Oh my God I’m actually reviewing a new release film…. about 10 days after release. Yeah I’m late but I couldn’t exactly not cover a James bond film. Especially after I took on the foolish task of reviewing every Bond film in the space of one month a few years back. Now, I may go into a few spoilers in this review. It’s kinda hard to not talk about certain issues or strengths of the film without going into them. So that’s your spoiler warning. Suffice to say, Spectre is a pretty solid bond film. The third best Daniel Craig film, sure, but it’s way ahead of Quantum of Solace. So, let us proceed with the somewhat spoilery review.
Spectre continues the plot threads and themes established in the previous Craig films, those being the existence of a secret terrorist organisation behind the scenes, surveillance states and the relevance of MI6 in the modern world. That last one really being a hang over from the idea post Brosnan era that Bond was all a bit old hat. Now, I thought Casino Royale and Skyfall thoroughly slapped those ideas out of people’s heads, but apparently not. Still, it works within Spectre’s plot which involves the merger of MI6 is a worldwide data monitoring organisation headed by Andrew Scott’s C. His name’s C, I’m not using C as a stand in for cock. It may mean something similar though. Naturally M (Ralph Fiennes) and Bond (Daniel Craig) aren’t super keen on this whole attempt to phase out MI6 and the 00 Section. Not much they can do though. Bond is dealing with this in his usual way though. By going AWOL on some sort of secret mission he doesn’t feel like trusting anyone with.
This secret mission was left to him by the previous M (Judi Dench) because of course she left one last task for Bond. This sets Bond on the trail of a Franz Oberhauser (Christoph Waltz) who is linked to Bond’s past somehow. Also, thanks to real life legal wranglings being finally settled, Oberhauser is the leader of the secret organisation Spectre, making its first appearance in the film series since Diamonds Are Forever. Also, Oberhauser is Blofeld… I think we all figured that out when the first trailer launched pretty much. Oh… and Blofeld is kinda Bond’s brother. See, after Bond’s parents died he was placed with the Oberhauser family and, nutjob that he is, young Franz got jealous of the attention his brother gained and, naturally, murdered his father and faked his own death so he could disappear and be reborn as Ernst Stavro Blofeld. Because of course Blofeld is Bond’s half brother in the new films.
I’m actually not super annoyed by this twist. Not as much as many are. It’s a bit silly, especially for the Craig Bond films, but it’s not super offensive to me. I would have preferred something along the lines of him being an old secret agent Bond knew from pre-MI6 maybe, establishing a personal link between the two to help build the rivalry, but sort of brother is what we got. Still more believable than half the romances Bond partakes in during his films. Certainly more believable than anything that happened in Die Another Day. I’m saying Bond films have done far worse. I’d also say that there seems to be somewhat of an attempt to bring back at least a little of the slight silliness of 60s Bond film, but in a super serious way. The film even includes a major henchmen, which hasn’t really been done for ages, in Mr Hinx (Dave Bautista). He doesn’t do much other than hurt people and have the stand out action scene of the film, a train carriage fight recalling From Russia With Love, but he’s decently imposing. Also has these metal pointy thumbnails which he uses once and never again. That was silly and kind of wasted. There is a small visual reference to Jaws (the film, not the character) in his final scene, which is a nice touch what with the nails clearly being a reference to Jaws (the character, not the film). Good henchman really. Also not the first wrestler to play a henchman in a Bond film. The Rock’s granddaddy did in Diamonds Are Forever.
Bond’s main love interest in Spectre is the daughter of Mr White (Jesper Christensen) from Casino Royale and Quantum of Solace, Dr Madeline Swann (Lea Seydoux) who’s easily 25 years younger than Bond at least. Probably not as big an age gap as in some of the Moore films, but it’s enough to be a little bit odd. There’s a scene in the film where, after both working together to fight Mr Hinx, Madeline asks what we should do next. In some sort of smash cut that I have to believe was meant for comedic effect we go straight to them getting all busy with each other in their private carriage. I can’t help but think how much funnier it would have been to smash cut to them tidying up all the damage they caused while bond apologises profusely. Like, no way would they be allowed back in their rooms after that. Whatever, not the first time Bond has trashed a train. The film teases us with Monica Bellucci as a Bond girl, but naturally she’s just there for Bond to get his next lead from rather than be a meaningful character. They had Monica Bellucci and they wasted her in a glorified cameo.
I sound harsh there. Madeline Swann is a pretty good character and has her own plot line of pain and tough upbringing that makes her a pretty interesting character. She kinda just becomes Bond’s sidekick for the final act though. Another damsel in need of rescuing. Always bugs me when a woman shows skill in fighting and protecting herself early on but still ends up helpless and captured by the end. Like, try better film makers. Similarly Blofeld appears as quite threatening and takes actual glee in harming people, although not to the silly levels Christoph Waltz tends to go for, but ends up becoming incredibly unimaginative in his trap ideas by the end. I suppose he didn’t have a lot of time to prepare but still, Blofeld is meant to be a brilliant mastermind. I do like Waltz in the role though. As mentioned, he doesn’t go to his usual grinning gentlemen well as often as he usually does in, well, anything he’s been in for the last 5 years. He reminds me of Donald Pleasence’s Blofeld in some ways.
Whilst watching the film I felt in two minds about how it was shot. Sometimes it looks superb, full of warm colour and nice shadow usage. Other times it felt oddly flat, especially during a car chase sequence halfway through. The car chase isn’t awful, it just lacks a little life as it’s shot in the most plain way you could imagine a car chase being shot. The cinematographer, Hoyte Van Hoytema, is a skilled shooter of films, but I feel like his style works best with a slower pacing and quieter moments. His work in Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy is incredible, for instance. The film opens with a protracted (faked) single shot sequence as Bond and his lady for the day wander through the Day of the Dead festival in Mexico. This whole extended shot is pointless. It doesn’t convey anything and is done purely to be showy. The edits are well hidden, it’s executed well, but stops after a few minutes to go to regular Bond action style. It would have been more impressive to have a 5-10 minute opening sequence done in one shot that showed Bond’s efficiency of execution leading to some kind of visual pay off to set up Spectre itself. Think how the fight in episode 2 of Daredevil should his unending determination to win and the drive that forced him to keep going. That’s what a one shot should do. This was half a one shot that lead to a decent action scene, but an action scene shot like any other.
So yeah, I have issues with Spectre. That’s not to say I didn’t enjoy it though. I quite liked the timely nature of the mass surveillance subplot, what with the Conservative government trying to LITERALLY DO THAT right now. The fact it was all brought down by one nerdy guy hacking it was a nice touch too, seeing as that’s exactly what would happen. Craig is still pretty great as Bond and the supporting cast all do a fine job too. Ben Whishaw seems to have really grown into his role as Q and Naomie Harris has managed to make Moneypenny interesting again. I honestly forget that Moneypenny was even in the Brosnan Bond films. The film isn’t as good as Skyfall, failing to have its visual brilliance or its story pacing, and it’s not near Casino Royale at all… because Casino Royale is nigh on perfect. It’s decent though. I’ve seen worse big name films this year and I’ve seen a lot worse Bond films. Now I just want to see what Spectre does next.