James Bond Lands Softly in Spectre
James Bond has been around for more than 50 years. He has been portrayed by six different actors, and helmed by fifteen different directors. Needless to say the British spy is more than just an icon. He is a part of cinematic history, a character who actors dream to be. When James Bond was rebooted in 2006 with Casino Royale, Daniel Craig took on the Bond mantle and gave us the best Bond film in existence. I italicize the word film because cinematically it is undoubtedly the best film. However, you may have your own opinions on which is your favorite or the best Bond movie. I refuse to budge on saying Casino Royale is anything less than a masterpiece.
To review Spectre, one must first understand the emotional ups and downs that this new Bond character has gone through. Casino Royale was a masterpiece. Quantum of Solace was a boring attempt at a continuation. Skyfall revitalized the young series. Spectre has nothing new to lend to the Bond world. Don’t get me wrong, I am by no means saying that it is a bad film. It is a pretty good film…with so many bad things in it.
Sam Mendes’ direction for his second Bond film was superb in the way of cinematography and action sequences. I still toss and turn at night wondering exactly how the logistics of the opening helicopter fight scene were done. It was truly awe inspiring, and I do not use that term lightly. Daniel Craig continues to be, in my opinion, the best Bond we’ve ever had. He gives us far more of a grounded understanding of what could be an easily phoned in character. Craig’s Bond has gone through an evolution we’ve never seen in the James Bond universe because he’s been given writers and directors who understand that the character is far more important than previous films have given him credit for. Ralph Finnes returns, giving us our first real look at his M, and it’s just as great as you’d expect it to be. Ben Whishaw’s Q is lovable and sassy in all the right ways. Naomie Harris’s Moneypenny is as strong as she was in Skyfall. All of the returning cast is great, they know what they have to work with and they know what they’re capable of with in the constraints of their characters.
It is a pretty good film…with so many bad things in it.
The story of Spectre finds Bond, almost immediately following the aftermath of Skyfall, on a new mission to uncover a secret organization unknown to the MI6 agent. He then uncovers the entire organization of Spectre – which is the head of the octopus that was made up by all the other groups of villains he’s fought in the previous three movies. This was an interesting way for the film to wrap in Spectre, when they tried so desperately to push for Quantum to be the “new” Spectre back in 2008. When the rebooted series was set, the film makers weren’t sure if they’d have the chance to actually put Spectre in the universe. This is where Quantum came in, but when Quantum of Solace bombed and MGM hit some serious money issues, they decided to pull out the big guns and give us the evil organization every evil organization since has been based on.
James Bond ends up promising an old dying nemesis, Mr. White from Quantum, that he will take care of his daughter if he gives him more of the information needed on the organization. He does so and in comes the wonderful Léa Seydoux (Inglourious Basterds) as our official “Bond girl.” Seydoux is a great actress and does what she can with the character. For the first half of her screen time we’re given the strongest Bond girl we’ve seen. She is not even remotely intrigued by James’ ego, confidence, raw sexual magnetism, whatever you want to call it. She is a logically thinking woman who understands that this is a man who kills people and she doesn’t find him emotionally attractive in anyway because of that. Good, we’re getting to the point where the random hook ups and one night stands in Bond’s repertoire are just plain boring. Look, I get it, it’s James Bond, he’s a ladies man. But this film gives absolutely no plausible reason as to why James sleeps with any of the women he meets.
After Bond “shags” Monica Bellucci (The Passion of the Christ), who was literally used in the film as solely a sex object despite all of the ramping of her as the first “Bond woman”, he makes his way to a secret meeting of Spectre, which is exactly as you’d imagine. A long table in a huge room, with hundreds of people watching the heads talk about how to be more evil, or how to evil better. In comes Christoph Waltz (Inglourious Basterds, Django Unchained). We were insulted from the first trailer of the film by the film makers telling us that Waltz will not be Blofeld, Bond’s most notorious arch nemesis. He is a new villain named Frans Oberhauser. Through the coming months and more trailers, they continued to deny any possible connection to the Blofeld name. Then they do the most nonchalant thing by having him whisper in James’s ear that he now goes by his mother’s maiden name: Blofeld. Shocker?! No, not even remotely. It was an attempt at shock and awe that completely fell flat because there was no background, necessity, or even mystery around it. Which was my main issue with Christoph Waltz in this film. I’ve come to learn that Waltz is a one trick pony. He’s incredibly good at that one trick, but it’s still one trick. Every single film he’s in, he plays the same character, whether it’s good or bad.
It was an attempt at shock and awe that completely fell flat
Waltz’ Blofeld is painfully underwhelming, in large part, but not exclusively, due to the writing. There is no sense of urgency when he’s on screen. He only has one level of emotion: calm. He has absolutely no reason for existing in this universe. Blofeld should be a sociopath. That means he should have random levels of emotion to his character. Not once does Waltz’ voice or inflection change from calm and eerie. There is no emotion to the character at all. His portrayal is stale and undercooked, like the writers of the film felt having the name Blofeld would be more than enough to please the audience.
This brings me to my next point. I previously stated that Léa Seydoux does a great job at deflecting Bond’s charm through the first half of her screen time. So what happens somewhere around the 50% mark? For absolutely no reason, she falls for him and falls hard. Bond is now being tortured by Blofeld, who just revealed his name. She whispers into his ear “I love you.” They’ve known each other for two days, slept together for no reason other than to put another notch in Bond’s headboard, and there’s no reason at all for this to be a believable romance. When it came to Casino Royale, the James and Vesper relationship worked because they spent most of the movie very strongly and subtly setting it up. All Spectre did was try to do the same romance again but without any of the set up.
It’s at this point that Bond escapes the torture, blows up Blofeld’s secret layer, which is just a revamped Moonraker base. He and Miss Swann (Seydoux) escape and we now learn that the new head of security over at MI5, C, played by the talented Andrew Scott (Sherlock), is actually a member of Spectre who plans to use the security system to help the organization take over the world. You know, sitting here writing this review, I’m starting to realize this film is much more campy than it needed to be. Specter relies a lot on tropes. We have the Jaws copycat henchmen played by Dave Bautista (Guardians of the Galaxy), who’s forgettable at best. We have the underwhelming evil genius attempting to take over the world, the good guy who just so happens to be a bad guy, and the love interest that no one finds interesting.
Bond and Miss Swann make their way back to MI6 to help fight the organization. Miss Swann is kidnapped by Blofeld, who now has his patented scar thanks to the base explosion. Blofeld sets an incredibly detailed bomb rig throughout the entire abandoned MI6 building from Skyfall within a couple hours. He then gives Bond his evil villain monologue. Bond saves the girl, the building blows up. He shoots a helicopter with a pistol causing it to crash. Yes, you read that correctly. He captures Blofeld, refusing to kill him and walks off into the sunset with the girl.
Look, a lot of this review may seem like complaining, and to be honest, it probably is. But there is a lot of good in this film, it’s just overshadowed by the bad. The story itself is where the film falls completely flat. The writers didn’t spend time trying to craft a believable love interest, villain, storyline, or anything for that matter. It’s all copy and paste from Bond tropes and previous films. I knew going into the film that it wouldn’t meet the expectations that Skyfall and Casino Royale had set, but I did expect great things from the film. I felt that after Skyfall revitalizing the faith in the franchise, Sam Mendes would know what to do with the sequel.
The writers didn’t spend time trying to craft a believable love interest, villain, storyline, or anything for that matter.
If you’re a Bond fan or an action fan, go see Spectre. I’m serious it’s worth the watch, even with the incredibly long runtime. All I ask is that you don’t expect it to be the next great Bond movie. It isn’t and that’s okay. It’s a continuation and a great wrap of Daniel Craig’s four film run. He is contracted for a fifth film but most likely will not be doing it. We’ll get a new Bond and they’ll do it all over again. The best part of that is it just gives us another chance to make a great film. All we have to do is sit through the ones that are a miss before we can find the one that’s a hit.
If you’d like to hear more of my thoughts on Spectre, head on over to hd1jump.com and listen to the Geek Chorus: Spectre episode where I delve more in depth into my thoughts and feelings on the film.