms who have been pumping up this film for well over a year now. Read another review that was much harsher than this, so my expectations are going to have to be tempered I thnk. Oh well. As long as it is not Quantum of Solace-level aimless and overly theatrical — weird camera angles and such — I think I’ll be able to get along with it. But again, eh. I was hoping this would be a highlight for 2015.

    • Stu October 28, 2015

      Ah sorry to hear that Tom. I wouldn’t say it’s great but it may yet surprise you. If it’s any consolation I did enjoy it, and it has had a few rave reviews by professional critics over here. It’s definitely better than Quantum of Solace! Is it as good as Casino Royale or Skyfall…hmmm. Not so sure, but it definitely has its moments.

      • Tom October 28, 2015

        Yeah I’m definitely still pretty excited about it. Even Solace had its moments, but as an overall standalone piece it wasn’t as compelling. Only 9 more days of waiting for me! (These will be the longest days, of course 😉 )

        • Stu October 29, 2015

          Staggered release dates always bug me. We still haven’t had Black Mass over here!

  3. ckckred October 30, 2015

    Nice review Stu. Really hoping to check out Spectre when it hits theaters next weekend. It is disappointing to hear it doesn’t quite live up to expectations, but I’m still excited to see this.

      • Todd Benefiel November 16, 2015

        Well, I agree with you 100%, and you did a great job conveying exactly how I felt about the movie…except where you kinda liked it, I kinda didn’t. Like you mentioned, the rest of the film never lived up to that opening sequence, and I found myself becoming exasperated with the constant barrage of references to (and rip-offs of) previous Bond films, and the fact they were hammered down my throat. A few hints here and there, for Bond fans to catch, would’ve been great.

        What bothered me most, however and maybe I’m the only one who feels this way, is that the movie was called ‘Spectre’, a fantastic title, but for me there wasn’t enough SPECTRE in the movie (and in a way, I thought the whole SPECTRE story was mishandled). Anyway, like you, I’d say it’s the third best of the four Craig films, and better than a lot of the recent pre-Craig entries. Who knows, maybe when I watch it again on DVD, I’ll warm up to it a bit.

        • Stu November 16, 2015

          Thanks for the interesting comments Todd. I actually liked all the little nods to famous Bond scenes (though maybe one or two would have sufficed instead of three or four or however many there were). As for SPECTRE, I agree there could have been more (in fact for a film that’s 2 and a half hours in length it’s quite surprising that we have to mention that) and there could have been more of Waltz. But despite all the negative reviews I’ve read my opinion on the film hasn’t changed all that much since writing this a few weeks back…it’s an enjoyable, fairly good Bond film, for me. Terrible song though!

        • Todd Benefiel November 17, 2015

          Yes, one or two nods (or even three or four in this case) would’ve been great…but there were TONS! I like continuity in a series of films, and love when mentions are made to prior entries, but (for me anyway) this film was nothing BUT nods! And I do agree…a horrible opening song! Ugh! Where’s a-ha when you need them? But I have to keep reminding myself that I disliked ‘Casino Royale’ the first time around, and liked it the second…maybe the same will hold true with ‘Spectre’.

        • Stu November 18, 2015

          I actually preferred Bond when there was little or no mention of the films that had happened before! I think I’m in the minority but I don’t really see much point in the whole story arc thing…the series survived long enough without it.

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