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Friday, November 6, 2015

Movie Review: #SPECTRE

The 24th Bond film lazily moves to an illogical and disappointing third act.

WARNING: SPOILERS AHEAD

Review by Matt Cummings


For those of us who remember many of the James Bond films when they were actually released, SPECTRE is something of a coming home party Finally able to tap into the terror group's deep roots within the universe, I personally couldn't wait to see how Director Sam Mendes would introduce the shadowy organization and its top dog. Unfortunately, the 24th Bond film suffers from too plot holes, a bloated run time, and characters who've been shoe-horned into a disappointing third act.

When James Bond (Daniel Craig) heads to Mexico City during the Day of the Dead festivities, he learns of a new organization that's behind several high-profile terrorist events. Grounded by M (Ralph Fiennes) for defying orders, Bond instead heads to Rome, only to learn his new enemy is far more deadly than any he's ever faced. SPECTRE is headed by the mysterious Franz Oberhauser (Christoph Waltz), who enjoys a diabolical history with Bond and has been quietly assembling his cartel in preparation for MI:6's demise. But Bond will have no help from his bosses: pulled of their teeth and facing imminent death, M, Moneypenny (Naomie Harris) and Q (Ben Whishaw) must keep an ambitious government agent (Andrew Scott) from replacing the 00 program with a worldwide high-tech surveillance network. As Bond jets around the world in an effort to stop SPECTRE, he must also keep a former enemy's daughter (Lea Seydoux) safe from the henchman Hinx (Dave Bautista), all while wrestling with his future as 007.

If any of this sounds familiar, you're not alone: it's basically the same plot as this year's Mission: Impossible movie Rogue Nation. At first, we seem ready to accept the similarities: we get tips-of-the-hat to previous Craig installments, the deepening Bond's new backstory and potentially setting the stage for something magical. But something happens along the way, as if the bloated runtime begins to catch up, led by a pretty but unproductive car chase between Craig and Bautista, with Bond trying out all the new buttons in the DB10. The widow of yet another Bond victim (Monica Belucci) isn't around long enough to make a impact as the red-shirt hottie, but we assume she meets a menacing death. Bond's misogynistic conquering of Lucia needed more time to gather steam: her sudden release of information is a plot device that should have disappeared with Pierce Brosnan.

And while Casino Royale is a love story, the well-aged Quantum of Solace a revenge flick, and Skyfall a dark redemption piece, I'm not sure where SPECTRE lands. It's definitely a mish-mash of previous Craig entries, with some parts frustratingly underdone/overdone. And yet there's plenty to like: the brooding set up of the first act, as Bond uncovers Oberhauser, the spy-appointed Aston Martin, and the dame Seydoux. She is a shadow of Eva Green's Vesper, a fill-in-the-blank girlfriend with no connection to Bond other than his promise to protect her. Mendes takes a confused position with her, one moment rejecting Bond's charms then falling for him just a few scenes later. Seydoux is serviceable, but Mendes should have taken notes from Mission Impossible's Rebecca Ferguson, a character that would have made far more sense for Bond's bull tendencies.

Craig too has descended into a bit of a rut here: missing a serious amount of humor or even warmth, the assassin-monk feels hollow now, either because of the tattered soul he currently occupies or because screenwriters John Logan, Neal Purvis and Robert Wade were simply lazy. Filled with a third act that seems to defy even the most dense of previous Bond escapades, Craig never gets the chance to feel the weight of Bond's violent escapades; the broken rules, the glorious failures and mistakes, and the world he's left with are never explored well enough for audiences to understand why he makes such an amazingly bad decision near film's end. He simply walks (or drives) away, ready for a life that no one in the audience seems ready or willing to accept.

Moviegoers are likely to be forever split on Waltz's performance, but I think his power lies in the deep mystery surrounding Oberhauser's true identity. Once that is revealed in a classic 60's villain lair, some of that sheen is stripped. It's nowhere near the befuddling of John Harrison in Star Trek: Into Darkness, but I can see why long-time fans might reject it. The same criticism might be more fairly leveled at Bautista, a performance that feels more like a glorified cameo than the thought-provoking henchman we were promised.

SPECTRE is the most expensive and longest Bond film ever made ($250m and 148 minutes), and yet it feels like a lesser film than any in the Craig era. I felt the same with Quantum, but repeated watchings over the past year have warmed me to its smart revenge plot. And while that one sets important pieces in motion that are resolved in SPECTRE, the creative team has placed an emphatic end to James Bond, one that paints the franchise into a creative corner for future films. It's a challenge that can only play out in blood for the next director, with Craig reportedly sick of playing the role and any return of Bond based on the further shattering of his persona and psyche.

Filled with seductive charm and brutal honesty, SPECTRE is also wildly whipsaw, a film that goes off the rails as quickly as the DB10 makes contact with The Thames. It's not an awful film by any stretch, but it should have taken notes from the better Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation and Captain America: The Winter Soldier. Both smartly avoided the intricate traps which SPECTRE and the franchise now finds itself. It's still recommended, but the experience is unlikely to remain with you.

SPECTRE is rated PG-13 for intense sequences of action and violence, some disturbing images, sensuality and language and has a runtime of 148 minutes.

Discuss this review with fellow SJF fans on Facebook. On Twitter, follow us at @SandwichJohnFilms, and follow author Matt Cummings at @mfc90125.

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