15
Nov
15

A Spectre of My Former Self (James Bond 24)

Daniel Craig returns as Ian Fleming’s James Bond in Spectre, the latest in the long-running film series. After the incredible highs of the previous film, Skyfall, people were eager for the follow-up. And since the same writers, director, producers, and star were returning, it had to be great, right? Right?

Unfortunately, Spectre rehashes the same ground that was tread in the previous film, and does so with less finesse. While it certainly has fantastic action, the rest of the film comes away as forced, leaving us with a middling Bond film.

I’m going to make a lot of references to Skyfall in this review of Spectre. Since pretty much the entire crew came back for the sequel, I think it’s fair to do so. There was a lot to dissect in the latest Bond outing, so I’m going to break down my thoughts into three categories.

The Good

I was immediately pleased to see the opening gun barrel scene at, you know, the opening, after two films shunted it to the end.

As has been the case for all of Craig’s Bond films, the action scenes in Spectre are top-notch. The most incredible takes place during the pre-title sequence. Bond is thrust into the crush of people in Mexico City’s wild Day of the Dead parade. He takes out some bad guys, and gets caught on a helicopter which is careening out of control. The loop-de-loops were thrilling, and the visuals of the holiday festivities alone were worth the price of admission. Bond looked cool as hell in the skeleton outfit he dons in the opening minutes.

Ralph Fiennes, Ben Whishaw, and Naomie Harris all reprise their roles as M, Q, and Moneypenny, respectively. Their familiar faces were welcome, and each of them turn in a good performance as Bond’s indispensable team. Spectre gives them a little more to do than the usual Bond movie, which was refreshing. Since these are bigger-name talents, I would expect more of the same in the future.

The car chase was excellent. It wasn’t the typical Bond car chase scene, and I won’t give away why for risk of ruining the fun of it. It was without a doubt the second best scene in the movie (with the pre-title sequence as the best). The only quibble I had was it was a tad on the short side, but otherwise it’s hard to complain about this one.

Craig’s performance as Bond is once again completely captivating. He is the best Bond since Sean Connery, and he absolutely owns the role. He has the charisma and screen presence necessary to lead the film. He has the physicality to lend credence to the fight scenes, which is important in today’s cinema (and something we were sorely missing from the last few Bond actors). He also has the charm and wit to make light of certain situations when they start to steer into the preposterous. I wish he had a few more quips like Connery and Roger Moore, but I’m not complaining. Craig is fantastic in the role.

Finally, Bond seems to be having fun this time around. The number one complaint leveled at the Craig era was that Bond is too serious. They rectified that for the first half of the film, but messed with the formula for the second half, which is when things went down hill.

The Bad

Roger Deakins, the cinematographer for Skyfall didn’t return for Spectre, and that was a damn shame. Skyfall had incredible visual flair in its colors and landscapes. In motion, you could tell you were watching something special. Spectre, unfortunately, has none of that. It is lensed by Hoyte van Hoytema, who certainly wins the Redundancy Award for Name Redundancy. He brings nothing special to the film. Everything is washed in dirty browns. Mexico City is dusty brown, Rome is brown, Tunisia is brown, the train is brown, and Bond and Hinx wear brown suits. When things aren’t brown, they’re black. The only exception is white snow in Austria, but I imagine van Hoytema wanted that to be brown, too. Spectre has a muddy color palette, it’s drab, and altogether boring in appearance.

Skyfall was interesting because we caught a glimpse into Bond’s history. We know almost next to nothing about him, which hasn’t been a problem for the first 50 years of the franchise. But in that film we saw where he grew up, and learned about his strained relationship with his past. It was a glimpse, though. Just enough to be interesting, but not beat us over the head with it. Spectre continues that trend. We learn even more about Bond’s past, and we learn about his relationship with the film’s villain. In Spectre, we are just rehashing what worked in Skyfall, only this time around it doesn’t work. It comes across as phony and unearned. Everything is too convenient. Two introspective character studies in a row doesn’t work for this franchise. They would have been better off playing it straight this time.

Mr. Hinx, played by Dave Bautista, is Blofeld’s gigantic henchman. Seriously, this guy is a behemoth. He dwarfs Craig, who is a pretty big guy himself. Hinx gives Bond a beating on a train, in what turns out to be a fun fight scene. Hinx made for an intimidating bad guy, along the lines of Jaws. It’s too bad that he was dispatched so quickly. While we technically didn’t see him die, the manner in which he was sent off makes it hard to believe he wasn’t killed. I honestly wouldn’t mind him returning for a future film. Also, as a Bond villain, Hinx has a unique characteristic. He had metal thumbnails (stay with me here, people), that he uses to stab out people’s eyes. He does this precisely once. He doesn’t use it again, not even during his fight with Bond. That was a missed opportunity.

Christoph Waltz plays the villain, Ernst Stavro Blofeld, without any dramatic weight. He turns in his typical performance, smirking and laughing goofily in between his attempts at completely straight-faced seriousness. I actually don’t mind Waltz. He was brilliant as the villain in Inglourious Basterds, but he was great precisely for the reasons I mentioned above. That same take doesn’t work for Blofeld. Blofeld is a super-serious guy with a one-track mind: world domination. He’s a cartoonish supervillain, not – well, not whatever he was in Spectre.

Lea Seydoux plays the Bond girl. She’s a doctor for some reason. She’s an expert marksman, too, although she only fires a single round, at point-blank range, at hits the bad guy in the arm. She isn’t as bad as she was in Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol, but her acting really hasn’t improved much. She’s basically an attractive piece of driftwood in this movie. The smarter choice would have been to make Monica Belluci the main Bond girl for this film, since she’s a far better actress, and is age-appropriate for Craig. You don’t even get the sense Bond even likes Seydoux’s character, rather he’s just killing time with her because she’s willing.

The James Bond film series has one of the most iconic theme songs of all time. It’s fun and instantly recognizable. In the past, any time Bond did something cool or exciting, you’d hear bits of it trumpet in the soundtrack. For some unknown reason, in Craig’s era, the filmmakers are deathly afraid to use it. There are a few bars in the beginning and then at the end. It appears nowhere else, and this film is the one that uses it more than any since Craig donned the tuxedo. What is wrong with these filmmakers? They shouldn’t be afraid to be more liberal with one of the greatest theme songs ever composed.

The Ugly

The opening song “Writing’s on the Wall” by Sam Smith is dreadful. All of Smith’s songs are whiny rants about how he is lonely and can’t find true love. So, what happened when he wrote/sang the opening song for Spectre? He brought a whiny rant about how Bond is lonely and can’t find true love. I’m sorry, but that just doesn’t fly. In real life, Bond would definitely be broken, and would lament how he can’t find true love on account of him being a sociopathic womanizer. But Bond isn’t real life, Bond is fantasy. Bond of the films kills bad guys, saves the world, and sleeps with chicks. He’s larger than life, not a sad-sack. This song is the antithesis of Bond. Smith was the worst artist they could have picked, and he has contributed the worst Bond theme song in the history of the franchise.

Blofeld is someone Bond has been fighting since Connery’s days. He is the most memorable Bond villain, and has been parodied to death in popular culture (Dr. Evil being the most obvious). But the thing is, they killed Blofeld in For Your Eyes Only. And now, he’s back to life. OK, big deal, right? I mean, it’s not as if the Bond films are exactly known for their continuity. But while before he was a megalomaniac bent on world domination, here he is a villain from Bond’s childhood. Yes, you read that correctly. Blofeld is actually Bond’s older adoptive brother. After Bond’s parents were killed, he lived with Blofeld. And now, for no reason at all, Blofeld is the head of a worldwide evil organization. Like I said before, it’s way too convenient. It’s supposed to make it all the more emotionally investing, but as an audience member, I felt nothing. Spectre didn’t earn any emotional payoff from this big reveal. It’s not like we saw them grow up together, or saw one betray the other. Blofeld didn’t even do anything to Bond on-screen to make us hate him. We’re just supposed to “feel Bond’s pain” even though the movie gives us no tangible reason to do so.

While we’re on the subject of Blofeld, what was his evil plan this time around? Actually, he doesn’t have one. Usually, Blofeld’s organization, SPECTRE, is holding the world ransom with nuclear weapons or something. This time around, they aren’t doing anything. Blofled is installing a worldwide surveillance system in all corners of the globe, and — that’s about it. Nothing else. No nefarious plan. Bond tracks Blofeld down on his own volition without any threat beforehand. It’s like he caught Blofeld in between plots to take over the world. SPECTRE, for as evil as it is supposed to be, is actually not doing anything particularly evil.

There’s a scene where Blofeld tortures Bond (he had 30 years to kill Bond and he just now decides to do it because, what, he suddenly doesn’t like him?), and we’re supposed to think he’s been blinded or killed. But the Bond girl tells him she loves him, and he turns out to be fine. Um, was the power of love his saving grace? Also, how does she love him, they’ve only been together for, like, three days? Cheesy.

The finale felt really generic. They’re back in London, which seems to be an unfortunate retread of taking Bond to Scotland for the finale of Skyfall. Anyway, they’re in London, and Bond has to save the girl from an exploding building and stop Blofeld at the same time. He does, of course, and manages to shoot down Blofeld’s helicopter with his pistol (*facepalm*), and then arrests Blofeld in the most contrived manner possible.

Summary

The actions scenes, Craig, and the supporting cast are all faultless in Spectre. The bad stuff is what happened behind the camera.

Spectre started out good. I’d say the first half was excellent. I thought, “Hey, this is really good, it’s not awesome, but it’s a solid entry into the Bond series.” But then, around the time Bond arrives in Austria, shit starts to go down hill, and it does so rather quickly. You get the sense that they had a certain movie in mind, and then changed their minds halfway through production. It was supposed to be a return to form for Bond, heavy on the pulpy aspects (explosions, martinis, girls), and light on the shit dealing with Bond’s psyche.

Director Sam Mendes is probably most at fault here. He had such success with Skyfall, he wanted to replicate that with Spectre. Too bad nobody cares all that much about Bond’s inner turmoil. People love Bond because, through him, they get to live a lavish, impossible lifestyle. It’s not like in reality anyone is going to sleep with a widow just after they personally killed her husband.

That kind of stuff makes Bond great, and they were going with it for a while. But then they decided to bring in Bond’s history, with a villain who doesn’t quit fit. Blofeld is the square peg and Bond’s past is the round hole. You can’t always tie everything together neatly, even though they sure as hell tried.

Next time, let’s hire a new director with a new style, and just bring things back to basics. I hope that next time, Craig’s final outing as 007, will be a memorable one.

Verdict: Average

My other James Bond posts:

James Bond Pre-Title Sequences, Ranked

The Sky is Falling (James Bond 23)

Movies > Books: Casino Royale

Bond…James Bond 15-22

Bond…James Bond 8-14

Bond…James Bond 1-7

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14 Responses to “A Spectre of My Former Self (James Bond 24)”


  1. 1 Dober
    November 17, 2015 at 10:09 am

    And since the same writers, director, producers, and star were returning, it had to be great, right? Right?

    Exactly my thoughts. I went to the cinema yesterday totally pumped and left it disappointed. Spectre unfortunately falls short in comparison to Skyfall. I would like to complain about the movie in the comments but I agree with your review so much that I don’t even have to add something. Maybe one thing: Lea Seydoux annoyed the shit out of me with her childish behavior during the movie. Fucking bitch.

    • November 18, 2015 at 8:46 am

      Disappointing is a great word to describe this movie. Especially compared to the one that came before. It doesn’t even seem like the same people made this one. What a waste.

      • 3 Dober
        November 18, 2015 at 11:01 am

        brik, when I’ve read this sentence of your review:

        Roger Deakins, the cinematographer for Skyfall didn’t return for Spectre, and that was a damn shame.

        I immediately thought about the well choreographed fight scene in Shanghai. Bond vs this Patrice guy after he assassinated his target. When the scene is filled with blue light and you only see the silhouettes of Bond and him fighting from a distance. I waited for a scene with such an impact like this one the entire movie. 😦

  2. November 17, 2015 at 5:47 pm

    This film sucked balls. My review is up on Monday. Love your description of Hoyte van Hoytema. Brilliant.

  3. 6 Paragraph Film Reviews
    November 18, 2015 at 5:31 am

    Agree with pretty much everything above. I feel like this was an unused 50th/Skyfall script that aimed at celebrating the best of 50 years of Bond, and tie up the ‘reboot’ films – but coming after Skyfall it just didn’t wash. Don’t like how it made Quantum pretty much redundant, and don’t like how BOND AND BLOFELD NOW GREW UP TOGETHER. FFS.

    I also hope that this isn’t Craig’s last shot at it, as he’s a great Bond and this would be a pretty poor send off.

    • November 18, 2015 at 8:45 am

      I totally agree. It seemed like they cobbled together unused scraps from better Bond films. Yeah, and the Bond/Blofeld angle totally sucks. I haven’t seen a single review that thought it was a good idea. What were they thinking?!

      • 8 Dober
        November 18, 2015 at 10:49 am

        The thing is: it’s totally irrelevant if Waltz was Blofeld or not. It had no impact on the plot. His name is irrelevant. It’s shitty fan service. Whoooah look they built a connection to earlier Bonds and the main Bond villain for decades now got background with Bond. What a great idea whoooah.

  4. 9 Umney
    January 22, 2016 at 8:01 pm

    Quantum of Solace is a saint, you here me! A saint!


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