IN CINEMAS NOW
RUNNING TIME: 148 min
REVIEWED BY: Dr Lenera, Official HCF Critic
A cryptic message from the previous M sends James Bond on a rogue mission to Mexico City where he stops two men from blowing up a stadium and takes a ring from one of them. Disobeying the orders of the new M, who is caught in a power struggle with forces who want to create a new and ‘updated’ intelligence service and close down the ‘00’ section, Bond goes to Rome where he meets Lucia, the widow of one of the men he killed in Mexico and infiltrates a secret meeting held by the sinister criminal orgainsation SPECTRE. Bond covertly enlists Moneypenny and Q to help him seek out Madeleine Swann, the daughter of his old nemesis Mr White, who may hold the clue to untangling the web of SPECTRE….
I haven’t read any reviews of Spectre yet – I don’t like to be too influenced by other reviewers even if they can usually do a better job – but I reckon that some of them [and I have read articles about the film which pretty much do this] may begin with something like “How do you follow Skyfall”? I do have a feeling that the general critical consensus is that it’s very good, but not quite up there with the “superb” Skyfall. Actually, I was rather underwhelmed by Skyfall [though it was a masterpiece compared with Quantum Of Suckage], for reasons you can find in my review for that film. Two successive viewings told me that maybe I was slightly harsh on it, but its flaws – confused plotting, paucity of thrills, a nagging sense that Sam Mendes wanted to make a Sam Mendes film rather than a Bond film – along with many others, still stuck out like a sore thumb. This does not seem to be the majority opinion, though go on to any James Bond discussion forum or even the IMDB and you’ll find many fans [of which I certainly count myself one] who are a bit bewildered by the adulation of Skyfall, despite the many pleasures which it provided.
Spectre for me tops Skyfall, though I don’t think it quite matches Daniel Craig’s first Bond outing Casino Royale. That film managed to feel fresh while being pure Bond through and through. Spectre doesn’t feel very fresh, but it is continuously entertaining and the two and a half hour [the longest duration of a Bond film] running time flies by. While Skyfall made slight moves in that direction, Spectre is very much an older style Bond film, evoking not just the Pierce Brosnan era but even the Roger Moore one too, and, though it’s rather fashionable to look down on those films [because, you know, being realistic and gritty is where it’s at, apparently, with regard to Bond], I think it’s nice to see the series set out to just have lots of fun again, and to see Craig lighten up [he smiles throughout this one]. He even talks to a rat, something that wouldn’t have been dreamed of when the Craig era begun, though generally Spectre stops short of Moonraker-style silliness. Spectre continually recalls earlier films, from On Her Majesty’s Secret Service’s snow clinic to The Man With The Golden Gun’s funhouse, while it’s been so long since we’ve had things like an underground lair or a fight in a train. It’s also structurally quite repetitive, but is never dull and its plot has its interesting elements while not trying to deviate from formula too much.
Spectre opens brilliantly with a lengthy tracking shot that begins high above the heads of a Mexico City Day of the Dead parade before zeroing in on a skull-masked 007, following him as he weaves in and out of the legions of ghoulishly made-up revellers, up stairs, down hallways and out onto a ledge where Bond walks briskly and nonchalantly across precarious rooftops in a great moment that screams Bond. The action proper begins with Bond falling through the roof of a collapsing building and sliding down masonry several times, finally landing on a conveniently placed sofa. Is that some smirking from Craig that I see here? Yes, it is, but rather more jolting is some poor green screen work, though considering that Spectre is, in part, one big nostalgia trip, you could almost say that it adds to the fun if you recall that poor green screen work has almost been part and parcel of the 007 experience since Bond and Tatiana on that gondola in From Russia With Love. This is followed though by a truly thrilling fight in a careering helicopter and this fan was almost in Bond heaven…until it was succeeded by that horrendously written [in twenty minutes?….yes it shows] and performed [the falsetto and Sam’s “’turning of some one syllable words into ten syllable words” is almost unbearable to my ears] The Writing’s On The Wall, a boring, dreary, whimpish song I’ve now had the misfortune to hear three times [the fact that it’s number one just tells you the dire state of pop music today]. Mind you, Daniel Kleinman’s titles almost match it, being very lacklustre and mostly lacking in imagination.
Nonetheless, for around two thirds of the rest of the running time Spectre comes off very well indeed, though I sighed at writers Neal Purvis and Robert Wade having 007 go rogue yet again, and seeming to question the relevance of 007 before making the obvious conclusion. Nonetheless the subplot involving the secret service being taken over by a group which thinks humans are obsolete and thinks that surveillance of everything is the way to do security is very timely, and there’s even a reference to drones. Judi Dench makes a nice little appearance, then Bond is quickly off to Rome, these scenes especially lushly photographed by cinematographer Hoyte Van Hoytem, who does a fine job throughout despite not quite matching Roger Deakin’s work on Skyfall [one of it’s greatest assets], and it’s here we meet the 51 year old and still stunning Monica Bellucci, but, despite publicity leading one to believe, as with a similar character in Skyfall, that her role would be substantial, she’s only in the thing for about five minutes. All this fuss about this film having the only Bond girl to be older than the man playing James Bond since Goldfinger, and she’s hardly bloody in it, though I do believe some of her scenes were cut.
Anyway, never mind, Bond soon infiltrates a secret meeting in a scene full of brooding menace, where we see the main villain and his closest aides only in shadow but do have the chief henchperson make a very memorable entrance, then gets involved in a car chase where we really are in Moore-land when a slow vehicle blocks Bond’s progress, though it’s nice to see half the gadgets in Bond’s car not work for a change. Then it’s off to Austria, Tangiers and finally back in London in a film which quite early on settles into a repetitious structure of; Bond goes somewhere, finds out something, takes part in a big action scene, then goes somewhere else. The film is just a tad disjointed, but the chases and fights, which include a snow pursuit involving three 4x4s and a wingless plane [and with pretty convincing CGI too, though I can’t help feeling nostalgic for the days when stuff like this could be accomplished without computers, or at least not much use of them], and a bruising train brawl which almost matches the one in From Russia With Love, is strong, while the film does manage a bit of mounting suspense as Bond pieces more and more together about what he’s up against, along the way connecting the dots from all three of the previous Craig Bond films, and giving us two plot twists, one which is patently obvious from quite early on, and one which certainly came as a shock to me though is downright ridiculous. However, the final act, which mostly consists of trying to escape a building before it explodes and a very short Thames boat/helicopter chase, is a bit underwhelming, a problem shared by all the Craig films, though the sight of the whole ‘team’ – Bond, M, Q, and Miss Moneypenny – rushing around together trying to save the day is quite unique and almost made me want to cheer!
A grim torture scene [which along with one other moment has been apparently cut by the BBFC] feels a bit out of place, and the action is slightly tougher than in Skyfall, though generally the tone is relatively playful, Craig even being given a few throwaway quips of both the Connery and the Moore variety. The relationship Bond has with the lead female character feels just slightly more romantic than you’d expect and leads to a very revealing moment when she says she loves him and he replies with something almost as nice, but different and not really a declaration of love. Craig’s repartee with Ben Whisshaw as Q is now down to a tee and, dare I say it, has a flavour of the Desmond LLewelyn days, though the film doesn’t quite pull it off in the gadget department, with a watch whose purpose remains mostly a mystery until it is used, and some….well, it’s basically magic blood which pushes the silliness too far and is basically useless and barely used anyway. Then again, one shouldn’t really complain too much about a film which has Bond and his opponent destroy half the inside of a train during their fight, then has Bond sleep with the heroine, then has the two get off at the remotest station in history – like nothing ever happened!
Craig looks like he’s enjoying himself throughout while Christoph Waltz exudes evil as….well, I’ll call him Franz Oberhauser but it’s really a very badly kept secret who he is….making you believe this guy is capable of any evil. Lea Seydour is a likeable heroine though she doesn’t really have much of a character to play. By far the worst aspect of Spectre is Thomas Newman’s thoroughly boring music score where it doesn’t sound like he’s even trying. Even David Arnold used to provide themes or motifs for the viewer to latch onto but all Newman gives us is an annoying wall of noise. It’s a great shame, because for the most part Spectre is a good, though not great, Bond movie. It’s nice that Craig, Mendes and co. feel that they can kick back and just have fun, and that Mendes especially doesn’t feel like he’s somewhat ‘above’ making a Bond movie which I felt a bit of in Skyfall, even if Spectre does seem to suffer a little from an identity crisis and trying to please everyone. Of course I’m one of those who feel that the franchise peaked in its early days, especially in the 1960’s, so therefore I don’t realistically expect any new 007 adventure to match those classics. I do, though, hope to be thoroughly entertained, and with Spectre I most definitely was.