REVIEW: Spectre [2015]

Score: 6/10 | ★ ★ ½

Rating: PG-13 | Runtime: 148 minutes | Release Date: October 26th, 2015 (UK)
Studio: Sony Pictures Releasing / Columbia Pictures
Director(s): Sam Mendes
Writer(s): John Logan and Neal Purvis & Robert Wade and Jez Butterworth /
John Logan and Neal Purvis & Robert Wade (story) / Ian Fleming (characters)

“You’re a kite dancing in a hurricane, Mr. Bond”

Remember that badass organization known as Quantum the deliciously vile Mr. White (Jesper Christensen) ran to terrorize James Bond (Daniel Craig) for two films? How about rogue former 00-program pledge Silva (Javier Bardem) wreaking havoc throughout London due a personal vendetta against MI6? They both made for entertaining villains in this rebooted saga with a grittier Bond—each helping bridge the cheese of its predecessors and the new-look superhero darkness Hollywood had embraced at the start of this century. What reason would there be to render them mere pawns now? Why would the Broccolis, et al. decide—in their words—to do some “minor” ret-conning for a supposedly more formidable puppet-master pulling strings? The over-exuberance in finally being able to legally use the word Spectre again, of course.

The new Bond is 148-minutes of fan service. Unfortunately for me: I’m not a die-hard. I’ve never seen an installment before Die Another Day so I don’t know what S.P.E.C.T.R.E. or Spectre is let alone who should or shouldn’t be at the helm. So forcing it into an already existing storyline that’s spanned almost ten years is a grave error. John Logan, Neal Purvis, Robert Wade, and Jez Butterworth could have written their script as an introduction to a new syndicate—Spectre taking over where Quantum failed instead of deciding to be cute by geeking out on the 2013 court settlement with Kevin McClory‘s estate. It’s one thing if they alluded to a bigger bad in anticipation of this rights switch. But they most certainly didn’t.

What they’ve done is belittle the evil, amoral dealings of a character I really enjoyed in Mr. White. This guy was an intelligent sociopath who formed a meaningful, adversarial relationship with Bond that worked. The storyline was left in the air during the Casino Royale epilogue (expanded into a lacking feature film) known as Quantum of Solace and Skyfall arrived to dig into the emotional and psychological ramifications of spy life as a stand-alone entry to bring together a 00-team resembling the one of old with M (Ralph Fiennes), Q (Ben Whishaw) and Moneypenny (Naomie Harris) ready to go. There’s no reason to therefore go backwards and erase the good Casino Royale and Skyfall built by neutering their baddies in lieu of syndicate master Franz Oberhauser (Christoph Waltz).

Doing this makes Spectre a bit of a greatest hits pastiche taking what worked before and hurriedly cobbling it all together. You have the genius villain in Waltz’s Oberhauser chewing scenery like only he can similar to Mr. White (Silva was field-trained so I don’t count him); revelations into Bond’s past like Skyfall‘s glimpse beneath the surface; and more. Whereas the former examples felt fresh, they feel forced this time around. It’s too bad because Sam Mendes does a good job directing with cinematographer Hoyte Van Hoytema—who isn’t Roger Deakins—proving he’s no slouch either. The fight scenes are great (Dave Baustista‘s Mr. Hinx adding welcome brute physicality), the opening helicopter fiasco captured with scale, and the quieter moments full of atmosphere. It’s a technical success.

It may be a story success too if I could get around its repurposing of the past, but I can’t knowing they didn’t have to go this route. We were “cautioned” at our screening not to divulge any spoilers so I won’t go into details on what could have been changed—any twists/spoilers have nothing to do with the plot anyway and really only occur to put smiles on fans’ faces—but Oberhauser and the rest work better as independent entities throwing their hats in the espionage ring. There’s enough intrigue with the dual drama in the field (Bond vs Oberhauser) and London (M vs Andrew Scott‘s upstart Intelligence operative C trying to dismantle the 00-program for digital surveillance) to succeed as a brand new chapter.

The same goes with new love interest Madeleine Swann (Léa Seydoux). Her backstory cutely fits in the mythology the filmmakers want to replace everything with, but it’s simply that: cute. Regardless, though, her character is worthwhile in that she isn’t merely a sexpot who cannot take care of herself. In this way she’s like Vesper Lynd and Camille before her—and it’s not like we don’t also get Miss Bala‘s Stephanie Sigman slumming it for two minutes and Monica Bellucci for five to fill the pure sexuality role. Seydoux’s Madeleine has the credentials and smarts to one-up Bond and the skills/mind-set to get her hands dirty when necessary. She understands what a relationship with a hired assassin entails and her decisions evolve from that truth.

In the end Spectre is like every Bond film: pure, unadulterated entertainment. Some are better than others (Casino Royale‘s intense bottle episode or Skyfall‘s gorgeous visuals and darkly dramatic street fight) and some worse. I put this one in the middle. Everything happening is in service of its reveals, most of it is rendered moot, and way too much time and effort is spent making pieces fit instead of moving forward. But it’s fun, funny, action-packed, and full of explosions. Also over-long like usual, I can’t say I was bored. My underwhelming reaction despite it delivering its promise of spectacle stemmed from disappointment. Skyfall surprised by showing how out-of-the-box the series could go. Spectre reminds that fans would rather stick with the familiar no matter how clunky or empty.

[1] Daniel Craig stars as James Bond in Sony Pictures’ Spectre (2015)
[2] Lea Seydoux stars as Madeleine Swann in Sony Pictures’ Spectre (2015)
[3] Christoph Waltz stars as Franz Oberhauser in Sony Pictures’ Spectre (2015)

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