THEATRICAL REVIEW: Spectre (2015)
Produced by: Michael G. Wilson, Barbara Broccoli
Screenplay by: John Logan, Neal Purvis, Robert Wade, Jez Butterworth
Story by: John Logan, Neal Purvis, Robert Wade
Edited by: Lee Smith
Cinematography by: Hoyte van Hoytema
Music by: Thomas Newman, Sam Smith (theme)
Starring: Daniel Craig, Christoph Waltz, Léa Seydoux, Ben Whishaw, Naomie Harris, Dave Bautista, Andrew Scott, Monica Bellucci, Ralph Fiennes, Rory Kinnear, Jesper Christensen, Alessandro Cremona, Judi Dench
Based on characters created by Ian Fleming
It’s been three years since the release of the last James Bond film, Skyfall, but it seems as though a mere matter months have passed by the time Spectre begins, with Bond tracking down an assassin named Marco Sciarra, who is suspected of having ties to a larger organization that has been causing headaches for MI6 and, more generally, the world at large. Fans of the series, particularly those who have either read the books or seen the older films, will by no means have any trouble quickly knowing exactly what organization Sciarra is working for (hint: it’s in the title) as well as what this will likely mean for the Bond franchise going forward. Your enthusiasm for the film and the implications of this organization’s presence from here on out will largely depend upon one’s devotion to the series and whether you’re willing to accept that the more serious, grounded, and gritty Bond films that began with the Daniel Craig era of films were pretty much always going to build up to this from the very beginning. And even if you’re willing to accept this inevitable return to a refreshed but familiar form, what few surprises Spectre does have in store for audiences will actually be a far greater point of contention than the choice to continue moving these films “backward” in terms of tone and grandiosity.
James Bond here is once again disobeying direct orders from on high and going rogue on a personal mission, though this time with the blessings of certain people within (and once within) MI6. The 00 program itself is also being called into question, now that MI6 has been merged into MI5 after being left in a shambles after the bombing and hacking in the previous film. The new higher-ups, particularly Max Denbigh (or “C”), are calling for the discontinuation of the program in favor of purportedly less risky drone strikes while urging world leaders to join the “Nine Eyes” intelligence and surveillance program, both of which the newly appointed and perpetually prickly M adamantly opposes. Bond’s independent research after recovering an octopus-adorned ring from Sciarra, however, pushes him closer towards uncovering the truth behind the mysterious organization that seems to be behind a series of attacks across the globe, but in so doing, the trail of breadcrumbs also leads him to uncovering secrets about past events in his life that hit a lot closer to home than he imagined.
As I mentioned before, the events that finally come to a head here in Spectre were more or less set up in the beginning by Casino Royale, and anyone who recognized this shouldn’t be entirely shocked by the inevitable further reintegration of previous Bond film elements that have been building up over the course of the three previous films. Spectre (or S.P.E.C.T.R.E., as it was more classically known) has always been a part of the Bond mythos in both books and film, and a modernization of the concept is not exactly the end of the world, either – you know, outside of fiction, that is. However, I can’t help but shake the feeling that, despite this, the reintroduction of this group could have been given a lot more grandeur than what we got.
They haven’t completely ignored this, with the film explaining that the events previous four films all have some connection to Spectre in one way or another, but this point is merely pointed out and reiterated rather than felt and demonstrated within the confines of this film, leaving the new main villain introduced here, Franz Oberhauzer, feeling kind of like he’s standing on the shoulders of his henchmen, rather than being a credible and distinct threat on his own. The fact that he is played by the always charismatic Christoph Waltz, who was born to play a Bond villain, certainly keeps him from falling into the same category of banality alongside Dominc Greene in Quantum of Solace. A lack of charisma was never going to be the main point of contention, however, no matter who was cast once a certain late game plot development comes into play that will have many flashing back to Star Trek Into Darkness in its misguided attempts to update classic stories in completely unnecessary and extraneous ways that were intended to make things more personal for our heroes and yet feel all too convenient to be believable in execution. Much like with Into Darkness, a quick rewrite and revision of certain details could have easily made this a whole lot better, but, sadly, what’s done is done.
The film is still incredibly entertaining, though, and not just because of Waltz. There’s a sense of dangerous fun also extends to Bond and the action he takes part in. The rough, dirty bouts with Dave Bautista’s stalker henchman are truly exciting, with the final one in particular actually making me worry for Bond’s well-being. Daniel Craig’s portrayal of Bond continues to evolve and has gained his predecessors’ sense of humor. This might sound like the film’s delving into silliness, but I do believe it’s actually handled very well, all while keeping in line with the previous films’ tone. Craig’s snotty, self-satisfied, and deadpan delivery and Bond’s playful carelessness with his colleagues’ professional wellbeing lends Bond’s sense of humor an edge that suggests he’s finally experienced enough trauma and has hardened himself to the ugly truth about what he’s doing in the line of duty, and he may as well put a smirk on your face.
The film also finds a lot for supporting cast members to do, too, with Moneypenny, Q, and M practically given their own adversary to take on in the finale, in parallel to Bond and Oberhauzer’s conflict. It’s really a shame, however that the talented Léa Seydoux and Monica Bellucci basically have little to do beyond being obligatory additions to the Bond formula. Compared to the likes of the complex Vesper Lynd, the vengeful Camille, or, heck, even the tragic Sévérine, both Seydoux as Madeleine Swann and Bellucci as Lucia Sciarra really get nothing meaty or emotionally resonant to work with beyond their connections to the more impactful (and, might I add, deceased) men in their lives – not to mention an apparently pathological attraction to Bond.
So, yes, Spectre is not exactly as great as returning director Sam Mendes’ previous film Skyfall. It’s possibly just slightly above Quantum of Solace in terms of quality, and some people really didn’t like that one, either. Some might even say it’s the superior film, given the strained environment in which it was produced. The story and character developments are sometimes quite preposterous, and the Bond Girls underwhelming as characters, and the attempts to include some parallel to the real world issues of drone strikes and national security are halfhearted, at best… Heck, Sam Smith’s falsetto-laden theme song is at once an annoying earworm that will stick with you for days that also somehow works perfectly over the disturbing, tentacle-laden opening credits, which aren’t great but are definitely visually… well, interesting.
And yet I still feel like this film is still worthy of being considered a generally good action flick and Bond film. It is paced very well (initial viewings may seem slow, but I can confirm that the second time around is much more brisk), the action is genuinely riveting, and the look is also visually fantastic, with Mendes making good use of the locations and integrating the action scenes into them. And while not all the cast members have a lot to do, none are bad, and many of them are a pleasure to watch, Daniel Craig and Christoph Waltz being the appropriate highlights. Spectre isn’t Bond in his prime, but it’s still pretty damn good at what it does, all the same.
The Viewer’s Commentary Rating: 3.5 / 5