Friday, November 6, 2015

Spectre Review

There's less of a plot going on during the 140+ minute running time of Spectre than there is just a stream of ideas concocted by various individuals once they realized that MGM had gotten the film rights back to the SPECTRE organization that had fought 007 in earlier films and novels. Yes, it's cool to see the dastardly corporation of Ian Fleming's novels return to the silver screen for the first time in 44 years, but it feels like the urge to put the well-known agency into the Daniel Craig Bond films was the only thing driving the storytelling on the 24th James Bond film, fittingly titled Spectre. Looking at the entire enterprise as a whole, it's remarkable how little there actually is to chew on in terms of both substance and spectacle.

Even if you're, like the majority of the movigoing public, unaware of such behind-the-scenes developments, I'm convinced it'd be impossible to ignore the shabby story on display here, which just plods along from one sequence to the next with very little emotional depth or fun to speak of. In this go-around, the shambles of a plot that drives the entire movie is that James Bond (Daniel Craig) is on the hunt for an organization that he believes is directly tied to past foes and personal tragedies. This leads him on a National Treasure-esque expedition to find the consortium (revealed to be, of course, Spectre) responsible for the pain and suffering he and others have been caused.

Shrouding numerous points of the story (namely the villains and their motivations) in secrecy is a bold move that doesn't pay off in the slightest, sending the plot spiraling into incoherence instead of ratcheting up the tension. The problem with this approach is that not only does all of the mystery have an unsatisfying resolution, but it's hard to get invested in the middling characters that the script (credited to four writers including John Logan and Neal Purvis) presents to the audience. Since there are no stakes or individuals in the motion picture to get wrapped up, it's likely you'll be trying fighting off a nap just like James Bond fights off bad guys.

Daniel Craig seems to have, this go-around, mistaken the debonair of James Bond for aloofness, it's the only reason I can think of for why he appears to be bizarrely dazed for much of the proceedings. Joining him on this adventure is the requisite "Bond girl" Madeleine (Lea Seydoux), whose romance with our lead character is so forced you'd think a Jedi was writing up this schlock. Moneypenny (Naomie Harris) gets to help out James Bond in one chase sequence towards the start of the movie and then says maybe five words for the rest of the film. At least Ben Whishaw as Q provides some successful laughs in his sporadic screentime.

Just as Q, Moneypenny and a Bond girl are bound to appear in a 007 feature, we also must have foes for our lead to face. This may be where Spectres failures sting the most, considering the immense amount of talent it wastes with handing out such underwritten villains to such talented actors. The majority of the physical violence James Bond faces in Spectre comes from Dave Bautista as Hinx, who  may be my favorite character in the whole movie. Once he lumbers on-screen for his first scene, Bautista has an intimidating presence mixed with a polished air (after beating up one individual, Hinx delicately takes out a handkerchief to clean up the blood on his knuckles) that's oh so interesting to watch. Trouble is, he has very little impact on the story, simply popping up thrice for fight scenes and having no overt impact on the story whatsoever. Take out the Hinx sequences from the film and there'd be no differences in the character arcs, themes, etc of the overall motion picture.

Like I said, Spectre grapples with only having concepts to work with, and not a fully fleshed out story. It doesn't seem to know how to take potentially interesting themes and turn them into a fully engrossing story. Nowhere is this issue more apparent than in the main bad guy 007 must face, Franz Oberhauser (Christoph Waltz), it turns out, is the one whose been orchestrating all of the events of the past three James Bond movies, which is such an out-of-nowhere retcon executed so poorly, that it's kind of shocking that that's not the worst part of his character. His personal motivations for hating Bond are poorly developed and border on incomprehensible, and it feels like such a waste of a great actor like Christoph Waltz to saddle him with a villain who gets barely any screentime and even less character development. C'mon Spectre, even The Green Hornet gave Waltz bad guy role a mid-life crisis to work with!

At least Sam Mendes (returning to direct from Skyfall) still knows how to shoot action sequences, though the cinematography by Hoyte Von Hoytema can't hold a candle to the exemplary work done by Roger Deakins in the last Mendes helmed 007 film. Really though, I'm shocked Mendes is the one in the directors chair of Spectre, as it's pretty much the polar opposite of the exciting and thoughtful Skyfall. If that 2012 effort showed the heights this franchise can soar to, Spectre is a shining example of what happens when Bond and his cohorts just go completely off the rails.

For some extra thoughts on the more spoiler-filled aspects of Spectre, as well as a place to discuss Spectre spoilers, click here.

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