Film Review: Spectre

Bond is back, and so are Daniel Craig and Sam Mendes. Looking to follow up the phenomenal success they had together on Skyfall; Spectre, the 24th instalment in the Bond franchise, has always been stuck slightly in predecessor’s shadow with a weight of expectation to deliver upon its shoulders far greater than it really deserved. In fact, it’s fair to say that aside from Star Wars: The Force Awakens no other movie this year has been waited for with such anticipation, and I’ll admit, I am one of those piling on the pressure to deliver, after all, I named it in my 10 movies of 2015 I couldn’t wait to see.

Sadly though for me, it just doesn’t deliver. It’s not a bad film, it’s purely a case that there are more negatives than positives to come from it. My biggest complaint against it is that nothing really makes sense. The plot appears to be individualistic yet formulaic. This is the story of Daniel Craig as Bond and so, all too often, it’s trying to tie up ideas and clarify characters from any one of his previous three outings into a story that is meant to come together and complete the tale. It’s a back to the future plot. A completing of the circle.

Daniel Craig & Aston Martin DB5 - Spectre

The problem is, you never knew that there was a circle being drawn. Too often the branches it’s attempting to pull together are so far from your mind that they now seem implausible and muddled. It felt more like a story being invented in an attempt to produce closure rather than a coherent narrative that actually makes sense. It gets worse though because when you step away from Bond and look at the story encompassing the world in which he exists Spectre changes completely, from being reflective, to being a social commentary on the world right now. On the digital age, Big Brother surveillance and how personal information, data, and the finger prints we leave can be observed and manipulated by those seeking to gain power. And the two don’t marry up at all.

This friction between the two sub plots simply ends up slowing everything down with a monotonous tone and the film ends up playing out, for a long time, at a pace which never changes. It never gets inside you, Bond never feels in danger and ultimately, while I was never bored, I was never that entertained either.

And this is mismatching is compounded further  when the standard recipe, the rulebook for Bond, arrives demanding stunts, girls and car chases. Each one falling flat, feeling shoehorned in and completely unnecessary. A lot was made of Monica Bellucci being a “Bond girl” but she has blink and you’ve missed it involvement that seems such a waste of a talent as big as hers. Dave Bautista as the token “Henchman” is gone just as quickly, and it feels more like he was expected rather than wanted. While the car chase involves an ugly Aston, no drama and ends in a way that feels more like it only exists to tick a box on the “what every Bond film must have” sheet provided by the producers.

Christoph Waltz - Spectre

Christoph Waltz, brings his look of stereotypical madness to the screen to convince as an individual but not as a character. The movie spins him into its web of back story and then carries on going, reaching even further and in such a way, that confuses the timeline of all 24 Bond films. Léa Seydoux I like, but she has nothing to do! And it’s such a shame because her character is intriguing and shrouded in a mystery that could have added a real level of depth to everything but instead they keep her one step behind Bond. It feels more like they are trying to not turn her simply into a pin-up girl for Bond’s misogynistic mind-set, which I applaud, but it shouldn’t have been at the complete expense of her character.

And the negatives just keep on coming. Even though it became the first Bond theme to ever reach number one in the charts, a lot of people criticised Sam Smith’s effort for firstly, sounding a bit too much like Michael Jackson’s Earth Song, and secondly, for seeming slow and melancholy rather than explosive and orchestral. I thought it was flat, but that it needed  “to be judged in the context of the film”, and secretly, I don’t actually mind it as a song. But, as the opening credits played my instant reaction was “they don’t go together”. The edit points, the tempo, the styles just don’t fit. It really does look as though the title sequences were designed with a different backing track and Sam Smith has been moulded over the top as best they can at the last minute. Suggesting his track wasn’t first choice and potentially explaining why it was written so quickly.

To tone down the negatives, the rest of the ensemble cast are actually quite good but that’s like saying the bread basket was tasty when the rest of the meal was rubbish. Whether intentional or not, Ralph Fiennes as M looks distractingly older than I remember him in Skyfall, and Naomie Harris as Moneypenny might as well have not bothered to turn up for how pointless her involvement is. Ben Whishaw as Q gets to add a contemporary slant on the traditional quartermaster humour Desmond Llewelyn created, but while he adds a refreshing lightness, he is at odds with the tone of the film and too often his involvement seems a bit cautious. Like Sam Mendes was never quite sure how much focus to place upon him.

Sam Mendes - Spectre

Like I said though, while there are a lot of negatives to draw from the film, it’s actually not too bad. The cinematography is stunning. Shot by Hoyte Van Hoytema he was always going to have a struggle after the amazing job Roger Deakins did on Skyfall, as well as, the raising of the industry bar by Emmanuel Lubezki with Gravity, Birdman and potentially The Revenant (which he’s shot in purely natural light) but Hoytema pulls through. Spectre’s opening single shot, which lasts 4 minutes, is a thing of beauty (even if the story behind it isn’t carried any further) while, the final third visuals of London at night bring the city to life in stunning clarity.

Ultimately though, Spectre just doesn’t feel like a Bond film. It felt like a pretence, an act. A second story that was dressed up with a few standard phrases to fit expectations. It’s slow and I think the lack of passion, excitement and resultant empathy will leave it forgotten quickly in the memory. Speculation is rife that the reflective tone is because this is the end of Craig’s story (and time) as Bond. I’ll be sad if that’s the case, because, as the Bond theme rang out and the end credits rolled, the overwhelming feeling I had was that Craig has one more chapter to go. One last explosion to his tale, because Spectre isn’t it.

7 out of 10 stars (7 / 10)

Posted on by 5WC in Film First Edition

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