Underwhelming but not terrible, SPECTRE feels like a missed opportunity
3rd November 2015
A little bit of background
One thousand and ninety-seven days.
One thousand and ninety-seven long days - almost three years to the day - since BlogalongaBond last raised its head here. It's been a difficult wait, full of excessive hype to the point of near-meltdown and rewatch after rewatch of Dalton & Co being the best damn Bonds that they can be.
SPECTRE is Daniel Craig's fourth film. He is the fourth Bond actor after Connery, Moore and Brosnan to make it to this rather awkward checkpoint, which contains the not-exactly-classics of Thunderball, Moonraker and Die Another Day. So, the bar was set pretty low for SPECTRE in that sense.
After Skyfall received some minor criticism for not being 'a Bond film' (and by that meaning that it didn't include enough eyebrow waggling and silly gadgets) Sam Mendes seems to have taken it to heart and gone back to Bond's roots. Spoilers follow from here on in.
So, is it any good?
Well, yes and no.
It's certainly not as bad as the previous 'fourth films', but it doesn't exactly hit the same heights of Casino Royale or Skyfall. And where Skyfall unashamedly borrows heavily from The Dark Knight Rises, SPECTRE turns to Marvel for its inspiration as it has essentially turned SPECTRE as an organisation into Hydra, trying to infiltrate MI6 from within.
It's a tried-and-tested trope, if a little tired, but as a result the whole film lacks any kind of sinisterness. SPECTRE's traditional goals - Special Executive for Counter-intelligence, Terrorism, Revenge and Extortion - are only very briefly touched upon and it's relegated to a minor plot point with 'oh, by the way, we set off a couple of bombs here and there'. SPECTRE's big goal is to introduce a surveillance system that can monitor the entire world. I'm sure that the fifteen year-old libertarian hacktivists will love that this is being presented as the plan of an evil criminal, but it's hardly equivalent to starting a war between two world superpowers.
That being said, it's got a lot of good points.
What's the best bit?
The action sequences are absolutely phenomenal. The entire opening sequence in Mexico is breathtaking in terms of cinematography and action, with Mendes clearly taking lessons from Alejandro González Iñárritu's Birdman for the first five or so minutes. The helicopter chase is ludicrous and yet at the same time brilliant, as any Bond action scene should be. We steer dangerously close to Roger Moore eyebrow-waggling when Bond lands on a sofa after falling nine stories but fortunately it's handled well by Craig who is now so comfortable in the Bond role that his cufflink adjustments almost feel as if they are part of Fleming's lore.
Dave Bautista plays a competent if unremarkable henchman in Mr. Hinx (whose name I'm not actually sure was mentioned in the film, someone feel free to correct me if I'm wrong) and leads to some fantastic sequences like the train fight that does From Russia With Love proud. Sam Mendes has also been watching Game of Thrones for the eye-gouging scene, it would seem. Hinx's death, however, is a little anticlimactic and the shadows of Die Another Day's American crudeness comes across in his final line of 'shit' - reminding us all that Bautista, whilst delivering an outstanding physical performance, is a much better actor when he's not speaking.
The chase in the beautiful Aston Martin DB10 is great too, and Craig delivers the witty one-liners much better than he has done in previous iterations. Really, despite his outspoken hatred for the character right now, Craig is the glue that holds SPECTRE together.
But Craig isn't the only performance that stands out: Léa Seydoux brings depth to a well-written Bond girl (unlike the wasted and really rather pointless appearance of Monica Bellucci), and then of course we come to Christopher Waltz, who - in the least shocking reveal of all time - turns out to be Blofeld and will go down as the best performance from any actor to play the legendary supervillain. The scar he displays after Bond bombs the desert bunker is also a very nice touch. Unfortunately, and through no fault of Waltz's, it's in Blofeld that the film's key problems lie.
And the worst bit?
It was barely a secret that Waltz would be playing Blofeld. As soon as the title of the film was revealed it was pretty obvious that the cat-stroking maniac would be in it, and the 'twist' that Franz Oberhauser is really Blofeld feels extremely forced, shoehorned in for the sake of a big reveal. And it detracts from the character who is supposed to be a criminal mastermind at the head of the world's most successful criminal organisation, instead turning his motive into one of (extremely) petty revenge because his father liked James Bond.
It doesn't help that the first time we are properly introduced to Waltz as more than just a shadow at the head of a table he is wearing the distinctive grey Nehru jacket and within 10 minutes there's already a white cat. It's not really much of a twist if we know within the first second of meeting him who he really is. I feel that the Oberhauser bullshit should just have been dropped and just gone with Blofeld to begin with - and honestly, given him a more important role.
Part of Blofeld's charm was that before we saw him for real we had four films of build up of this intimidating, hidden figure - whereas in SPECTRE we get a solitary 10 minutes. Obviously, four films of build-up is not possible right now, but at least some of the film's focus should be moved away from the Snowden-esque commentary and onto building up the film's antagonist.
Touching further on the comment I made earlier about Monica Bellucci's appearance - when the casting was announced it was hailed as a brilliant move for older women in the industry, but upon actually watching what they've done with her character it's simply embarrassing. Her husband is murdered by Bond, which - for some seemingly inexplicable reason - makes her a target for hitmen. Bond protects her from them and then proceeds to seduce her in the most rapey manner he possibly can, before taking off and never mentioning her again. It's even worse than Severine in Skyfall, at least you learnt of her fate before completely forgetting about her.
However, having said all of that, when you're watching SPECTRE these things matter little. I was incredibly entertained throughout and it wasn't until after the film had ended and I had time to reflect on what I had witnessed that I realised the grievances I had. Taking SPECTRE for what it is - a Bond film in the style of old, mindless escapism as opposed to the high-end cinema that was brought in Casino Royale and Skyfall, it's a great film. Not the best, but very, very far from the worst.
What about the theme tune?
A friend once described Sam Smith's voice as 'trying to sing with a mouthful of peanut butter', and that phrase has stuck with me ever since. The thing is, Writing's On The Wall itself isn't bad. It starts off solidly enough, but then it carries on building up, and reaches a point where there should be an explosive climax - but the climax never arrives. Basically, it's a weaker version of Adele's Skyfall, which was hardly the strongest entry ever.
And so, the updated ranking
- Casino Royale
- Licence To Kill
- The Living Daylights
- On Her Majesty's Secret Service
- From Russia With Love
- The World Is Not Enough
- The Spy Who Loved Me
- Dr. No
- You Only Live Twice
- Live And Let Die
- Tomorrow Never Dies
- For Your Eyes Only
- The Man With The Golden Gun
- Diamonds Are Forever
- A View To A Kill
- Quantum of Solace
- Die Another Day