Movie Reviews

Review: “Spectre” Is Spectacular…ly Underwhelming

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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.

 

Sam Mendes’ Spectre stumbles over itself similarly to how Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight Rises did. “Overcooked,” “complicated,” and “generic” are not kind terms, but they accurately describe Spectre, as they did Rises. For Bond fans, I’m not sure if the borderline unwatchable Spectre is a huge disappointment or at least a little one. Is the simple pleasure of Bond waltzing into frame and shooting at us enough, or does a lackluster entry into the catalogue sting ever so much? I am not a Bond fanatic. I’m not a sucker for his particular (dated) brand of cool, and I go into them already tired of the beaten path Bond films have continued beating on for decades.

No matter which (strikingly white) leading man is tagged to play 007, it’s always the same. While I’m familiar with Daniel Craig’s recent run, and had enough samplings of Brosnan’s, I’m happy to reveal a secret–I haven’t seen any other Bond film all the way through. In this world saturated with pop culture, I get small joys over copping to the pop phenomena I have avoided. In fact, I get jolts of pleasure casually mentioning these movies. For example, I haven’t seen The Matrix. Oh, that felt good. I have yet to see a single Indiana Jones fiasco. Look at me I’m blushing. Bond has been parodied so many times it’s easy to get the gist of it. And, frankly, the gist is all you really need to understand the allure. But that doesn’t mean I can’t appreciate some Bond when he’s been correctly shaken.

007-Spectre-Daniel-Craig-2015-Picture

What Mendes’ Spectre doesn’t do is what Mendes’ Skyfall did so well (and in the same way Nolan’s The Dark Knight succeeded in ways Rises failed). Skyfall is a treasure of popular cinema–Casino Royale revived the franchise, but Skyfall just plain rocked . Javier Bardem played the effeminate super villain Silva in Skyfall, forever memorable simply because he received as much screen time as Craig’s Bond, time to round into form, to pose as a possible threat to Bond, but also able to be an immensely enjoyable, cartoonish, and somehow still menacing character (re: Heath Ledger’s Joker). Skyfall borrowed from the philosophy of Paul Thomas Anderson’s The Master—let the actors take the reins and make it their own. Let them captivate us. Let them eat cake. Let me eat cake.

Spectre has no great acting, no great characters, no great idea of where it wants to focus. This is evident in how Mendes toys with the camera focus for the first fourth of the film (to varying degrees of success and/or artfulness) only to abandon the tactic altogether in favor of a sputtering, predictable plot. We travel the globe, hopping from Mexico City to Rome to Austria to Tangier, without any locale feeling more alive than a picture on a postcard (though Mexico City, the setting of the film’s energetic and chaotic opening tracking sequence, acts as a better cinematic vacation for the viewer). The “00” program is in trouble again, a mighty security agency looking to bring an end to the “dark ages” of special agents and to bring in the age of internet surveillance (a light discussion of the morals of Orwellian surveillance  not worth it to consider past this parenthetical). Bond discovers a criminal cooperative called Spectre, and it resembles something like a UN of criminal activity. Its leader, a smirking baddy named Oberhauser (Christoph Waltz), is the bad guy of all bad guys, and every Bond villain from the Daniel Craig run is connected to his enterprise.

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Oberhauser is chased for the better part of the film, but Waltz is hardly on screen. We’re robbed of Waltz’ take on super villainy, of the essential tit-for-tat chemistry that can make or break a Bond film, or really any film operating within the superhero model (and yes Bond is a superhero of sorts). Instead of Oberhauser, we are spoon fed a meaty henchman (played by pro wrestler Dave Bautista) tracking down Bond in a series of inventive (they happen by way of plane, train, and automobile) but inconsequential chase sequences. The expected interplay of Bond with Moneypenny (Naomi Harris), Q (Ben Whishaw), and M (Ralph Fiennes), who is tied up in saving the 007 program, is maybe better fit for weekly television than the big screen.

SPECTRE-LSeydoux

A brief appearance from Monica Bellucci as a Bond bunny does ten times more than Lea Seydoux’s elongated play as Bond’s main squeeze, and in a fraction of the screen time. Seydoux—who reminded me of a giant sack of flour wearing lipstick—is onscreen for far too long considering the banal trappings of her love affair with Bond. Everything about Spectre is phoned in, right down to the video message from Dame Judi Dench reprising her role as the posthumous M. Though Spectre is a total dud, I suppose some just need Bond in their life, and judging by the hooting and hollering I heard from the audience, it’s the necessary dosage. But I was in agony. So let’s end this with a few telling quotes.

Seydoux’s character, Madaleine Swan—“Come anywhere near me and I’ll kill you.” Is the front row close enough?

Waltz’s vanilla villain, Oberhauser—“I am the author of all your pain.” No that honor goes to screenwriters John Logan, Neal Purvis, Robert Wade and Jez Butterworth.

A random title card to open the film—“The dead are alive.” Can we trade places?

Finally, from the Sam Smith song that played during the opening credits—“The writing is on the wall.” If only I had seen this wall on the way into the theaterand it had killed me.

  • Acting - 5/10
    5/10
  • Cinematography - 5/10
    5/10
  • Plot/Screenplay - 4/10
    4/10
  • Setting/Theme - 4/10
    4/10
  • Buyability - 3/10
    3/10
  • Recyclability - 2/10
    2/10
Overall
4/10
4/10
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