Monday, November 16, 2015

Spectre



Bond is back! If you haven't read my reviews of the previous Daniel Craig 007 movies, go check out the archives and see what I thought of them in detail. If you don't have time for that, I'll give you a brief history of my Bond fandom here. First off, Daniel Craig is my Bond. Ever since Casino Royale, I've been completely on board with this new iteration of the famous spy. Though I wasn't a huge fan of what happened in Quantum of Solace, I couldn't have been more in love with the last entry to the series, Skyfall. It took Bond to a whole other level with the action, the character development, the cinematography, and the evolution of the franchise embracing both old and new generations of Bond. As you can see in my top 10 most anticipated films of 2015, this was one of the films I was really looking forward to this year. With the name drop of Spectre, which I knew was the infamous terrorist organization that became Bond's biggest nemesis from the Sean Connery era, I had a feeling we were in for something really special.

After receiving a cryptic lead from a familiar source, James Bond travels to Mexico City to hunt a man who is planning to attack a stadium, only to cause a public uproar when an apartment building collapses beside him. He's able to finish the job by killing the would-be terrorist, but M is not pleased with Bond's reckless and unsanctioned actions that are causing international headlines. He's subsequently fitted with "smart blood" which injects tiny trackers into his veins in order to monitor Bond's movements at all times. However, Q agrees to ignore his actions for the next 48 hours so he can complete his unofficial mission. Little does he know that he's about to come up against a terrifying shadow organization with links to his past called SPECTRE.

The opening scenes of this movie have already drawn a lot of positive attention, and for very good reason. This movie begins with a really long tracking shot of Bond and a girl walking through the Day of the Dead ceremony in Mexico City. It's a really unique environment for 007 to play in, and it plays into the themes of this film very nicely. While the beginning doesn't play that much into the rest of the film, it is a satisfactory enough connection between the person Bond is there to kill and the secret organization he will eventually be pitted against. The score and the cinematography make the biggest impression in this opening, but the fun vibe of Bond casually dismissing the girl he used for her balcony and the subsequent chase and fist fight on a crashing helicopter is more than a worthy follow-up to Skyfall. Unfortunately that's one of the last things that does live up to the previous entry in this series.

This movie is a bit of a transitionary phase between the gritty realism of Casino Royale and the campy fun of some of the classic Bond adventures. Some people seem to find this shift in tone a betrayal of what we've seen before, but it's actually a lot more subtle than some of the harsher critics are willing to admit. It's a pretty theatrical experience, in the best sense of the word, especially when we're introduced to this movie's big bad (played exceptionally well by 2-time Oscar winner, Christoph Waltz). The shadowy, mostly silent introduction is replete with tension, and it's released in a frightening way when Dave Bautista's Mr. Hinx comes onto the screen (with a horrific moment that pushes the PG-13 rating to the brink). Both of these villainous characters have screen presence to spare, and even when they're not on screen we constantly have them on our minds.

One of the most interesting things about this movie (that people either seem to love or hate) is the fact that it ties the story to all of the other movies in the Daniel Craig era. We not only see images of Silva from Skyfall, but we also get multiple references to Vesper Lynd, Bond's most heartbreaking relationship to date. This is a nice touch for fans of this series, as it connects some of the loose threads that were left dangling after Quantum of Solace... but it also invites comparisons to movies and character arcs with which Spectre can't hope to compete. For me the biggest problem about this film is the lack of an interesting Bond girl. Madeleine is a pretty bland character, and I never bought his supposed connection with her in this movie. Plus, the background conflict isn't enough of a threat to get us invested in the supporting characters. No matter how wide-spread this agency's plan is, it just doesn't compare to the singular threats posed by the individual bad guys.

To sum up, this is a visually stunning experience that has a great opening, a pretty menacing villain, a terrifying henchman, and a nice blend between old and new Bond. Spectre is definitely not as good as Skyfall or Casino Royale (which gets better and better the more I think about it), but it's way better than Quantum of Solace. It just has a lot of wasted potential that will hopefully pay off in later installments of this series - which I sincerely hope Daniel Craig will be around to do. Ultimately, I don't get a lot of the hate surrounding this film. Perhaps it's just because it didn't live up to Skyfall's reputation, but it's still a solid Bond film and I'm giving it a strong three stars.

SPECTRE is rated PG-13 for intense sequences of action and violence, some disturbing images, sensuality and language