REVIEW: Spectre (2015)

Is this a James Bond adventure worth taking? Cal finally catches up with the superspy to give us his verdict…

After the disappointment of Die Another Day in 2002, the producers of the long-running James Bond franchise realised that they could not keep sticking to the pre-established formula, instead opting to hit the reset button for 2006’s Casino Royale. However, they stopped short of actually finding something distinctively new for the series to become in order for it to be as unique and exciting as it was back when it started. Instead, the franchise is now more concerned with aping whatever is popular and successful at any given time. Royale is a visible clone of Christopher Nolan’s Batman Begins, Quantum of Solace was a Jason Bourne movie, Skyfall went back to the Nolan approach, and now Spectre is a Marvel movie. More specifically, Spectre is Captain America: The Winter Soldier, though the narrative also bears astonishing similarities to the far superior Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation. Once again helmed by Sam Mendes (Skyfall), Spectre may not be an irredeemable disaster, but it does fall towards the lower end of the Bond spectrum; a dull as hell action flick suffering from some of the worst plotting in 007 history.

It is a tense time for MI6, with the proposed merger with MI5 threatening to eliminate the “00” program in favour of employing high-tech surveillance techniques. MI6 is therefore under some intense scrutiny, putting M (Ralph Fiennes) on edge, who’s keen to keep James Bond (Daniel Craig) on a tight leash after a destructive stunt in Mexico City. Setting off on a personal quest without permission, Bond seeks out old foe Mr. White (Jesper Christensen), who has information about a shady organisation known as Spectre, led by a certain Franz Oberhauser (Christoph Waltz). Travelling to Austria, Bond meets with Madeleine Swan (Léa Seydoux), Mr. White’s daughter, who has ties to Spectre’s history. Back in London, M, Q (Ben Whishaw) and Moneypenny (Naomie Harris) are left to deal with all the bureaucratic business, with M wanting to bring Bond back in, but evidence comes to light that 007 may be onto something.

It’s difficult to cover the gaping flaws of Spectre’s moronic plotting without divulging spoilers, even though most/all of the surprises were either given away or strongly hinted at in the trailers in the first place, and the “twists” aren’t nearly as exciting as the movie wants them to be. Nevertheless, a spoiler warning is in place.

Even though Spectre does incorporate elements of the long-running James Bond formula – with some gadgets, the gun barrel opening, an old-school henchman (Dave Bautista), and a beautiful love interest for Bond – the movie is still reluctant to return to the franchise’s status quo, with Spectre being another needlessly personal mission for 007. This series doesn’t need such convoluted rubbish to justify action sequences, since killing people and wreaking havoc is literally Bond’s 9-5 workday! He gets paid to travel to exotic locations and kill a bunch of bad guys, therefore the story doesn’t need to be a personal vendetta, and if they had to do this sort of thing, can they at least put in some fucking effort? Worse, Spectre is not a standalone adventure. Whereas you could practically watch any other James Bond film out of order, this twenty-fourth instalment requires intimate knowledge of the last three movies, making it a 007 film only for franchise aficionados. You would think the producers would have recognised the foolishness of this approach after Quantum of Solace.

Following on from Skyfall and digging further into Bond’s past, Spectre reveals that Oberhauser is the secret agent’s brother, but this daft development only triggers Austin Powers flashbacks. (Except all three Austin Powers movies are much, much better than this garbage.) Worse, Oberhauser murders his father, becomes a global super-villain, and decides to set his crosshairs on Bond simply because his father loved James more than him. Oh, boo hoo! Also, yes, Spectre pulls a Star Trek Into Darkness on us; Oberhauser is the iconic franchise villain Ernst Stavro Blofeld, having changed his name after staging his death. But it makes no fucking sense for Oberhauser to choose to be called Blofeld, because the moniker has absolutely no bearing on the context of this particular story – Oberhauser just picked it out of a clear blue fucking sky.

Marvel-esque world-building has become the order of the day in recent years, and it’s clear that MGM has taken note. Thus, Spectre wants its largely humdrum events to have the same kind of plot-threads-coalescing weight of the Avengers films, but they try to achieve it after-the-fact, without having actually done any of the prep work. In the most contrived way possible, Spectre ties together the events and villains of the last three instalments by revealing that Blofeld was responsible for everything, lurking behind the curtain and pulling the strings in secret. Problem is, this doesn’t actually make any logical sense in the context of the previous movies. It doesn’t even make sense in this context, given what his supposed endgame is.

Despite a gargantuan $245 million production budget, Spectre is not a particularly exciting or involving motion picture. The opening sequence in Mexico City is admittedly well-staged, but the succeeding action beats are strangely sedate, failing to raise the pulse. A car chase between Bond and Hinx has to be one of the most bland and uneventful vehicular pursuits in cinematic history, while a chase involving a plane and some cars is a total snoozer, which is a real surprise given director Mendes’ past experience. Naturally, the film does look good, especially with the lush, stylish cinematography courtesy of Hoyte van Hoytema (Interstellar), and the sumptuous accompanying score by Thomas Newman, but such surface pleasures ultimately add up to very little. Despite being a watchable motion picture, there’s no danger, dread or intensity, with vanilla, determinedly bloodless violence, and romantic/sex scenes that feel bland and perfunctory.

This is Craig’s fourth go-round as James Bond, but he’s clearly phoning this one in. Craig spent the press tour for Spectre whining non-stop about how much he dislikes playing Bond, despite the enormous paydays he keeps scoring (when was the last time Craig headlined a film outside of Bond that was actually successful?). Waltz is a formidable villain, but his screen-time is seriously limited, while the well-publicised appearance of Monica Bellucci amounts to precisely nothing. Seriously, Bellucci is in the movie for less than five-minutes, and could have easily been cut from the finished film. The only one who seems to care here is Bautista as a silent, deadly assassin. Also worthwhile is Sherlock actor Andrew Scott, who makes a positive impression as a rising British Secret Service leader. Meanwhile, the usual players do their jobs well enough, with Fiennes, Whishaw and Harris all perfectly acceptable as Bond’s colleagues.

Spectre is plagued with serious issues, from its studiously forgettable main title song by Sam Smith (set to a laughably naff title sequence) to its underwhelming action scenes. There aren’t even any memorable one-liners. It has been nine years since Casino Royale, and the 007 series is already in need of another major rethink.

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