SPECTRE review by Mark Walters – Bond is back, and pretty by the numbers

SPECTRE review by Mark Walters – Bond is back, and pretty by the numbers

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Full disclosure, I’m a huge James Bond fan, so much so I’ve beat even the most cocky 007 lovers in spur of the moment trivia contests. I love the character, love the films, love everything about it. I’ve also said before even an “average” James Bond film can still be a pleasure to watch. After the enormous success of Daniel Craig’s last Bond outing SKYFALL, it’s safe to say the bar had been set pretty high for whatever would come next. Director Sam Mendes returns for the latest installment, SPECTRE, which introduces (or rather re-introduces) an evil organization made famous in the older 007 outings… only this time it’s used to tie together the events of Craig’s first three Bond adventures, and giving our hero a villain that’s intended to be more of a puppet master of sorts. As ambitious as all of that may sound, the end result is actually rather ordinary.

Our story this time opens in Mexico City during the Day of the Dead celebration, with Bond (Daniel Craig) taking out a terrorist threat. A rather spectacular helicopter fight completes the opening sequence, which oddly ends without a big finish. Thankfully this takes us into one of the best ever opening credit sequences of any 007 film, despite the polarizing Sam Smith tune is accompanies. Once Bond is back in London, we realize his little mission was not sanctioned by MI:6, and M (Ralph Fiennes) is particularly displeased as he’s in the middle of a somewhat forced merger with a new security division of the British Government run by a man called “C” (Andrew Scott). This new partnership means all spy activities will be ceased without the new agency’s approval, and men like Bond will no longer be able to do what they do best. Q (Ben Whishaw) injects 007 with a smart blood of sorts to keep track of his location, and we see their relationship is becoming more buddy-buddy in this outing. Moneypenny (Naomie Harris) presents Bond with some leftover papers from the destroyed Skyfall estate (if you forgot, it was the blown up mansion where 007 grew up from the previous film), including a photo that shows James with his foster father and another young man that can’t be made out in the picture. Bond goes to visit the widow of his Mexico target, Lucia (Monica Bellucci), who gives him a lead to follow up on. This takes 007 to a secret society meeting in an elaborate complex, filled with shadowy figures plotting God-knows-what. Their leader enters and sits at the head of the table, quietly overseeing the nefarious planning. Also entering the room is the silent and hulking Mr. Hinx (Dave Bautista), who quickly shows why he’s the most capable assassin for their next mission. The man at the table head, Oberhauser (Christoph Waltz), singles out and welcomes Bond to the room, who then rushes out of the building leading to an exciting car chase sequence. Eventually 007 finds his old pal Mr. White (Jesper Christensen from CASINO ROYALE and QUANTUM OF SOLACE), who tells Bond to find his daughter that is in hiding, and to protect her. This leads our hero to Madeleine Swann (Léa Seydoux), who has information on the secret organization revealed as “Spectre.” Bond must do his best to keep her alive, fulfilling his promise to Mr. White, and finding a way to bring down Oberhauser’s group. And doing this under the table isn’t easy with the new security organization back in London trying to watch his every move.

Most 007 films follow a pretty standard formula, to the point of where there’s almost no surprises to be had anymore. But let’s face it, we watch James Bond adventures because we like seeing James Bond go on an adventure. You know the outcome, it’s about the journey getting there. That said, SPECTRE takes you on all the standard routes, yet never seems to find any special charm and unique qualities along the way. It’s just Bond by the numbers, with some slightly-sloppy fan service mixed in. SKYFALL was in many ways a perfect 007 film to redefine the character for a new era, but it was so good that now whatever comes next is pretty much doomed to pale by comparison. Craig is still interesting and fun as the character, a little more lighthearted than normal here, but the script just lacks the needed punch to make the film resonate. Everything plays out just a little weaker than we’d like it too, starting with the opening action scene that has no big finale. We do get the somewhat interesting idea of MI:6 becoming obsolete and having to surrender control to a new division, but even that plot thread only scratches the surface of a level it could have gone to.

SPECTRE isn’t a bad James Bond film, it’s just sort of an ordinary one that’s trying to act like it’s something more. There’s a few twists throughout, including one that feels like something right out of STAR TREK INTO DARKNESS, but this is not a 007 outing I can imagine wanting to sit through again anytime soon. In fact I dare say it’s the sort of Bond film I would eventually be fast-forwarding through just to watch select scenes rather than take it in from start to finish. There are some great moments though, like a sleek car chase in Bond’s newest Aston Martin where nothing seems to go right, or a brutal fight on board a train that rivals the brilliant brawl in FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE.

Dave Bautista is a nice henchman presence, definitely in the vein of Oddjob or Jaws, and feels like the only really dangerous threat to our hero. He also has what is perhaps one of the most disturbing character introductions in any 007 film, pushing the boundaries of the PG-13 rating – don’t be surprised if you find yourself looking away when that scene happens. Lea Seydoux is adequate as the lead Bond girl, but there’s not much weight to her character within the story, more like she’s just along for the ride. Chrisoph Waltz actually feels a little downplayed as the villain, and his motivations seems a little simple and childish within the grand scheme of things. The best performances this time come from Ben Whishaw as Q and Ralph Fiennes as M, both in their second turn with those roles. They each manage to find terrific moments with their characters, and are given more screen time than fans might be expecting, especially based on the last film. And Naomie Harris is also great as Moneypenny, though her involvement with Bond is never office-bound this time out, rather kept to brief interactions out in the field. One of the most underwritten and wasted roles is Andrew Scott as C, a character that should have had a much meatier involvement in the story, but instead comes off like a simple plot device and side note. The highly-hyped appearance of Monica Bellucci is also all too brief, similar to Teri Hatcher’s near-cameo in TOMORROW NEVER DIES, which was also hyped up heavily before that film’s release. While Lea Seydoux wasn’t bad, I think Bellucci would have made for a more interesting leading lady in this story. As for Daniel Craig, I wouldn’t say he’s sleepwalking through the role, but it also doesn’t feel like he’s embracing it that much either. There’s been several rumors within the press circles that Craig is tired of playing the character, and perhaps (if that’s true) it’s starting to show in his performance, as unlike SKYFALL he doesn’t really appear to be giving 110% this time around.

Sam Mendes reportedly didn’t want to come back initially for a second film as director, and maybe that explains why even the look of SPECTRE seems like it’s on cruise control as well. The few exotic locations in the story are never shown with a breathtaking lens, but rather just introduced as a backdrop and almost as quickly forgotten. Some have argued that the first half of the movie is more solid than the second, and I would tend to agree with that. Even Thomas Newman’s score just feels like it’s borrowing from his work on the previous outing in a lazy way. In the end, SPECTRE isn’t completely terrible, but it is rather routine. At this point James Bond films are a tricky venture, as there’s not much you can show audiences they haven’t seen before, it’s more about how you show it… and the presentation here is just a tad lacking for my taste. My final word on the subject would be a recommendation that you revisit the previous Craig outings before seeing this one, as this works best as a companion piece for those other films, and definitely references them on more than a few occasions.

SPECTRE opens on November 6, 2015

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About the Author

Born and raised in Dallas, Mark has been a movie critic since 1994, with reviews featured in print, radio and National TV. In 2001 he started the Entertainment section of the Herorealm website, where he contributed film reviews and celebrity interviews until 2004. After three years of service there, he started Bigfanboy.com, which has become one of the Dallas film community's leading information websites. Bigfanboy hosts several movie screenings in the Texas area, and works closely with film and TV studios and promotional partners to host exciting events and contests. The site also features a variety of rare celebrity and filmmaker interviews, and Bigfanboy.com regularly covers the film festival circuit as well. In addition to Hollywood reporting, Mark has worked for many years as an advertising and sci-fi/comic book artist. Clients have included Lucasfilm Ltd., Topps Trading Cards, The Dallas Mavericks and The Dallas Stars. From 2002 until 2015 he managed the Dallas Comic Con, Sci-Fi Expo and Fan Days events in the DFW area. He currently catalogs rare comic books and movie memorabilia for Heritage Auctions, and runs the Dallas Comic Show conventions, but remains an avid moviegoer and cinema buff.