Monday, 9 November 2015
On 9.11.15 by KieronMoore in Ben Whishaw, Daniel Craig, James Bond, Lea Seydoux, Monica Bellucci, Naomie Harris, Ralph Fiennes, Sam Mendes, Spectre 2 comments
There are a lot of non-spoiler reviews out there already for new Bond film Spectre, so I thought it’d be more interesting to go straight into everything I thought about it. Hence a big spoiler warning…
- First of all, it’s a visually brilliant film. The opening shot through the streets of Mexico City is incredible both in how detailed and busy an environment it efficiently conjures and in the technical marvel of the Touch of Evil-esque four-minute continuous take (yes, I know there are hidden cuts, and no, I don’t care). The action sequences throughout the movie are remarkably staged, though never pass the high bar set by the pre-titles. My stomach genuinely churned at the helicopter backflip stunt.
- Largely due to the quality of the action, Spectre is an entertaining piece of blockbuster cinema, with a whirlwind tour of locations and characters - at no point in its two-and-a-half-hour running time did I get bored. That’s not to say the story is great…
- Blofeld turning out to be Bond’s brother, or half-brother or stepbrother or something… I don’t necessarily object to looking into Bond’s past (Skyfall did this very well), but in this instance it feels very clumsily tacked-on and unnecessary. The Craig era has tried to make Bond more emotionally invested in the story, which, barring On Her Majesty's Secret Service, he'd never been before, and which worked really well in Casino Royale and Skyfall. Here, it's just awkward.
- What particularly doesn’t work is the "you made me who I am" shit – because if someone's jealous of their brother getting all the attention and then they become an evil supervillain, it's obviously the brother's fault, right? The whole final act is one naff, ineffective guilt trip, and Blofeld's motive is hella messy. He sets up a complex trap in the old MI6 building to... what? Tease Bond a bit? What does that have to do with everything that's been set up about Spectre being all about coldly gaining world domination?
- The surveillance plot is a lot more interesting than this awkward personal vendetta, and it's interesting to see a big action movie try to tackle this very current issue. If Spectre were real, taking control of the world's digital surveillance is the kind of thing I'd expect them to be up to in 2015, so it’s a shame it gets relegated to a side plot for M to deal with. However, both Spectre and Skyfall have the same problem for me – they argue that giving any corruptible authority unlimited powers of digital surveillance is bad (can't argue with that), but the alternative they offer up as morally better is that instead of spying on the villains digitally, governments should send assassins to kill them in the good old fashioned shooty explodey way, and equally not tell anyone about it. Which, you know, isn't that much better. There's a very good anti-surveillance film to be made, but it's very hard to fit it within the frankly conservative format of the James Bond series.
- I do like the fact that the loose ends of the Quantum arc were returned to, and was satisfied with the explanation that Quantum was part of Spectre. Nice to see Mr. White again.
- We get the Craig era’s first ridiculous death machine in the form of Blofeld's brain-drilling chair… it does seem that, after starting on a very realist, Bourne-inspired note, these films have become steadily more silly. As indeed, most Bonds become more silly towards the end of their era - Roger Moore’s clown costume, Brosnan’s invisible car. It would have been nice to have had one more film in the style of Casino Royale, but it seems the general dissatisfaction with Quantum of Solace killed that chance.
- Bond forcing himself onto a widow is up there with Goldfinger’s barn scene in the ranks of uncomfortably misjudged sex scenes. This film's awkward "waste of good scotch" moment.
- Lea Seydoux’s character gets out of the whole thing a bit better than Monica Bellucci’s - she at least gets to be smart and to have some depth. Though she does need to be rescued one time too many - when she tells Bond “I’m leaving you, I’m just gonna wander off alone down this dark London alleyway”, you know exactly how everything's going to play out.
- Ralph Fiennes as M… meh. I miss Judi Dench. Having Bond’s boss be female allowed his sexism to be called out, and reverting to a male M seems to be undoing that progress. I loved M's story in Skyfall, and it was a great death scene, but in hindsight, could it not have ended with her surviving?
- Similarly, Ben Whishaw’s performance as Q is a lot more traditional, with less of the twenty-first century geek stuff and more gadgets and quips, which I'm not entirely convinced by - again, undoing progress for the purpose of nostalgia. Though it is Ben Whishaw, so I can’t not love him and his lovely jumpers; the “I told you to bring it back in one piece, not bring back one piece” line, and his reaction when Bond doesn't laugh, is very funny.
- Speaking of Dame Judi, she does get her cameo here, but it’s never explained how she knew about Marco Sciarri or why she’d leave it until after her death to tell Bond to go after him. What was that about?
- I thought the title song, Sam Smith’s Writing’s on the Wall, was really painfully awful when I first heard it. But somehow, with the accompaniment of the title animation, it’s not that bad. It’s not good, but it’s not that bad.
- How incompetent are Spectre’s goons? “We’ve managed to knock out James Bond and the head of MI6, should we take them both?” “Nah, just take Bond, leave M here.” The restraint with which C tells them to actually, go back and get M (by which time he’s woken up and headed off to arrest C) is admirable.
Altogether... an enjoyable film, with admirable intent to draw the Daniel Craig era to a close and to tell a contemporary story, but some misjudged character decisions mean the script lets it down, particularly in the final act.
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