Spectre - A Review

If Skyfall was Daniel Craig and Sam Mendes wrapping an anchor around the Bond series and miring it in a smug arty gloom then Spectre is more a case of everyone cashing the cheques and hoping for the best. The trailers promised more misery and self-importance but Spectre is the lightest of the Daniel Craig films and has a soulless and formulaic quality that harkens back to the most disposable hours of the Pierce Brosnan years. A Pierce Brosnan film minus Pierce Brosnan. At times Spectre impersonates a Roger Moore film without Roger Moore. Any rabid fanboys expecting this to be On Her Majesty's Secret Service may have already lowered their expectations.
What Spectre does is show how redundant and confused the reboot has become. Having all the Craig films play out as one long thread with unnecessary backstory and pretentious drama. When this team try to change gear and move back into the old formula they don't have the wit to carry it off convincingly. We know their hearts aren't in it. They'd rather be doing something else.
The story is a painting by numbers affair that connects the dots from A to B to C. On a mission in Mexico, Bond comes into the possession of an octopus ring after killing criminal Sciarra (Alessandro Cremona). When he skirts the the funeral of Sciarra he meets his widow Lucia (Monica Bellucci) and learns about a shadowy and dangerous criminal organisation. You may guess where this is all heading. That octopus ring will be useful.
Back in London, the Double O Section is under threat from the shifty Max Denbigh (Andrew Scott). Denbigh plans a new "Nine Eyes" intelligence structure involving eight other countries. M (Ralph Fiennes) is not too chuffed about this and begins a power struggle with Denbigh. Bond, for his part, meets the ailing Mr White (Jesper Christensen) and then meets up with White's daughter Madeleine Swann (Léa Seydoux), a psychologist in the Alps. The Lord Alps those who Alp themselves.
Spectre opens with the gunbarrel in the correct place for the first time since 1957's Die Another Day. But the Bond theme is lacking some punch. Very similar sounding to the Licence To Kill gunbarrel music (also strangely off and underwhelming). Daniel Craig has the worst walk and shoot/pose in the history of the series. He looks like he needs to use the toilet. It seems as if Craig filmed this around the time he had a near shaved head for Skyfall. He doesn't look right and I'm not sure he's even wearing a tuxedo. It's all wrong.
The pre-credit sequence is well staged. Some good camera work and trickery. The Day of the Dead ("I'm running this monkey farm now Frankenstein!") parade is a nice location and the helicopter stunt is better than the train sequence that served as Skyfall's opening. This is the best part of the film but you now have about four hours left to sit through. We can gloss over the bizarre titles and Sam Smith's song. I look forward to the time when we no longer see Daniel Craig's wonky boat race in a Bond title sequence.
That's it for superior action sequences. The big plane chase in the snow feels competent but flat in a The World Is Not Enough way and while I enjoy gadget equipped cars in James Bond films I don't believe anyone would pretend that the chase scene here amounts to much. Way too short and why is Bond on the telephone? Sam Mendes doesn't seem to understand action. Those car chases in the Bourne films have that rush because the streets are filled with OTHER cars and pedestrians. Bourne is always crashing into other vehicles.
Mendes shoots car chases with no cars on the road and fights on trains that don't seem to have any passengers. I'm starting to see why Martin Campbell is rated highly amongst more recent Bond directors. For all his faults Campbell at least seemed to have a grasp on how to make a chase or a fight exciting.
There is more humour in the film than the previous three. Think of the moment in The Spy Who Loved Me when Roger Moore hands the bystander on the beach a fish as he drives off in his Lotus. I don't even know how to describe what Moore did there but it's funny. The same with Brosnan when he stops and looks at Wai Lin walking up the wall in Tomorrow Never Dies. They give Daniel Craig some of this shtick in Spectre. He's crap at it.
The cinematography by Hoyte van Hoytema is interesting and the film has some atmosphere in places, like the initial Alpine scenes. The scene where Bond infiltrates a SPECTRE meeting for the first time whips up some intrigue. Ben Whishaw is likeable too. Q has a bigger part this time because Whishaw can act and he's quite good at comedy. But poor Moneypenny is shunted to the background because Naomie Harris can't act and isn't good at comedy.

Christoph Waltz hardly has any screen time and his over-mannered acting style is distracting. You'd think that Waltz as a Bond villain would be amazing but he can't work any miracles with the script.
If EON knew they were going to get the rights to use SPECTRE they wouldn't have invented Quantum. There's some farcical retconning. SPECTRE was behind Quantum and everything that has happened to James Bond in the last three films. It's like a soap opera when they introduce a pivotal relative who has never been mentioned in the previous 967 episodes.
They should have held SPECTRE back and not jumped the gun in using them straight away. Wait until you have a better screenplay and we've forgotten the Quantum nonsense.
You know what this film is reminiscent of? Star Trek Into Darkness. Both Spectre and Star Trek Into Darkness fail to put a stamp on a beloved longstanding property. Both resurrect iconic villains in a manner that feels like bad fan fiction. Both slide along with an emptiness at their heart trying to mask the absence of new ideas or enthusiasm for their task. Blofeld is Bond's foster-brother. Family angst. The more you pick at the mystery of Bond the duller he becomes as a character.
After all the press about casting fiftysomething Monica Bellucci as a love interest for Bond they give Bellucci about five minutes of screen time. Then they have Léa Seydoux as the usual young enough to be his daughter tag along. Rebecca Ferguson in Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation made a more charismatic and three dimensional female lead.
Dave Bautista is henchman Hinx and the train fight is fine as it goes even if it does feel too much of a Spy Who Loved Me reference. The undercooked screenplay (the second half of the film gradually falls apart) and gratuitous references to the back catalogue of the series invite comparisons with Quantum of Solace and Die Another Day. No wonder Craig ends up in a black polo neck in the snow.
I never liked Andrew Scott in Sherlock because he's too hammy. It's too obvious he's acting. He falls into the same trap in Spectre. Ralph Fiennes is alright as M but they can't resist Judi Dench making a cameo despite bumping her off in the last one.
I sense a boredom in Daniel Craig in Spectre. He wildly overacts in a torture scene (the torture scene and an eye-gouging moment make you wonder how they avoided a higher rating) but seems to be coasting for much of the film. When they try to do the old school Bond stuff (like put him a white tuxedo) he never looks right. The film ends in a way that could close the Craig era but it also leaves the door unlocked should he return. Put it this way - a large catflap is left open. If Craig and Mendes do return the next film writes itself.
We should maybe give this franchise a rest and freshen it up with a new Bond, a new director and a new writing team. Give David Arnold a call too. And can they give that DB5 a rest? It loses any novelty when they roll in out in every single bloody film. Spectre washes over you and starts to dissipate almost as soon as it ends. Not a bad film but not a very good one either.
- GH

c 2015 Alternative 007

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