Director: Sam Mendes
⭐ ⭐ ⭐
Not since the 4-year wait for The Dark Knight Rises have I gone about my day with such excited dynamite flowing through my veins as in the 6 months leading up to Spectre, Sam Mendes’ follow-up to Skyfall, the greatest Bond film ever made. There was a teaser trailer in the summer that gave away practically nothing, something that for reasons financial and idiotic is now a gift in today’s movie trailers. Another trailer appeared in July of 2015, and the final one- the best one- was gifted to us in October just a month before the film’s release. The film looked gorgeous and somehow it was going to top Skyfall. Somehow.
Fast forward 8 months later and I am still a little bit disappointed. I saw Spectre in Cincinnati with my girlfriend and my brother. That viewing will forever be known as The Time My Brother’s Phone Went Off And He Couldn’t Get It To Stop For At Least One Minute. The screen was smaller than I have become used to and the sound in the theater was fine and the film began. It was… fine. My brother gave it ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ because he and I possess practically polar opposite tastes in film. “It blows Skyfall out of the water!” he declared.
Spectre is fine, and after renting a Blu-ray copy the other day I can say that it is still fine, just a bit finer than I thought before but not too much. The film is beautiful, a woozy mirage at times, and the acting is superb throughout. Thomas Newman’s score is still jaw-dropping and will likely go down as one of my favorite of the decade. Any problems that I have with the film revolve around bits of dialogue, general plot mechanics and how they make contact with the other Craig-era Bond films.
The film opens with the now somewhat famous Mexico City scene in which Bond tracks down Marco Sciarra (Alessandro Cremona), an assassin out to meet with a mysterious figure called the Pale King. A building explodes, Bond gives chase as he has in every Craig film and the two of them wind up punching one another in an out-of-control helicopter not too far above the heads of the people of Mexico City. Bond comes out on top with a mysterious ring in hand, a silver band indented with the symbol of an octopus, and heads back to MI6. Credits roll.
There is a dreamier quality to this film, particularly in the train and desert scenes later on.
The film’s theme song “Writings On The Wall”, as performed by Sam Smith, is not my cup of earl grey. Perhaps it is because I love Adele’s Oscar-winning theme for Skyfall and because I’m not a huge fan of Smith’s music. Trust me, I have given the song a fair number of listens and I’m not sold on it or the film`s credit sequence. While the credit sequence is inventive it is nowhere as eye-catching as Skyfall‘s. The credits are laced with dread and the burning feeling that this is going to be 007’s end and in a way, it is.
The most glaring issue, besides the plot being just a bit boring and predictable, is how the film attempts to tie up threads from the other Craig films that it really has no right to. How the hell could the ring that Bond steals from Sciarra connect to the villains of Casino Royale, Quantum of Solace and Skyfall? Miraculously Ben Wishaw’s Q manages to make this connection. I don’t mind that the shadowy organization Quantum turns out to be a subsidiary of Spectre but there are links being made here that don’t stick worth a damn. That Spectre’s elusive figurehead Franz Oberhauser (Christoph Waltz) takes credit for the deaths of Vesper Lynd- who killed herself in Casino Royale– and Judi Dench’s M- who bled out from a stray fucking bullet in Skyfall– is utterly ridiculous. “It was me, James,” he coos, “the author of all your pain.” Whatever.
The acting is fine across the board, not aces but not exactly phoning it in either. Craig’s Bond seems a little bored with proceedings, particularly in his scenes with Monica Belluci’s Lucia Sciarra, and that may be because the actor himself is bored. Besides a chase through the Austrian mountains involving a snow plane the film contains no sense of urgency, whereas in Skyfall or even Quantum of Solace the mission was clear and the stakes were raised. Ralph Fiennes returns as the current M and he has a bit more to do her than he did in Skyfall, an improvement.
Lea Seydoux is this film’s main Bond girl and she does the best she can with what she’s given as Madelaine Swann, which isn’t exactly a lot. She’s more of a lonely damsel by film’s end. I don’t buy her admission of love for Bond later on for a damn second, although she can hold her own better than any other female character in the Craig films. Monica Belluci is in the film for 5 minutes, and what is most striking is how lovely she is at 51. Jesus Christo.
Like Ralph Fiennes, Ben Whishaw’s Q doesn’t have much going on. The two of them and Naomie Harris’ Moneypenny must contend with Andrew Scott’s C, out to bring MI6 and the 00 program under the umbrella of “Nine Eyes”, a global surveillance program backed by buyers unseen. Scott plays it as cool as when he’s wearing a Westood suit on BBC’s Sherlock.
Christoph Waltz is fine as usual as Oberhauser, or whatever his name is, although he doesn’t have much to do except be evil and taunt Bond. Spectre is always Craig’s show, and I had hoped for more for Waltz. I can’t help but recall the grandeur of Javier Bardem’s villainous Silva in Skyfall. The only performance that fascinates is Dave Bautista’s Hinx, a wordless hulk of an assassin. Hinx’s entrance into the film is fantastic and a bit hilarious, and his showdown with Bond on a train proves to be one of the film’s best moments with it’s Bourne-film sense of brutality. Bautista continues to impress in the wake of his amazing turn in Guardians of the Galaxy.
The most glaring issue is how the film attempts to tie up threads from the other Craig films that it really has no right to.
Underneath all of this lurks Thomas Newman’s score, another instant classic that I listened to before the film was released. The piece that accompanies the airplane chase sequence is one of my favorite songs of 2015 by far. The score is less cohesive than Skyfall‘s, slithering in many directions like the tentacles of the octopus shown repeatedly throughout the film. I realize how many times I have compared Spectre to Skyfall and that is because the films are so drastically different from one another, and while I will forever love Skyfall infintely more than this film I do applaud director Sam Mendes for concocting a film with such a different feel, even if the final product is a mixed bag. Perhaps I’m giving him too much credit.
The one area where the films are nearly equals is in the cinematography. Roger Deakins is not back for this film, replaced by Hoyt van Hoytema, who created pure art with 2014’s Interstellar. There is a dreamier quality to this film, particularly in the train and desert scenes later on. van Hoytema also composes one of the most beautiful renditions of Rome ever put to screen, just a hair short of the gorgeous city seen in Paolo Sorrentino’s The Great Beauty. The car chase in Rome, while boring, might also be the prettiest chase ever filmed.
When I walked out of the theater in November, I gave the film ⭐ ⭐ 1/2. After watching it again on Blu-Ray I can raise that a bit. No one sets out to make a bad movie, except perhaps with Zoolander, and while a lot of it doesn’t work for me this film is more watchable than a lot of things I’ve seen lately. While Spectre does infuriate me at times I will watch it again. I just won’t make a habit of it.