Sunday, November 8, 2015

It's...Good? - Spectre, Reviewed

It was a real treat this afternoon, going to see Bond XXIV ( in the theatre with the entire family for the first time ever.  After all, Glory was only 10 when Skyfall came out in 2012 (Daniel Craig's last acting gig), but since then both girls have seen all 23 EON Productions movies featuring the world's best known covert operative, and were really looking forward to Spectre, as was I.

After all, massive amounts of behind-the-scenes wrangling were needed to bring SPECTRE back to EON Productions, the shadowy and nefarious organization featured in at least 6 prior Bond films. Maybe too much anticipation on my part kept me from enjoying the film as much as I had hoped.

Oh, don't get me wrong; I still had a good time, and I think Spectre ranks above Quantum of Solace, but below both Casino Royale and Skyfall, for whatever that's worth. Your mileage may vary, obviously, and may be dependent on your tolerance or acceptance of the trappings from the more vintage Bond movies, such as megalomaniacal villains, a bit more humour, and an increase in gadgetry. Oh, and at long last, the return of the gun barrel opening, which I greatly appreciated.

Look, you're probably not reading this thinking, "I've never seen a James Bond film before, maybe Spectre should be the first,"; the odds are that you made up your mind well beforehand, based on either your slavish adherence to the 007 legacy (guilty as charged, your honour), the news that Christoph Waltz and Dave Bautista were cast as the Villain and Heavy, or that this edition's Bond Ladies (director Sam Mendes' more respectful designation) are Monica Bellucci  and Lea Seydoux. Or perhaps you are a gearhead who bought your ticket when you found out that Aston Martin was designing an ultra-limited edition DB10 for the film, or that Bautista's Mr. Hinx would be pursuing it in a prototype Jaguar, whatever. My job at this point is to give you a sense of what worked for me and what didn't (without giving away any surprises, and there are some) so that you can set your expectations appropriately and enjoy yourself all the more.

Let's start with the bad: the plot. Now, I fully understand that if you go to a Bond movie looking for too solid a plot, you have only yourself to blame for your disappointment. As I do not depend on this franchise for a realistic depiction of investigative or espionage practices, I will settle for the barest gleanings of a clue leading 007 to his next car chase/ shoot out/ beat down/ seduction/ whatever, and intuitive leaps are to be expected.


When Bond gives Q (Ben Whishaw) the ominous octopus-sigiled ring he procured at the opening of the movie, I was certainly not expecting a brief laptop analysis of said jewelry to certify the legitimacy of Bond's inquiry as well as providing the next lead, without any explanation of how. The brief screenshots suggest some sort of geometric link between said sinister cephalod's shape and the organizational structure of the supersecret organization that no one in MI-6 even knew existed before the cold open. With no better rationale provided, I am left to assume that some very compelling footage of Q superheating the ring and then reading letters of glowing elvish script off the sides somehow ended up on the cutting room floor.

There are a couple more examples like that, but none so egregious. If you can look past a bit of hand-waving such as that, and things like Bond walking away from a nearly fatal beating at the hands of Mr. Hinx without so much as a bruise, there is a lot to enjoy in Spectre. (And maybe they left out the scuffing up because they covered that aspect so well in Casino Royale they didn't feel bothered to revisit it?)

The rest of the story has a lot to do with trust: who do we trust, and why, how is trust lost or gained? Some of this plays out with the other characters Bond encounters, including the daughter of one of his longtime foes, but there is a political angle to this as well, dealing with how intelligence is shared between powers in an increasingly surveilled world, and the consequences of that information falling into untrustworthy hands.

Spectre ties heavily into the mythology and continuity established so well in the other 3 Craig outings, giving the movies a more serialized feel, which I certainly appreciate. For instance, MI-6 Headquarters still shows the damage from the bombing in Skyfall, and is being prepared for demolition. Ralph Fiennes, as the new M, exudes credibility as a boss in charge of some very dangerous men, but also politically vulnerable due to a pending merger with MI-5 and its head Max Denbigh, played by Andrew (Moriarty) Scott.

There are also a couple of nods to the older films as well, my favourite being the establishing shot of a mountaintop clinic approached from the air. The modern glass architecture reflecting the snow-covered mountains surrounding it hearkens back to similar scenes from On Her Majesty's Secret Service. The gracious villain providing lush accommodations prior to a final confrontation mixing civility with brutality is a Bond staple going back to Dr. No. And I don't want to spoil any surprises, but keep an eye open for a fluffy white cat, if you know what I mean.

The helicopter stunts in the cold open may be the best I have ever witnessed, with a real sense of inertia and tension created, and a fight with Dave Bautista is the most kinetically compelling setpiece in the rebooted series since the opening parkour chase in Casino Royale. And speaking of chases, Spectre delivers a great nighttime car chase in Rome, and even (gently) reintroduces gadgetry into the canon, albeit in a prototype countermeasures suite labelled with cheap-looking Dymotape, which I found delightful.

Fenya commented that this film felt a bit lighter than the preceding ones, and I am inclined to agree. While not sending off foes with witty one-liners a la Roger Moore, Craig does leaven some moments with tidbits of humour, while losing little of his ruthlessness.

The true ruthlessness, of course, is left to the villain Franz Oberhauser, as portrayed by Christoph Waltz. Some has criticized Waltz as a one-trick pony for his uncanny ability to mix charm and malevolence (although it is a pretty good trick).  Here, however, he plays with more of a flat affect and disaffected intelligence, toying with Bond as he reveals connections going back further than anticipated. To say he is a Bond villain in the classic mold is almost an understatement, and it feels like the films have been building to this.

There's more I will say to others who have seen the movie, but, intriguingly, the producers have crafted a Bond movie with just enough twists and turns to make it difficult to talk about! These surprises will delight some and annoy others, but I will leave you to determine that on your won, until we get a chance to discuss the film afterwards.

Daniel Craig is apparently contracted for one more Bond film, which is great; a lot of elements have been put into play by the end of this film, including a menacing organization, some new villainous characters, and an established support team at MI-6 of M, Moneypenny and Tanner.  I would love at least one more film to really round things out or wrap them up before the inevitable re-casting takes place (and hopefully just a re-casting; if they go full Spider-man with a re-reboot, I shall be quite put out).

If the Craig era ended with Spectre, well, things could be worse, but I think there is at least one more great outing left in the cast and crew we currently have, and this movie could make a very decent lead-in to it.

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