Spectre Review


Spectre is Daniel Craig’s fourth James Bond film, and for the fourth time, he’s carrying the franchise through an origin story. Casino Royale and Quantum of Solace combined to share with us the beginnings of Bond as 007. Skyfall represented the start of M, Q, and Moneypenny as we know them. Now with Spectre, it’s Bond’s most heinous nemesis — the villainous organization of the film’s title — that 21st century audiences are getting acquainted with for the first time.

It’s not hard to understand why some are feeling a little fatigued with the franchise after its latest installment. With each of the last three films’ closing scenes, we’re promised a break from beginnings. But if every Bond film is a symptom of the culture in which its created, Craig’s films reflect cinema from 2006 to 2015 loudly and clearly.

All that said, I enjoyed Spectre. It’s clumsier and more predictable than its immediate predecessor, which is, for my money, the high water mark of the series. But there are moments of inspiration (and inspired lunacy) sprinkled throughout its 140 minutes. Craig still seems game — despite what his pre-release press would have you believe — and it’s nice to see everyone take things a little less seriously.

The film opens with a dynamite pre-credits sequence in the middle of a Day of the Dead parade in Mexico City. For three minutes or so, the camera travels unbroken through hundreds of partiers in skeleton costumes. One of them is Bond (Craig, natch), and another is his mark, a Marco Sciarra (Alessandro Cremona). Bullets fly, buildings crumble, and a helicopter does some flips before we’re back in London dealing with the politics of MI6’s reorganization under the new M (Ralph Fiennes) and his super-duper superior, C (Andrew Scott).

C is calling for the world’s governments to combine their surveillance efforts and resources under one umbrella for the betterment of all. This worries M because C is decidedly against the 00 program, not to mention the fact that he thinks an unelected official having control over the entire world’s supply of drones is unprecedented and dangerous. But 007 doesn’t care. He’s picked up a thread on a group with ties to terrorist activities across the globe, and with the help of Q (Ben Whishaw) and Moneypenny (Naomie Harris), he’s off to Rome, Austria, and Morocco in search of a ghost from his past — Franz Oberhauser (Christoph Waltz).

The film has a major case of “John Harrison syndrome” wherein it builds toward a major twist that ultimately falls wildly flat. The overriding feeling of superficial allusion is so strong with this one, in fact, that I spent the last few minutes expecting one character to remark, “My name’s not really [redacted], it’s Tracy.” The absence of true stakes in its final third — seriously, does anyone know what these cats were after? — prevents Spectre from ascending to the same level as Casino Royale or Skyfall in the Craig quadrilogy, but rollicking fun in its first 90 minutes prevents it from descending to Quantum of Solace levels of inanity.

Outside of the opener, the film’s standout scene takes place on a train. An obvious ode to From Russia with Love, Bond and Madeleine Swann (a very solid Lea Seydoux) are dining in luxury — bathed in the rich, brown splendor of Hoyte Van Hoytema’s spectacular cinematography — when they’re attacked by a Mr. Hinx (Dave Bautista, underused but effective). The resulting fistfight is brutal but beautifully choreographed and genuinely tense. Similarly suspenseful is a car chase through Rome and a verbal confrontation with old nemesis Mr. White (Jesper Christensen).

It’s Craig’s performance, though, that makes this one sing. He has all the hallmarks down by now — the swagger, the toughness, even the humor, which is effective here despite being subtler with Craig than with any Bond before him. In Spectre, he takes all the baggage that he’s bared for us in three previous films and channeled it into something smoothly wreckless. This 007 is more vulnerable than past incarnations of the character — including ones with Craig in the tux — not because he’s up against a truly diabolical or physically imposing villain, but rather because he doesn’t seem to much care what happens to him. The 00 program is gasping for air. His way of life is ending — the same way that of superheroes did in Watchmen — and Bond isn’t interested in bowing out gracefully. The writing’s on the wall, if you will, but he’s going to raise some hell and do what he thinks is right on his way out.

Christoph Waltz is an interesting counterpoint and one I won’t dwell on too much for story reasons. He’s a natural choice for a Bond villain, and while I’ll say he doesn’t disappoint, the role isn’t quite as well-defined as you might like. The screenplay is easily Spectre‘s weakest link as it shuffles individuals around a global chessboard without really thinking any moves ahead. Still, John Logan and company give Waltz enough to chew on that he’s closer to Javier Bardem’s Silva than he is to Mathieu Amalric’s Dominic Greene.

The film goes out on a note very reminiscent of The Dark Knight Rises, and while I’m sure that’s a coincidence, it also wouldn’t surprise me if Craig goes the way of Christian Bale in that film and rides off into his franchise’s sunset for good. If he does, he leaves behind a franchise that’s probably creatively ready to move on from the type of film he and his colleagues have mastered. If he sticks around for one more rodeo, I hope it’s a good one, and I’ll be there smiling from gun barrel to closing Monty Norman chord.

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  1. Pingback: Reviews: Spectre (2015) | Online Film Critics Society

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