So here in Canada, it’s Remembrance Day…which means that, aside from a big chunk of our population respectfully pausing to rightfully pay tribute and honor to the men and women of our Armed Forces that have served bravely over the years…we also got the day off work! After my girlfriend and I paused everything at 11 am, observing the solemn Moment of Silence, after which we briefly chatted about what Remembrance Day meant, and meant to us, I decided that I would take advantage of the freedom the day allowed…and give seeing ‘Spectre’ a second shot. Anyone who read my ‘Sicario’ review will know how Attempt #1 went last weekend. After purchasing my ticket on-line this time (see…learning is fun!), I headed down to check out the muchly anticipated follow-up to 2012’s terrific ‘Skyfall’. I took my place in the dark, brandishing my Medium-sized, lightly-buttered popcorn, and waited for the show to begin.
‘Spectre’ picks up shortly after the events of ‘Skyfall’, with (*SPOILER*) M’s (Judi Dench) death and the bombing of MI6 Headquarters still fresh in everybody’s mind. We start in Mexico City, during a lavish and elaborate parade celebrating The Day of The Dead. In this setting, we encounter ‘James Bond’ (Daniel Craig) as he cunningly stalks a target of unknown significance. This culminates in the halting of a terrorist bomb threat, but also results in the destruction and collapse of half a city block. After a harrowing helicopter fight / escape, the action moves back to London. It seems that the British Secret Service ran out of ideas and stole directly from the playbook of ‘Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation’ (2015), with MI5 threatening to absorb MI6 and disband the “prehistoric” Double O section. ‘Bond’ returns to this imminent professional threat a pariah, as his unsanctioned actions in Mexico gave MI5 the ammo it needed in The Press to accelerate the ‘merger’. But ‘Bond’ came back with a key piece of evidence supporting a far larger conspiracy, and with the help of ‘Q’ (Ben Whishaw), ‘Moneypenny’ (Naomie Harris), ‘Tanner’ (Rory Kinnear) and eventually ‘M’ (Ralph Fiennes), embarks on a covert, globe-trotting mission to unmask the new threat; a sinister ‘underground’ organization known as ‘Spectre’. ‘Bond’ tracks down and teams up with ‘Madeleine Swann’ (Lea Seydoux), the fugitive daughter of a former associate of the terror group, ‘Casino Royale’s ‘Mr. White’ (Jesper Christensen), and together they struggle to uncover a secret from ‘Bond’s shadowy past.
In my opinion, ‘Spectre’ is to ‘Skyfall’ what ‘Quantum of Solace’ (2008) is to ‘Casino Royale’ (2006). It’s good…shows commendable effort…is certainly entertaining as you watch it…but also feels lazy, rushed, and dare I say it…forgettable, especially when compared to the excellent material that preceded it. Given the press and tabloid bullshit I’ve heard about Daniel Craig being done with the character, without actually flat-out saying it, or director Sam Mendes stating that ‘Bond’ is now out of his system and he now plans to definitely move on, the end result really doesn’t surprise me. The desire to ‘just get it done’ is tangible and I could feel it in the narrative and I think I glimpsed it once or twice in the performances. But I’ll get into that a bit later.
First off, The Good. Like ‘Skyfall’, this flick is gorgeous! Even though Mendes wasn’t working with cinematographer extraordinaire Roger Deakins this time, Hoyte Van Hoytema (that’s a helluva name!) stepped in and definitely delivered on his director’s vision. The Opening Shot alone, leading into one of the best prologues in a Bond film ever, is fantastic. It’s a Long Take that picks ‘Bond’ out of the crowd of the Day of The Dead parade and follows him all the way to a sniper position on a high rooftop, minutes later. I was aware of key points where a transition could’ve been effectively hidden, but the One Take illusion is intact. Even when things onscreen weren’t all that they could’ve been…pretty much all the cinematography (and editing) are beautiful and well-composed.
The action scenes, bolstered by the stellar compositions, were great. They had momentum and had me genuinely excited watching them. I mean, we get a crazy, ‘rough n tumble’ fist fight in a twisting and turning helicopter, a perilous chase involving guns, SUVs and a twin-engine prop plane in the snow, a high-speed luxury sports car chase through downtown Rome, a nasty, violent hand-to-hand combat sequence that nearly destroys half a train, and a ‘bullets and explosions’ show-down in a exotic desert location (that should’ve been drawn out for more tension and ‘payoff’)…among others. As merely an Action Movie, ‘Spectre’ certainly succeeds.
The music score, by accomplished composer Thomas Newman (‘The Road to Perdition’), was great…just like in ‘Skyfall’; moody and appropriate. That being said, I might as well take this opportunity to start delving into The Bad. Now, I’d heard some negativity about the new Bond theme song, ‘Writings on the Wall’, performed by some idiot I’d never heard of named Sam Smith, but I hadn’t heard the song before today. Not one note. Holy shit! Whoever approved this track as the theme for this (rumored) $245 million action spectacle needs to be put in a burlap sack and thrown into the damn river! Good gawd! It was actually tough to sit through. It also didn’t help that the standard Bond credit sequence didn’t feel like anything special, especially when compared to the ones from ‘Casino Royale’ and ‘Skyfall’. But coming back to this…wow! It was awful! Half the time, it sounded to a dude trying to screech out lyrics while getting his nuts crushed in a vice. I physically squirmed in uncomfortable embarrassment as it played (no bullshit). I got more musical enjoyment out of the crunching of my own popcorn! SO…serious FAIL on the theme song, people! Simply not good enough…and was actually bad enough to affect my lasting impression of the movie overall.
Moving on from THAT mess, we can go straight into another. The Script. Much like how ‘Quantum of Solace’ played out, the connective tissue to this story is weak, uninspired.The scenes between action sequences didn’t pack much punch and, at worst, were at times unengaging…boring even. Simply there to get us from one action scene to the next, and that didn’t have to be the case.
The acting is about what a flick like this needs. Daniel Craig was ‘Bond’, as we now know him, but I wasn’t too sure about some of the ‘tonal’ directions they went with his character (too cheeky). Ben Winshaw was great in his second turn as ‘Q’ and really did elevate the scenes he was in. Hell, he even to involved in some of the action this time around. As one of the ‘Bond Girls’ (Old School Hottie Monica Belluci was the first to show up, but her role was small and probably could’ve been played by anyone), Lea Sydoux (‘Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol’) was inspired as ‘Swann’, at times reminding me of the chemistry Craig had with Eva Green, back in ‘Casino Royale’. There was a romantic spark between ‘Bond’ and “Swann’ here, but I felt that they mishandled the overall execution of the dynamic (too much attachment too soon). Ralph Fiennes and Naomie Harris were both typically good, but I felt that their sub-plot was weak and already done (‘Mission Impossible 5’ anyone?). The one I’m most disappointed in is ‘Guardians of the Galaxy’s Dave Bautista, as ‘Mr. Hinx’, a leading Spectre goon. I’m not disappointed with Bautista’s performance…I’m let down by how the character was written and handled. They could’ve made him SO interesting, with some smart dialogue and motivations, but instead he’s nothing more than the silent, hired muscle. He literally has one line…hell…ONE WORD!…in the whole flick! I would’ve preferred a hulking lug of a henchman, who surprises those around him with hidden reserves of intelligence and insight. But nope! Not here. He just chases ‘Bond’. Kidnaps people. Shoots a stupid-looking double-barrel .45 semi-automatic pistol (what?!). Kills with his bare-hands. Says one line. Turns up inconveniently and is a physical obstacle for ‘Bond’ and ‘Swann’. That’s it. That’s all he does. What a waste. Speaking of ‘wastes’, now I have to mention the inclusion of Christoph Waltz (‘Django Unchained’), as Bond’s mysterious nemesis ‘Oberhauser’. *SPOILERS*. This movie pulls a ‘Star Trek Into Darkness’ and all the bullshit the studio fed us about him NOT turning out to be a modern version of the classic Bond villain ‘Ernst Blofeld’ was exactly that…bullshit. As soon as that damn white cat turned up, I knew it. But the character was completely wasted!! There’s supposed to be this old, deep connection between the two men, but you never ‘feel’ it. Things in the past, pertaining to the death of ‘Bond’s parents and his eventual guardian, never felt fully realized or plotted. It felt ‘thrown in’. It also didn’t help that Waltz and Mendes apparently couldn’t ‘find’ the character. It felt like Waltz was doing the best with mere lines in a script, instead of fully inhabiting the ‘fleshed out’ character and making it his own, like we all know he can do (just watch any film he’s done with Tarantino). That, and he’s also only only screen for maybe 3 full scenes. Definitely not the best ‘Bond’ villain. Mads Mikkelsen’s ‘Le Chiffre’ from ‘Royale’ and Javier Bardem’s ‘Silva’, from ‘Skyfall’, were FAR more interesting and engaging antagonists.
Another issue I have to bring up is: The Silliness. This is the silliest Bond flick, of the Daniel Craig movies. Whereas ‘Skyfall’ toe’d a fine line with the older style (the emerging gadgets, the quips, the references etc) and did it well, ‘Spectre’ really goes for it…at times too far, in my opinion. If this is the direction they’re going to embrace, then we better prepare ourselves for a flavor that harkens back to the ‘fun’ Roger Moore ‘Bond’ days (*shudder*), and taking that into account, it suddenly makes sense for Daniel Craig to maybe be wanting to hit the bricks, before that happens. Maybe he saw ‘Writings on the Wall’!! (See what I did there? Comic genius.), and wants to escape with his dignity intact. The subtlety of ‘Skyfall’ is a shadow of itself in ‘Spectre’.
All in all, ‘Spectre’ is a decent James Bond adventure that does tie in to the 3 films that came before it. It boasts some damn fine cinematography, great action scenes, some good character moments, cool music (except that fucking theme song!), and some well-placed, cheeky humor (just a little too much after a while). On the Negative side, the script is weak and unoriginal, the ‘connections’ aren’t very strong or memorable, the run-time is about 20 minutes too long (150 minutes? Seriously?), and several cool character ‘opportunities’ are criminally wasted. If I had to rank the Daniel Craig ‘Bond’ films, they would go like this: #1 – ‘Casino Royale’ #2 – ‘Skyfall’ #3 – ‘Spectre’ #4 – ‘Quantum of Solace’. Honestly, if Daniel Craig is done with the character…fair enough. This wouldn’t be the greatest ‘send off’…but it’s certainly not an embarrassment. I wouldn’t mind a 5th one (as he’s rumored to be contracted for), but I would also let him go here as well. I had fun watching this one, but as the story unfolded, the lame elements clearly showed themselves and, at times, I found myself ‘disengaging’. There’s some very ‘Big Screen’ stuff…but you’ll probably enjoy it equally on Home Release. If you’re a ‘James Bond’ fan…there’s definitely something here for you. It just could’ve been…better.
(shakes head in disbelief) That goddamn theme song…seriously?!