|Runtime:||2 Hours 28 mins|
|Release Date:||US: Nov 06 2015
UK: Oct 26 2015
|See If You Like:||Skyfall,
Sam Mendes’ difficult second album
It must be hard to create art. More often than not it’s unintentional until it’s released to the eyes of the public and peers, such was the case of the last time we saw Secret Agent 007 of MI6 James Bond in Skyfall. Director Sam Mendes of American Beauty fame had the sense to see how well he did as he wasn’t keen to return to Bond again for a second stab – at first. Eventually his arm was twisted whilst MGM also managed to return one of Bond’s long time nemesis back to the fold in the form of villainous organisation Spectre and all the rights attached to that. Possibly in the face of unrealistic expectations, Mendes crafts a below par outing for the 24th big screen outing of James as the return to a classic Bond formula, along with an obvious run-of-the-mill plot, leaves an amount to be desired despite an exceptional cast performance.
After receiving a cryptic message post the previous M’s death, British MI6 agent James Bond (Daniel Craig, The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo) is on an off the books personal vendetta to kill an assassin called Sciarra. After despatching him during a Day Of The Dead festival in Mexico and returning to London, Agent 007 has a biological tracker put on him by the new M (Ralph Fiennes, The Grand Budapest Hotel) & Q (Ben Whishaw, Suffragette). Bond finds out more about Sciarra’s connections from a mysterious ring which brings him into contact with a powerful and ruthless man (Christoph Waltz, Big Eyes) who has been pulling the strings behind the current dark episodes in James’ life recently.
My big problem is that Spectre goes back to the tired-out Bond formula of old. Sure it’s not been used since Die Another Day (back in the early noughties) but, good lord, it’s 2015. Bond in the current state of spy action cinema can’t afford to go back to the cheesy charms of back in the day. Audiences demand more. Here, it’s the same old predictable join the dots plot; baddie’s base gets blown up; Bond has falling-out before porking main Bond girl; Bond gets captured and escapes using the earlier introduced gadget; and it’s not good enough off the back of a stellar and fresh take on the character as seen in Skyfall. It’s a very strange decision between both Mendes and the screenwriters to opt to go back to the tired and played out track listing of yesteryear when they crafted something marvellous the last time they had their cards on the table. What’s worse, said formula drags the film out considerably and makes for a draining two and a half hour experience. Whilst some of the quips and biting comebacks were pretty humorous, there is a noticeable amount of stupid humour which feels out of place. After surviving a point blank range explosion and building collapse, it’s jarring to see all serious Bond land on a couch and readjust himself before walking off.
Bond himself has come full circle after this fourth film outing. He’s more ruthless at this point of his spy career. Gone is the naivety from Casino Royale as James goes to the dark arts of espionage to extract information. He gets to the point of seducing a widow (an underused but still sultry Monica Bellucci, The Sorcerer’s Apprentice) after the funeral of her husband, to find out more about his ties to the organisation haunting Bond. Even worse, he pushes a dying man to end it on his own terms in the veil of relief wrapped around 007’s sword of compromise and threat. In balance, the cockiness displayed from Bond is the strongest in quite some time. The little touches like waving at a blatant goon before walking off are marvellous. Craig really has his take on the character nailed as the Agent who has been burned before and is willing to go to depths to keep himself, the people he cares about, Britain, and the World safe at the expense of others. There truly is levels in his performance to make him a suitable Bond in this day and age.
The elephant in the room, with a titular film called Spectre, is how obvious the main villain character reveals are for long-time Bond fans. Pretty much all but stated by the media and cinemagoers alike when Spectre was announced in that big press announcement, there’s no real alteration to the presumption of where this film is headed, and that’s really disappointing. It’s a one-track mind focus that we must do it as is, which is far too obvious. I realise MGM wanted to use the name Spectre and notable elements to it for this reboot Bond-verse as soon as they got their hands on the rights again, but there is hardly anything new or different from them. With some obvious elements of other character reveals established quite early on, there’s a feeling that Spectre really needed a big twist or event at the end to break the cycle of monotony. We don’t get it. There is some nice character work right at the end but it hardly makes up for how painfully blatant the film trucks on.
That being said, Waltz’s performance is truly exceptional here. Ignoring the fact that all the way throughout the film you know what’s coming from his reveal, he does a sterling job as that character. The coldness he displays when he tortures 007. The near sibling-esque squabbling and reason behind it all. The seething hatred at Bond in Spectre‘s last section. It is one hell of a debut to the franchise for a top actor. With a strong showing, you want to see Waltz return again in the role, which is not something you usually say about bond villains. Tying together the continuity since Craig’s turn as Bond started is a masterstroke too as it establishes Waltz’s character’s dominance over events and makes him a true puppetmaster.
Elsewhere, the cast is business as usual although that doesn’t mean returning characters slouch off. Fiennes looks like he wants to throttle and murder someone constantly, in a M we’ve not seen before. Whishaw is proving to be a worthy successor to Desmond Llewelyn as the comic relief Quartermaster. Miss Monneypenny is given a new lease of life as Naomie Harris’ (Southpaw) believable badass secretary-stroke-agent shines on. Andrew Scott (Sherlock) made the most of what he was given as obvious turncoat #2, and I believed in his spiel about combining spy agencies information. Whilst our main Bond girl for Spectre hardly disgraces herself, Léa Seydoux (Saint Laurent) came off as a plain pretty-girl loaded with pro-feminism, expert gun knowledge, and martial arts; I didn’t really feel any vulnerability from her or any reason for her to hang around James. Still that’s more a problem of the use of the classic Bond formula in 2015 rather than Seydoux’s turn.
Oddly, the action seemed to be really lacking here. Apart from an exceptional one-on-one fist fight on a train between Bond and silent but deadly head henchman Mr. Hinx (former WWE wrestler & Guardians Of The Galaxy star Dave Bautista in a worthy gig), nothing else tickled me. That Rome car chase ranks as one of the worst set-pieces ever to grace a Bond movie (it feels like it’s going way slower than it’s meant to be, losing any real intensity); very dull; not the same level as the opener from Skyfall with the incredible sight of 007 chasing an assassin across a moving train via a digger before engaging in a fist fight. Visually, they are well shot but there is an element that will let it down. That opener where James goes through the Day of the Dead festival is an awesome sight but that Helicopter stunt display doesn’t get the heart racing. In fact, that sums up alot of Mendes’ directorial style here with plenty of flash and no substance.
Weirdly the music seemed off at times. You notice a distinct lack of traditional Bond cues and during the middle bulk of the runtime, you could be forgiven for thinking you were not watching a James Bond movie at all. His lack of familiarity in the soundtrack holds back certain scenes in Spectre from succeeding more. There were times where I felt like I was watching a different modern spy hero, rather than the iconic British secret agent.
On reflection, whilst Mendes hardly gives us a bad sequel or anything of the sort, I don’t really feel the effort here is on the same level as Skyfall. The music and action is simply not there. The emotional depth goes closer as Bond’s childhood has a dark secret, yet it feels too soon to tread the same ground we covered in the last film. What’s next – a villain jilted because James copped off with his girlfriend at Oxford? The plot is nothing really to write home about and the decision to revert to classic Bond formula baffles me still; unless it was a creative choice to honour the franchise even more, three years after the 50th anniversary. He still manages to pull together an exceptional group acting effort which truly makes you care about every single one of the cast and their positions. I’d be lying if I didn’t think Spectre looks like that £300 million [supposed] budget film too. Every frame bleeds with quality visually. There are some sweet shots too like the near continuous walk through Mexico City before Bond kicks off Spectre with a bang. Mendes did face the uphill task of making another film as beloved as Skyfall but he dodges around the attempt to climb the mountain to use the stair lift; it’s uch a weird mix between good and bad filmmaking; shame.
Make no mistake about it – Spectre is far away from being a terrible fourth outing for Daniel Craig’s James Bond, although following up Skyfall proves to be an impossible task for Sam Mendes sadly. Unenviable of course but you would think he had the nous to get close to that level, yet not one element here does to be frank. The performances are pretty high still with Christoph Waltz being a worthy addition to the franchise but the story and reveals are fairly monotonous with the crutch of the old school Bond formula being a hindrance. Overall, a reasonably good outing for Bond but given the context of what came before, a bitter disappointment, and considering this is a Bond movie, that’s not good enough.
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