Spectre (2015) Content Warning: Violence, Some Bad Language, Mild Sexual Scenes
Directed by Sam Mendes
Starring Daniel Craig, Christoph Waltz, Léa Seydoux, Ralph Fiennes
A cryptic message from Bond's past sends him on a trail to uncover a sinister organization. While M battles political forces to keep the secret service alive, Bond peels back the layers of deceit to reveal the terrible truth behind SPECTRE.
IMDb Rating: 6.8
Spectre; The Name’s Not Shepard
Bond is back in Spectre. Which also means Blofeld and that cheesy organisation from the early Bond films is back. Yay, I suppose. Don’t get me wrong, I liked many of the early Bond films featuring Blofeld and the nefarious Spectre. I routinely switch between From Russia With Love and the Spectre-less Goldfinger as my favourite Bond film. Yet, from the outset, I couldn’t help but feel that resurrecting the ghost of Blofeld and Spectre was a mistake. Again, don’t get me wrong, the casting of Christoph Waltz as Blofeld was a masterstroke. This guy is born to play the suave European-accent wearing villain. I just wish he’d been playing an original character, because he would have completely made it his own.
The problem I have with Spectre, the organisation, is that they force things into formula. Of course, Bond films in general can be considered formulaic (he’s not losing, is he?) but Spectre constrains things and comes with so many tropes. There’s the henchman (Dave Bautista), the elaborate secret base, private army etc. We’ve not needed Spectre to have that (see GoldenEye for just one example) but we know that’s what we’re getting with Spectre.
But okay, let’s move past this anti-nostalgic sentiment and consider the film on its own merits.
It’s not brilliant, is it?
Introducing The Mound
The primary henchman in this outing is Dave “The Animal” Bautista, former WWE World Heavyweight Champion, among other accolades. Apparently his character’s name was Hinx. I didn’t catch that. Instead, what I noted was his entrance. His first action in the film is to do his best Ser Gregor “The Mountain” Clegane impression. Alas, while he totally nailed the eye-gouging bit, he didn’t quite get the cranium-explosion technique down. So he’s less The Mountain, and more The Mound – which is what I shall refer to him as from now on.
The Mound is a minor menace for Bond. He’s strong, he shows up at inopportune moments (like when Bond is putting his moves on Léa Seydoux) and he can drive a car really fast. Yet the silent-strongman never really comes across as that big a threat. In fact, he is only able to interrupt Bond’s romantic dinner because Bond completely forgot to put The Mound down when he had the chance. 007 is getting really careless in his old age.
Again, I get that these henchman-types are never really that big a threat to Bond. Jaws was just a pest. Oddjob chucked hats at people and I cannot remember what the hell Nick Nack’s gimmick was. But if you’re going to have a ten-minute train brawl, a fifteen-minute supercar chase through Rome and a however-many-hours-long plane vs convoy chase through snow-capped Canadian mountains, then you really need to work on the reaction to this guy not being “Oh, him again”.
Spectre Set Pieces
Really, Spectre is a collection of action set-pieces with a weak narrative stringing them together. We’re all used to the Bond pre-credits sequence, which is generally some adrenaline-fuelled action romp to get you in the mood for two hours of spy-shenanigans. This one went on a bit. There’s some cool stuff in there; a Brain De Palma-like tracking shot of Bond and some random woman getting in position for some business. Bond brings down a building, and then there’s a fun bit with a helicopter. Yet it just seems to start dragging.
And really, that’s much of the film. Dragging action. Not so much fast-paced, edge of your seat adventure. More, seen-it-all before. This is a criticism you can level at most Bond films. We have seen it all before. We have expectations going into these films of some explosions, a car chase, and an epic final showdown. What differentiates a good Bond film from a passable Bond film is the story, and this is where Spectre is lacking.
Misusing Monica Bellucci
I love Monica Bellucci. I’ve had the biggest girlcrush on this woman since I first saw her in Brotherhood of the Wolf back in 2001. She is a fantastic actress. Her appearance in Irreversible is both phenomenal and harrowing. Much was made of her being the oldest Bond girl ever, but hell, most of us can only dream of looking that good at 50. You know what, though? She serves no point in this film. She has about six or seven minutes of screen-time, gives Bond some important information and becomes the most easily seduced Bond girl of all time. Her only purpose seems to be to give Bond a quick and easy way to get a location on Spectre. Wasted talent.
And it’s this type of oversimplified, accelerated narrative that is the source of my frustrations. Narrative development is sacrificed in favour of whizz, bang, boom! Bond’s primary love interest Madeleine (Seydoux) gives into Bond’s charms within minutes, despite all her reservations. Even the big twist is so piss-poorly handled with unnecessary immediacy that you can see it coming long before it’s revealed. The only time there’s any lull is when Bond, Madeleine and Blofeld meet at Blofeld’s top-secret desert base to exchange pleasantries, banter and threats.
Now, I have my rants out of the way, let’s look at some positives. Daniel Craig is still a great Bond, and I would like to see him return in the role. Preferably with a better script. In fact, this may be one of the best-acted Bond’s for a long, long time. Seydoux is fantastic, Bellucci steals her completely pointless scene and Waltz is just Waltz. The supporting cast, such as Naomie Harris (Moneypenny) and Ben Whishaw (Q) all put in fine performances. I can’t even be too critical of The Mound. He didn’t really do anything but Dave Bautista can at least pull off the silent strongman – although you would expect that having spent so long in the shadow of a mic-hogging Triple H (boom!).
And though I did feel that certain bits of action dragged, there was at least a certain style to things. The opening scenes set the tone of the film, and as things progress they do crank things up. The torture scene is particularly well-done and cringe-inducing. It may rank as my favourite scene in the film. And I suppose, since they’re clearly trying to hark back to the magic of the original Bond films – cheese and all – but with a 21st Century twist, you can probably appreciate some of the convenience, some of the plot points and some of the extravagant absurdity.
It’s not brilliant. Is it bad? Well no. It’s what you would expect from a Bond film. However, I find myself wanting a bit more. Recent Bond films have shown that you can blend the formulaic with the innovative. You can crank up tension and emotion. You can, basically, do more with the franchise. Unfortunately, Spectre is a backwards step and it does less, which is a shame, because the amount of talent involved in this film deserves to be part of a more progressive Bond picture.