Give up the Ghost
A Film Review of Spectre
I’ve never been the biggest fan of the Daniel Craig Bond films, and it has less to do with the man himself and more to do with the adventures his character undertakes. For a fictional character that has been there and done everything, Daniel Craig’s Bond rarely saw the opportunity to properly peacock by engaging in some rather pedestrian plots. That was, of course, until Skyfall (2012) where MI6 comes under direct attack and James Bond was called upon to demonstrate some semblance of actual human weakness yielding a more compelling character and a more interesting story overall. With such a breath of fresh air, one would think that this trend would easily blend into Spectre. It has the same director (Sam Mendes), some of the same writers (Neal Purvis and Robert Wade) and much of the same cast, so naturally, it stands to reason, no?
No. And I’ll tell you why. Skyfall presented audiences with some specific details extracted from the nebulous origin of this iteration of Bond, but what made that exposition pay off in a big time way was how it was inexorably linked to how the arcing conflict played out. Bond was outmatched and nearly paid for it with his life, but loyalty to a mother figure in M forces him back in the game despite the fact he isn’t ready for it and uses the setting of his broken past as a means of survival and in a way, redemption. Spectre is a film that once again attempts to hit the audience’s “G” spot for nostalgia by linking the current conflict back to his boyhood and recent past. Unfortunately, no ground work was laid in this (or any other) Bond film to make the hard connections audiences need for any of those story elements to matter. In fact, every connection between Bond and the bad guy is simply spoken from the horse’s mouth in a matter of minutes with some of the least cryptic rhetoric from a Bond villain to date. “It was me all along,” spoken by someone we have never met, nor even alluded to is a flaccid revelation. No tension is built, no conspiracy is ruminated, it simply gets to that moment in the movie where things need to move forward instead of aimlessly and boom; the audience knows the “what” and has a glance at the “why”. Screen writing is not just any form of literature. It must always be mindful of using words “to show” rather than “to tell” both audiences and producers of film. Dialogue is an effective tool in filmmaking, but if it happens to be a crutch, it’s already too late to realize it’s actually a noose.
What ground my gears the most regarding Spectre is a cancerous trend not exclusive to the recent Bond films, but to all action/adventure films coming out of Hollywood these days: vanilla villains. They talk big games, but don’t do much. They claim tortured pasts without showing its effects. Their bark is much worse than their bite. They are the least interesting antagonists in the world and they are everywhere. (I’m looking at you too Marvel films!) Christoph Waltz is an amazing, Academy Award winning actor and his ability to create compelling characters for the screen was recklessly mishandled by Sam Mendes and the entire production staff of Spectre. Waltz was given practically zero material to work with: no real back story, no clear cut motive and virtually no screen time. In many ways, his character doesn’t even need to be in this film for it to turn out in exactly the same way. Why even cast an extra, let alone Waltz, to play a role of such inconsequence?
Thank goodness they hired a stunt runner for Daniel Craig. Excellent hand to hand, close quarters combat. Decent car chases with an interesting dash of gunplay. General stunt work in this film was top notch.
Talk about an animated frame. Wow! The cinematography of Hoyte Van Hoytema is to be celebrated in this film. Both action and dramatic sequences are enhanced by his efforts at creating the picturesque, everywhere.
Daniel Craig is still the Blue Steel of James Bonds, but also happens to present a Bond you can root for. Christoph Waltz on the other hand … see above.
Ray Fiennes as M is solid and I wish Ben Wishaw and Naomie Harris had more to do as Q and Moneypenny respectively. Lea Seydoux may be a babe, but her character was far too dull. What the heck was Drax the Destroyer doing in this film?
Sam Smith’s The Writing’s on the Wall is everything you need in a Bond theme: seductive, emotive, and mysterious. It is echoed effectively in the dramatic soundtrack throughout.
Par for the course, although I’ll admit to having a weakness for hearing the engines of super-cars chasing each other on the streets.
“Moving” = 26/33
One mark of successful CG is the audience not knowing it was there at all, but I am uncertain if this was due to exceptional CG, or practical effects being so much better than the digital ones in this film. That said, there did seem to be some plasticity to some explosions and Drax gets dealt with by some goofy animation.
Chris Corbould as the special effect supervisor proves that practical effects can still have a wicked punch! Great use of vehicle stunts, explosions, ballistics and crashes.
So many suits in this film. I’m not exactly pining for ridiculous “onesies” of Moonraker, but come on; can we get a little more creative here?
Hair & Makeup
Very acceptable battle damage on bodies and faces combined with gorgeous styling of female follicles.
Every Bond film is a potential exotic travelogue. I wish we could have gotten more exotic than Mexico City, though.
I understand that MI6 has been in funding hell for the past few Bond films, but we really need to move these guys out of the sewers once and for all and dress it up with some more tech please.
“Picture” = 25/33
Even a 007 movie needs something more than “James Bond doing his thing” as the lead in to what exactly is happening, which we don’t exactly know for sure other than vague and undeveloped memories from previous Daniel Craig Bond films regarding the organization of Spectre itself. The hook is unclear and happened upon by chance.
So the Legion of Doom DOES exist?! How do you fight them? Obviously, you run a couple of obstacle courses, shoot a few dudes and victory is assured. Oh wait, there was supposed to be a more meaningful, personal conflict at work? Sorry, no one got that memo.
Can something resolve if it was never setup in the first place? Neither surprising nor satisfying, unless the article that reveals who gets tapped as the next James Bond counts as a dénouement for Spectre.
The moment to moment talking does an excellent job at keeping the audience in the moment, but these are all short term hits with no long term grand slam.
What exposition? You mean this photograph and me telling you stuff about it you already knew, but no one else does?
Blue Steel is certainly a unique looking Bond, but I was getting used to him not being played like Mr. Roboto in Skyfall. The main villain in this film is as common as they come.
Super Spies and secret government cabals are beyond the grasp of “normies”. Too bad the whole sibling rivalry thing wasn’t developed in this film at all because lots of people could connect to that concept.
“Story” = 14/34
Overall MPS Rating: 65/100
Spectre is a very average action film that looks better than the story settles on one’s mind. Perhaps the greatness of Skyfall is a difficult concept to surpass, but film franchises will always make the attempt to string things along, beyond their natural ends because they know those dollar bills will be there. I don’t expect Spectre to even knock on the door of Skyfall’s financial success long term. Still, I didn’t hate this film as much as some of my comments make it appear to be, but I certainly didn’t love it and I especially expected it to take Bond into even murkier waters leading to a more domesticated 007 who finally got out of the spy business (something Daniel Craig Bond was ready to do clean and clear at the end of Casino Royale). What if he had already been out for a few years, started a family, then Spectre takes them out to settle a vendetta, forcing a psychotic James Bond to break every rule in the book to quench an insatiable vengeance and proceeds to set the world on fire (literally) to achieve some twisted form of justice before committing to some ritualistic suicide that only makes up for about 10% of all the bad he committed? Hold everything! That’s way too much plot for a James Bond film. We’ll just have him shoot some people to stop a regurgitated attempt at world domination in the hopes of preserving civilization as we know it. Yawn.