Review: Spectre

Spectre, at times, is absolutely brilliant, just as good as Casino Royale or Skyfall. It’s mostly well-acted, the action is great and it looks amazing – but some strange decisions when it comes to the story mean it’s not quite as great as it should be.

Bond (Craig) causes havoc in Mexico City on the trail of a conspiracy, despite the warnings of M (Ralph Fiennes), and continues to investigate leads on a mysterious organisation. The more he searches, encountering violent henchman Mr. Hix (David Bautista) and saving doctor Madeleine Swann (Lea Seydoux), the more Bond starts to uncover, particularly about the enigmatic Franz Oberhauser (Christoph Waltz). In London, M struggles to run MI6 under a new cyberspying initiative headed by Max Denbigh/C (Andrew Scott), while Q (Ben Whishaw) and Moneypenny (Naomi Harris) are split between helping Bond and M.

There are brave attempts here to create a continuity with Craig’s previous films here, which fall a bit flat, and revelations concerning Spectre, Oberhauser and Bond’s connections to it all wind up being a bit predictable and indebted to the past. Spectre starts well, and then falls into some old traps, which was a real shame – innovation is what keeps Bond interesting, as both Casino Royale and Skyfall showed, not a constant need to reboot every little thing. It tries too hard to be a full 21st century reboot of everything Bond was, and after a couple of great films about what Bond is in the modern world (post-Jason Bourne and Ethan Hunt), it felt a bit reductive.

SPECTRE_ONE_SHEET_1200_1779_81_sThe film’s locations, action and look are its best elements, and to be honest, maybe for most people this is all that matters! Director Sam Mendes (who also made Skyfall) shot the film in Rome, Morocco, Mexico, Austria and London, and cinematographer Hoyte van Hoytema manages to make it look as glossy, arty and clear as Skyfall – no mean feat. We now have two Bond movies in succession that are so far away from the plastic, tacky crap of Die Another Day that you can hardly believe it’s the same series. In turn, we obviously expect a Bond film to have great stunts and set-pieces, and Spectre will be incredibly hard to beat.

Helicopters, planes, supercars and speedboats chase and obliterate one another; brawls on trains and real-life explosions make you forget CGI exists; a new Aston Martin is part of a great (if short) pursuit through Rome; and buildings, secret headquarters and landmarks blow up on a Michael Bay-scale. The pre-credits scene is a marvel too – one long, unbroken take taking in Mexico City’s Day of the Dead, making us feel right at the centre of the action. Musically, Thomas Newman’s score ambles about in the background, not doing much, though the strings from Sam Smith’s awful-but-catchy theme give the movie an epic flourish.

Daniel Craig is still the best Bond – lurching toward Roger Moore territory at some points (yes, really), he still provides that strong mix of emotion, aggression and subtlety he’s become known for. Christoph Waltz is fairly disappointing as Oberhauser, and is perhaps a victim of the story. The first two times we meet Oberhauser, it’s tense, eerie and mysterious – and I had expected Waltz’ performance from then on to match this. Unfortunately, once he comes out of the shadows (in more ways than one), it’s a fairly insipid performance from a very good actor, and the way revelations come to light made me roll my eyes. Why hire one of the most interesting actors for ages, and then give him no great opportunities to show his unhinged ability? What a waste.

Some of the same could be said of Ralph Fiennes, who shines when given a complex character – his M is not. He’s saddled with a subplot that’s boring from the moment go, and it’s like Fiennes is on autopilot. Ben Whishaw’s Q and Naomi Harris’ Moneypenny try to offer something a little different, as in Mission: Impossible style they’re assisting Bond and M at the same time, and trying to keep the 00 programme going. Whishaw gets to develop an awkward, nerdy but memorable Q in a few scenes, and I was glad that Harris isn’t forced into the usual Moneypenny stereotypes – Bond needs and respects her without being a douche. Scott (Sherlock’s Moriarty) is half-decent, but again exists only as part of a boring second plot (with echoes of the Edward Snowden leaks), and his character and his motivations are predictable.

Dave Bautista, one of the best things about Guardians of the Galaxy, gives us a good secondary villain in Mr. Hinx, a quietly effective yet savage character I would have liked to have seen more of, and I felt it a bit harsh (and old-fashioned) to make him mute. On the Bond “girl” front, Italian actress Monica Belluci more or less cameos as a bereaved wife Bond seduces, and is wasted in the role. Much was made of her being older, and it’s ironic that she receives the old-fashioned role here when she deserved something more interesting. Seydoux’s Madeleine Swann however is excellent, becoming (much like Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation’s Ilsa Faust) Bond’s equal in many ways, and their relationship is surprisingly both mature and thoughtful.

 

I’m really interested to see what direction the series takes next. If Craig is done with Bond now, Spectre isn’t a bad way to sign off. It’s just a shame that the plot is muddled and short of new ideas, when everything else is so good!

 

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