Spectre

Spectre movie poster

Release: Friday, November 6, 2015

[Theater]

Written by: John Logan; Neal Purvis; Robert Wade; Jez Butterworth

Directed by: Sam Mendes

Spectre, a proposition with so much weight and symbolism behind it it required four writers to collaborate on the story. Four writers means four times the quality, right?

Right . . . ?

After three years James Bond comes flying back into action in Sam Mendes’ parting gift to fans of a franchise that’s by now half a century old. The literal sense of ‘flying’ is certainly more applicable as Mendes spends precious little time setting up his first action spectacle involving a helicopter, a stepping-stone of a henchman and a backdrop of Mexico engulfed in the Day of the Dead festivities where everyone looks like skeletons. A none too subtle reference to the fact Bond is now literally up to his neck in death. It’s an inescapable entity.

Metaphorically speaking? Well, if we’re talking big picture — and why not, this is a pretty big picture after all . . . arguably second only to that movie about wars amongst the stars coming up in December — Bond doesn’t so much come flying back as he does carefully, calmly touch back down with parachute attached, in the vein of one of his many improbable escapes in this movie.

Spectre had one hell of a steep mountain to climb if it was interested in besting its visually spectacular, emotionally hard-hitting predecessor, though it’s going to have much less issue summoning the spectators who are curious as to where Bond’s threshold for enduring misery and pain comes, if it comes at all. Invoking the sinister organization that gave Sean Connery a bit of grief back in the ’60s is one way to attract the masses (not to mention, something to build an aggressive marketing campaign around). Budgeted at an almost incomprehensible $250(ish) million, it’ll go down as one of the most expensive productions of all time.

Recouping that may not be as much of a challenge as I’m thinking it might be right now. When word gets out that Spectre is merely decent and not great — and it will soon enough — it will be interesting to see what happens. Will a lack of ambition deprive it the opportunity to become a major contender for top grossers this year? I suppose I better hold my tongue because anything can and does happen.

Ignoring its business potential, and for all of its shortcomings, of which there are disappointingly many, Spectre is still good old-fashioned James Bond, emerging a stylistically superior product — sleek and ultra-sexy, bathed in shadow and whipping slithery, shiny tentacles with menace in another memorable opening title sequence. Yet for all the familiarity this is the least Daniel Craig-y Bond we’ve seen. It’s a bizarre mix of some of the heaviest themes the franchise has yet visited with a comical edge reminiscent of the Pierce Brosnan era. (I won’t go as far as to bring up Roger Moore’s name . . . whoops.)

In some ways it makes sense; Mendes probably felt he needn’t overdo the dourness this time as we’ve been thoroughly bruised by what 007’s sacrificed in Casino Royale and now Skyfall. These aren’t DC Comic film adaptations; they shouldn’t be all punishment. The film should have some balance, and while the humor’s less punny as Brosnan’s brand, the way it’s introduced draws attention to itself in often jarring ways. Something doesn’t quite feel organic.

Spectre‘s concerned with shaking Bond to his core, as a man and as a professional assassin with a British accent and impossibly high-class taste in women. He’s going to get rattled even more so than he was in the last outing, where he basically lost everything. Mendes finds ways to make it more personal as we move beyond M and start digging into Bond’s familial history. Bond stumbles upon a mysterious ring that has an octopus symbol on it and sets out learning about its origins and who else might be wearing one. There’s also an old photograph, with parts of it burned away so you can’t make out one of the faces in it.

This hunt, unapproved by MI6, leads him on another exotic globetrotting mission — these transitions feel considerably less inspired than in times past — that takes him from Mexico to Austria, Tangiers to a desolate meteorite crater in Morocco and ultimately back to MI6 headquarters in London. On the way he comes into contact with friends both new and old — top of the list is the daughter of a rapidly ailing Mr. White (Jesper Christensen), Madeleine Swann (Léa Seydoux, who is somehow even sexier than before), whom he must protect even when she insists she can protect herself thank you very much. But she doesn’t factor in Dave Bautista’s brute of a hitman, Hinx.

Madeleine turns out to be a handy traveling companion as she helps Bond get closer to finding out what the octopus ring represents. She, with a dark past she would rather soon forget than get into another gun fight, is reluctant to join Bond in seeking out the lair of one Franz Oberhauser (Christoph Waltz). She does anyway because the script is that insistent. (So no, to answer the question: four writers does not necessarily equate to four times the quality.)

As Bond is off galavanting about, the situation on the home front is turning rather dire as MI6 has become absorbed by a larger network of secret service agencies, the CNS, spearheaded by Andrew Scott’s sneering and highly enjoyable Max Denbigh. His rhetoric is not as newsworthy as the filmmakers would like us to believe it is. He wants to shut down the 00 sector and replace human field agents with drones and computers, arguing one man in the field is no match for technological upgrades. He’s right.

But it doesn’t matter because with Bond being Bond, especially now with Craig taking the role in a direction that’s ever more hinting towards the muscularity of a Jason Bourne and away from the debonair of Sean Connery, there’s little they can do to prevent him using his License to Kill. I don’t care how threatening you may appear in front of Ralph Fiennes, you can’t take scissors to a card and denounce Bond’s status as an agent. You can scrub him from the official files, I suppose. Alas, the old argument: the instincts and emotional judgment of man versus the unfeeling, calculated efficiency of A.I. Sigh. This is, unfortunately, where we go in Spectre. And as for the family matters, the less said about it the better (take that as both a good and bad thing).

Mendes’ last entry is a good film on its own terms but it shrugs off its responsibility to be the most compelling entry in the franchise thus far, at certain points seeming so disinterested in upping the ante and instead revisiting many classic Bond moments in a pastiche that feels both unnecessary and awkward. Save for the aforementioned supervillian, who is by turns thoroughly disturbing and darkly funny — here’s where the humor would be a bit too sophisticated for the Brosnan era — Spectre introduces precious little new information. It’s a painful thing to say, but perhaps this sector is indeed obsolete at this point.

Recommendation: While not vintage James Bond, Spectre offers enough to fans of this long-standing franchise to keep some momentum going, even if quite a lot is lost. A good film with more than the usual number of flaws, is this film yet another victim of the hype machine? What do you think?

Rated: PG-13

Running Time: 148 mins.

Quoted: “It was me, James. The author of all your pain.”

All content originally published and the reproduction elsewhere without the expressed written consent of the blog owner is prohibited.

Photo credits: http://www.tinypic.com; http://www.imdb.com

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36 thoughts on “Spectre

  1. Great review Tom! I am absolutely still super excited to see this when we get it next weekend, and I am sad to see the harsh reviews it has gotten. I like yours, very balanced!

    • Well thank you very much. I tried hard to balance it out. I have to say that I struggled mightily to get my thoughts together on this. It’s a very different film from Skyfall. Really from all the Craig-era Bonds to be honest. But like I said in my other comment, I await your thoughts on it. The buzz about it will hopefully have died down a bit and I can finally stand to read another review about it. Hahah. That’s the problem with these huge releases. So so so many people have so much to say about one movie. It gets kind of overwhelming.

      • You know it!

        Ah, I know what you mean. Eventually you really just can’t care anymore, because there are so many different views. Oh well.

        That different huh? Hmmmm… and the trailers made it looks like it was going to be a real dark, cat and mouse thriller. Guess not so much.

        • It’s good and bad in a way. I don’t want to say too much but I walked away thinking it was more in line with the Pierce Brosnan era, more specifically GoldenEye, which is one of my favorite Bonds anyway. The humor is more prevalent. There’s some goofy stuff happening. It does have a lot of darkness but the personal story line hews closer to the relationship Bond had with Trevellian

  2. Great review Tom. I really don’t know much about Bond but I generally enjoy the Daniel Craig ones quite a lot. South-Africa has a retarded release date (only in December somewhere), so I have to unfortunately wait for it to come strolling around 😦

    • Thanks Natasha! Sorry it took me a couple of days to get back to you. Stepped away from the blog for a bit. 🙂 I think you’ll find Spectre a good one. It’s definitely Daniel Craig here (I don’t buy for a second that the guy looks tired or feels tired in the role. If that’s what people are thinking, I think that’s more a reflection of his character than the actor. He’s been through so much.) However, the overall feel of the film is definitely different from Skyfall, I must say.

  3. Pingback: Spectre continues Daniel Craig’s uneven Bond tenure | Flashback/Backslide

  4. Well, as you picked up from my review I really liked it. The Bond franchise is surfing an impressive wave at the moment. Compared to the Brosnan period (not his fault, he had lousy material to work with) these films are positively epic.

    • This film is getting absolutely picked apart by a lot of people who seemed to think it had an obligation to challenge Skyfall for the title of ‘Best Bond Ever.’ I walked in hoping for more deep emotional connectivity and that’s kind of why I had to reduce the final score a bit. I just didn’t get into it as much as I had hoped I might. But that said, there’s a great deal to like about Spectre and there’s no doubt I”ll be adding it to my DVD collection soon enough.

      PS I loved your positive review on it. those are really rare with this one

  5. I think you’ll be interested in a post I did where I analyse some of the title sequences of the Bond movies. Would love to hear your much valued opinion Tom.

  6. ‘These aren’t DC Comic film adaptations; they shouldn’t be all punishment.’ Exactly! I guess this actually takes the franchise back to its beginnings, if anything, after the distancing that has gone on in Craig’s prior three films as Bond. Perhaps that’s the main reason there’s a lot of disappointment about; I’ve been quite surprised at the negative views this past weekend given that the UK reviews were quite positive a couple of weeks ago. I quite enjoyed it even if it’s not one of the best we’ve seen. Could have done with a 20 minute trim, though!

    • Yeah this was a really long sit, I’ll admit that. I’ll also admit this is a different feeling Bond outing from his last and yes that does include Quantum. People were really hard on that movie too. In fact I went back and watched that the other week and found a lot to like about it. Still found a lot of problems with it but it was better than I remembered. I think in time Spectre will eventually find its spot, but the final product is obviously a lot different than what many have anticipated. Interesting situation.

      • I didn’t hate Quantum either! I think people just want really good one after really good one, which is understandable, but the series is 60 years old and has rarely been consistent during that time. Die Another Day is still fresh enough in my mind to allow me to recognise what a really bad Bond film is!

  7. “Four writers means four times the quality, right?” If only. Great review Tom, but sadly I didn’t love it as much as you. It’s a bummer given how much I love the Bond franchise.

        • Sure thing, be right on over.

          See this is the problem with Skyfall; it was such a good movie whatever else came after it was almost destined to fall short. I guess never say never of course, b/c when the title ‘Spectre’ was announced — and this is a fact i reference early in my review — there was some glimmer of a grander vision. But then the product comes out and with everyone and their brother having through-the-roof expectations it just couldn’t maintain the hype. This happened to me with Interstellar to some degree. That movie was great, but I was unfairly expecting perfection. I’m sure I’ll be buying this though, to complete the collection.

  8. Personally I think most James Bond movies are decent and not great. Skyfall set the bar so unusually high that expectations for Spectre were unrealistic. This is a fine addition to the cannon and, sorry, much better than Quantum of Solace. 😉

    P.S. we’re in total agreement with this film, btw.

    • Quantum of Solace really has something going for it. This I will insist til the day I die haha. It’s clearly the weak link in the Craig-era though. As for this, I was just left wanting in a lot of places. It was once again a very visually spectacular piece but the emotional thrust of it was not as strong as I had hoped. I’ve been reading some utterly harsh reviews though that I think have gone over-the-top. Oh well. The nature of the beast.

  9. Hmm reading conflicting things about this. I’m still excited to see with my Dad though…. when it is bloody released that is =/

    As usual a sterling write-up mate. Good job, I probs won’t be posting anything about this one

      • I might write something small, I’m never good at writing about the bigger pictures cos I’ve already read so much from other people, I’m afraid i’ll end up stealing ideas subconsciously! But as a total non-Bond fan I’ll probably post something short about it – I haven’t watched Bond since Brosnan was there

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    • Yeah the film by no means is perfect but I don’t think it’s quite as bad as some have made it out to be. I wanted more out of it but will definitely settle for this. Enjoy yourself Ryan

        • You know what? I went back and watched that again to sort of prep myself for this new one and I liked it so much more the 2nd go around. It really wasn’t bad at all. It’s maybe my least favorite in the Craig era but not by much.

          • Agreed! I did the same thing, it works really well when you follow it up right after Casino. I wasn’t as hot on Skyfall as everyone else when I first saw it, but the second watch was so much better. That’s just a damn good movie.

  11. I’m not knowledgeable on all things Bond, and don’t claim to have seen even half of all of the Bond movies, but I’ve loved the more recent ones and some of the older ones. As long as this is thrilling, fun, and “Bond-like,” I think I can get past the well-worn path it seems to tread as indicated by your post. Good one Tom!

    • My knowledge and experience isn’t complete either, but I know that there are always going to be stronger and weaker entries. I was really banking on this being the former rather than the latter, and who knows. Maybe I’m just being too hard on it and it is one of the best in recent years. There’s definitely much to like here but bigger themes and articulations are just not as revelatory as I was expecting. Thanks for reading!

  12. Finally you’ve seen it. Fantastic review Tom, you’re dead right about it being old fashioned Bond. Would love to discuss the movie on my review now that you’ve seen the film.

    • Cheers buddy, old-fashioned but not terribly improved. I’m a bit letdown but I’m thinking it might be more my fault than the film’s. I’ll be happy to bounce over to your page. 🙂

      • It sounds like I enjoyed it a bit more than you dude. In regards to how big the budget is, the movie is currently grossing a whole lot of money. In fact over here it grossed over 80 million in the first week of release.

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