Spectre

No more drears
★★★★
☆
Released: 
2015
Director: 
Sam Mendes
Starring: 
Daniel Craig, Lea Seydoux, Christolph Waltz, Ralph Fiennes
The Setup: 
James Bond, etc.
Discussion: 

I must admit I was pretty excited about this latest James Bond film. The main culprit was it’s second trailer, which I think is just a genius trailer, a masterpiece of dark intimations and building excitement, with lots of Bond horns and strings, a seemingly hostile femme fatale [“Is this what you want? Hiding in the shadows, always alone?”], numerous moods and a great rhythm building up to its title. I’m kind of obsessed with that trailer, and have watched more than is strictly prudent. It’s an excellent example of the art. The movie, however, I had a bit if trepidation toward: It is the longest Bond movie to date, and the last one, Skyfall, was SO long and got SO lugubrious I could never imagine sitting through it again. And we all know that these things tend to go on too long [see Mission: Impossibles 4 and 5] and I was gearing up for a very long and dreary watch. Plus, the mediocre reviews were streaming in, comparing it unfavorably to Skyfall, giving it an overall “Eh,” and mainly complaining that it’s all a bit formulaic.

Well you know what? I didn’t really like Skyfall. Aside from being too long, it was also dreary and not much fun. I appreciate that they were trying to have some actual emotional engagement, but it was just a bit of a long slog for me. And complaints that a Bond film is formulaic… it’s like complaining that a Monet has a bunch of color blobs, or a martini makes you drunk. Bond films ARE formulaic, it’s what they ARE, and a large part of their fun is simply the clever ways in which they try to vary the formula. Anyway, I went in expecting another Skyfall, but even more dreary, so imagine my surprise to find it fast-moving, fun, entertaining, clever enough, engaging, comprehensible, with a smart, likable heroine, emotional enough and—by George, I really liked it!

We open in Mexico city with what we’re supposed to believe is a long tracking shot which, like with Birdman, only gets you watching for cuts. One extremely obvious one is when they enter a door off the street that opens directly to a grand staircase… the kind that is never built right off of a door into the street. Anyway, Bond steps out onto the roof, where he blows up a guy, leading to a big chase and then a big fight in a helicopter that doesn’t attract any local police attention. Then we go into the credits sequence, which is in the same style as Skyfall’s but not awful, and the lame/horrid song sounds a lot better when paired with the images here.

Bond returns to London, where he is yelled at and suspended for the umpteenth time by M, so much that you wonder how they can go through the motions anymore. But it turns out that Judi Dench left him a video message after the last movie telling him to kill the guy in Mexico and not to miss the funeral. Bond steals a fancy car from Q and goes to Rome. There he meets Monica Belluci at the funeral, and watch how the shadows change drastically within three minutes of movie time. Then he’s off to a meeting of Spectre, which he gets in easily, where we meet Dave Batuista looking quite alluring in beard and suit. The scene takes a surprising turn, which I appreciated, and soon we’re having a car chase through a largely abandoned Rome and… well, is there any use in synopsizing the plot?

Not in this case. Blah, blah, soon enough he’s in Austria meeting Madeline Swann, followed by the nice plane-on-car chase you see in the trailers. Bond insists on protecting her, but she correctly points out that she was successfully hidden out until he brought the bad guys right to her. Most reviews consider her a bit helpless and dull, but I think it’s a lot more complicated than that. For one, she’s one of the very few Bond women in the entire series who isn’t throwaway. We feel that she and Bond have an actual emotional connection, we see it develop over the course of the film [there are key elements of important scenes wholly devoted to it], and it makes a huge positive difference to the entire film. It’s not James Bond alone with his random hot babe in the background, she actually matters, they have a palpable connection and their relationship is properly acknowledged in the climax. I liked it, I thought it was perhaps the most positive new thing added to the series, and I wouldn’t mind seeing Swann still with him when the next movie starts [and maybe even when it finishes].

Speaking of continuity, this movie is bending over backward to tie all of the Bond movies into one overall package. It doesn’t quite work. The solution boils down to “All those organizations you fought in the past few movies… they were all part of Spectre!” So there you go, now you know the connection. It doesn’t add much to the movie, or change one’s feelings about the previous films. The other thing is, partly due to the formulaic nature of these movies… I personally can barely remember who was even IN the last one, let alone what his or her role was. There is a big scene with a character here who was in two of the past three movies, and I was like “Really? I have no memory of him whatsoever.” At least I could understand the villain’s plot this time, which is more than I can say for most Bond films, in which I know who the bad guy is and that’s about all I get from it.

What else? Waltz is fine as the villain, who they are trying to Star Trek Into Darkness you from knowing is actually Blofeld. Who do they think they’re fooling? Obviously he’s Blofeld. He supposedly has quite a personal connection to Bond, which is a bit of a stretch, doesn’t add much of anything, and… well, if they had that much personal connection, you’d think they’d, like, KNOW each other. I think they should have gone full-on bald with him by the end, but they didn’t listen to me. The ending has the team [including Ralph Fiennes as M and others] running around to stop a global surveillance system from going online while prominent clocks countdown to launch, which is, unfortunately, the exact same climax as Terminator: Genisys. But at least here are some new wrinkles and visceral thrills to keep things lively.

Overall, it’s fast-moving, funny and amusing, with just enough content and just enough frivolity to be a pretty much perfect Bond film, for my money. It never seemed long to me, and the climax is an actual climax to the film, not just another in a series of action scenes. I can basically understand the plot and why he’s going where and doing what. I really liked Bond’s connection to the leading lady, the way the film treated her [i.e. as a human being] and her importance to Bond and the overall plot. I laughed out loud occasionally and thought certain elements especially clever. Maybe you’re waiting for Bond to be more serious and have more deep emotional engagement—and I would welcome that too, if it weren’t going to be grim and dreary like Skyfall—but if you like Bond to be light, funny, clever, entertaining and thrilling, with just enough seriousness, this film gets it right.

Should you watch it: 

If you like Bond films, for sure.

Comments

Didn't we cover this whole hero's-connection-to-his-villainous-counterpart thing in GOLDMEMBER?

I think Austin Powers films are considered outside the James Bond canon.

My question is... [SPOILER] they grew up together but don't know each other? If they did know each other, why isn't Blofeld's plan MUCH MORE personal? This is all kind of about Bond but kind of not? It really reeks of WANTING there to be some sort of connection, but really having to bend the story to provide it.