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SPECTRE (2015) review

November 3, 2015

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written by: John Logan, Neil Purvis, Robert Wade & Jez Butterworth
produced by: Michael G. Wilson and Barbara Broccoli
directed by: Sam Mendes
rated: PG-13 (for intense sequences of action and violence, some disturbing images, sensuality and language)
runtime: 148 min. U.S.
release date: November 6, 2015 

 

With “Spectre”, the fourth film starring Daniel Craig as Ian Fleming’s James Bond 007 and the 24th film in the series, everything seems sleeker and sharper, but ultimately it’s a film that is content looking good in the mirror even if there’s really not much there. What is there though feels forced, predictable and repetitive. That’s disappointing coming off the last Bond film, “Skyfall”, especially considering Sam Mendes directed both. 

Up until now, it was very interesting to see all the Craig Bond films have had an interconnecting story that has built something layered and intriguing. All that ends with “Spectre”, proving Mendes and his four screenwriters have run out of ideas and are satisfied with regurgitating scenes from the past five decades. Gone is the grit and the intensity of the last three films and with that comes a Bond film that’ll leave viewers noticing it’s overlong – no Bond fan wants that. 

“Spectre” opens with Bond (Daniel Craig) at the heart of the Día de los Muertos festivities in Mexico City. He’s tracking down a link to the secret organization that has plagued him for the last three movies, operating rogue from MI6, which isn’t anything new to the franchise. As with tradition, this is the expected action-packed opening before the Bond song title sequence plays and its solid opening with great action, a touch of humor and harrowing danger. Most notable is the octopus ring Bond steals from the terrorist right before he dispenses him. Then the lackluster Sam Smith UK hit “Writing’s on the Wall” kicks in and we move on with our story.

Head of MI6, M (Ralph Fiennes) is frustrated with Mexican headlines that detailing Bond’s destructive ways and takes 007 off field duty (something that’s happened many times before in previous films). M is stressed out as it is with Max Denbigh (Andrew Scott), also called C and current leader of the Joint Intelligent Service, who has developed a Big Brother type global surveillance system called Nine Eyes (needing the unanimous vote from nine countries before it can go live), which will render the ’00’ program obsolete. Sounds suspicious.

Bond continues to operate under the radar and follow his leads, utilizing assistance from Moneypenny (Naomi Harris), Q (Ben Whishaw) and MI6 Chief of Staff, Bill Tanner (Rory Kinnear), as he makes his way to Rome to attend the funeral of the Italian terrorist/entrepeneur he offed in the opening sequence (what a gentleman), leading him to the widow, Lucia (Monica Bellucci), who spills the nearby meeting location during a bedroom confession of a secret organization her husband belonged to.  

 

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As he attends and spies on this late night meeting led by a shadowy figure (Christoph Waltz, applying his usual laid back smugness), he is outed and pursued by a juggernaut assassin named Mr. Hinx (Dave Bautista, delighting in his role) – a name I had to look up because this hulking character is referred to by name only once and he chooses silence over words (making him an amalgam of Odd Job from “Goldfinger” and Jaws from “The Spy Who Loved Me” and “Moonraker”) – in a high-speed car chase across , Bond behind the wheel of an Aston-Martin DB10 and his pursuer driving a Jaguar C-X75. It’s a smooth and sleek car chase, short on thrills and gadgets (for added humor), lacking the urgency or frustration that the previous three movies had in their requisite chase scenes.

Following more clues, Bond flies to Austria, while C is closing down the “00” program back in London. Bond visits ailing former nemesis, Mr. White (Jesper Christensen, “Casino Royale” and “Quantum of Solace”), who winds up being the rare villain in the franchise who has an interesting reversal, assisting Bond by telling him to find and protect his daughter, who has additional information about the organization. She is psychologist Dr. Madeleine Swan (Léa Seydoux, “Blue is the Warmest Color” and “Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol”), who works at a clinic atop the Austrian Alps (think “On Her Majesty’s Secret Service”) – for seemingly no other reason than to have an alpine location to shoot an action sequence once Bautista’s brute shows up again. It’s a well-paced sequence, but it feels entirely too placed – as in “we need an action scene here” – and predictable.

Before heading off to Morocco, Bond has Q examine the octopus ring he acquired in Mexico and he learns it carries within it information about his adversaries from the last three films (for those who need a refresher). It’s in this scene where Swann tells Bond and Q the only information she seems to know, the name of the secret organization is: Spectre (a revelation any self-respecting Bond fan in the audience already knew). That’s the only real information Swann had? Really?

Now the once reluctant shrink is falling for Bond while riding a train in the Sahara, where they both had the wherewithal to pack formal wear for the dining car – too bad! –  their dinner is interrupted by a barreling Bautista. He gets in a destructive fight on the train with Bond and Swann, which recalls “From Russia with Love”, where Sean Connery played fisticuffs with Robert Shaw. Speaking of Shaw, at the end of this crackling fight scene there’s a not-so-subtle reference to Steven Spielberg’s “Jaws”. Get it? Jaws?  

 

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The train ends in the middle of nowhere, where our new couple is escorted to a secret desert liar (“You Only Live Twice” and “The Spy Who Loved Me”) where they’re given their own quarters to shower and change into fancy threads (like in “Dr. No”) in order to meet Waltz’s antagonist, who comes into the light. He is Franz Oberhauser, a character from Bond’s past and he is bent on acquiring information via global surveillance, data recording, drones and what not (yawn). Is Bond’s head so shaken and stirred that he didn’t recognize him or connect the dots early on (like viewers do)? Too bad, Mr. Bond. It’s torture time (reminiscent of “Goldfinger”) in the villain’s lair as your damsel watches.

After the predicted explosive escape, the story heads back to London, so Bond can regroup with a clandestine M, Q and Moneypenny in order to take down C before Nine Eyes goes live at midnight (why does everything always go live at midnight?), leaving Swann to bid adieu – only to get kidnapped so Bond can rescue her in 3 minutes – resulting in more recycled plot points from other Bond films.

The film’s climax takes place on both sides of the River Thames, at the old MI6 headquarters (dilapidated after the events of “Skyfall”) and the new tower built by a private funder for C’s takeover, ending up on the Westminster Bridge after a boat chases a helicopter. Sadly, there are no shocks, twists or surprises. If “Spectre” is to be Craig’s last Bond, at least it has closure and an ending that feels like it could be The End.

 

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You may have surmised, I’m kind of frustrated with “Spectre”; disappointed even. Of all the issues I have with the movie, the biggest is how I targeted every move the screenwriters made before it happened. The players aren’t to blame here. All the actors – save for the smirking Waltz, who just smarms it up as he does in every antagonist role he’s had since “Inglorious Basterds” – deliver fine work, especially Craig – who is confident, comfortable and finally able to crack a smile as Bond.

The few moments where we get to spend time with Craig as Bond are preferable over each predictable plot point. In fact, one of my favorite scenes was between Bond and a mouse. That says something about most of the dialogue in the film, but it says more about how I prefer my Bond films with unexpected character moments.

But the screenwriters here aren’t concerned with characterization. One example of this is Seydoux’s Dr. Swan – who goes from a professional who doesn’t want to be bothered with her father’s business, then a reluctant albeit able-bodied partner and then the default damsel in distress. It’s unfortunately harkening back to the underwritten female characters that are familiar to these movies.

 

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As a Bond fan, I don’t want to walk out of a screening and commiserate with my peers – even rewrite the movie in my head. The Bond films may not have ever been known for Oscar-nominated screenplays, but I can’t recall any entry in the franchise that have had this many call backs to previous films. I was fine with the subtle nod to “Live and Let Die” in the thrilling one-take opening, but everything else after that felt like I was getting hit over the head with eye-rolling ‘nudge-nudge’ moments. Even the reveal of the Spectre organization – which was last seen in 1971’s “Diamonds Are Forever” – falls flat. For an organization that is supposed to be everywhere and see everything, its leader is a monologing fool, who is less formidable than any of the last four antagonists Craig’s Bond has faced.

Maybe the problem is that out of four screenwriters, the only new addition is Jez Butterworth (who co-wrote “Edge of Tomorrow” from last year and the recent “Black Mass”), which means more new blood is needed. John Logan came on board with “Skyfall”, but it’s Neil Purvis and Robert Wade – both of whom have written Bond films since the wretched “The World is Not Enough” and now it’s time to hand both of them pink slips. Personally, I think they could adapt a Gardner book or one of the newer Bond books. None of that really matters to Sony though, who seem to be rushing these movies out as soon as possible –  as long as they make a load of cash at the box office.

“Spectre” also suffers from being overlong, making me appreciate the breakneck pace of “Quantum of Solace”, the shortest Bond film, even more. It may be beautifully shot by cinematographer Hoyte van Hoytema (“Interstellar” and “Her”) but that’s what we’ve come to expect with these Craig Bonds. 

That being said, I’m not sure what was done with the $300 million that went into the making of this film, but there is nothing really memorable about its sets or action sequences. Need I reiterate that my favorite scene was between Bond and a mouse? “Spectre” left me shaken with frustration with nary a stir.  

 

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RATING: **

 

 

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