SPECTRE – A Second Opinion

Editor’s Note: As with all Bond films, many of your friends will see it and each will have their own opinion on the film. James shared his thoughts on Spectre a couple of weeks ago, so when Randy’s piece hit my inbox this week I thought it was only appropriate that we publish this extremely well polished, second opinion, on the biggest film of the year. Enjoy. 

SPECTRE – the 24th film in the long-running James Bond franchise – opens with an ominous portent that resounds throughout its 148 minute running time in all sorts of interesting ways. Indeed, the dead return to life in 007’s latest (mis)adventure for more than a sojourn in Mexico City. From Connery inspired visual cues to the return of mythic henchmen, this is expertly crafted escapism that lacks the narrative bite of its predecessor. Thankfully, despite its janky screenplay and often erratic pacing, the film brings to the table a plethora of quintessential ‘Bond, James Bond’ moments.

SPECTRE’s merits are neatly reflected in its opening minutes. A bravura display of Sam Mendes’ directorial discipline sees Daniel Craig leaping over rooftops, set to the smooth pulse of Thomas Newman’s score, in the heart of a suitably exotic locale. It is here that glimmers of the film’s full potential emerge, steeped in inventive camerawork and dramatic intrigue. Indeed, the first 15 minutes (post gunbarrel) register so strongly that one can’t help but sigh at the ensuing title sequence. It’s so suggestive it might be mistaken for a sequel to ‘The Fisherman’s Wife’. Sam Smith’s overwrought theme tune, entitled ‘The Writing’s On The Wall’, also leaves one cold – doing little to tantalise the viewer with strands of the plot tentacles to come. And rest assured, many are the plots, and too often are they convoluted.

In the aftermath of 007’s pre-title ‘holiday’, MI6 finds itself in the midst of its most bureaucratic shakedown yet. There’s talk of universal surveillance, drones and the iffy morality of security, played out by characters (such as Ralph Fiennes’s M) who give the dialogue a grace it doesn’t deserve. Set against this Whitehall politicking is Bond’s race to uncover a shadowy organisation (the titular ‘SPECTRE’) that may be somehow connected, headed by an impossibly pleasant megalomaniac in the form of Christoph Waltz. The film works hard to reconcile these various plot threads, weaving in constant touches of nostalgia. And therein lies the problem. There is no doubt that many of the film’s best moments consist of winks to the Bond mythos, but set against the Snowden-era plot, make for a cocktail of mixed emotions. The consequence of these many contradictions is a film that is often easy to admire that keeps you at arm’s length.

The film’s screenplay – shared between writers John Logan, Neal Purvis, Robert Wade and Jez Butterworth – bears a great responsibility for many of the more noticeable lapses in pacing, and is salvaged by the dynamism of the cast. Craig, as always, brings a quiet lethality to the character of Bond – shackled in Tom Ford so tight he appears as some sort of apex predator. Ben Whishaw’s Q celebrates his second outing with some of the funniest dialogue in the film, and Monica Bellucci – initially reputed to have a much larger role in SPECTRE – acts as a perfect foil to Craig, albeit all too briefly. Even Dave Bautista, playing the role of the implacable assassin Mr Hinx, teases mileage out of a largely dialogue free role. Particular credit must be given on his end, with Bautista delvering a visually subtle and kinetic performance that builds on the promise of his ever-improving acting chops. 

When SPECTRE succeeds, it does so expertly. Van Hoytema’s 35 mm print of the film elevates proceedings to as high a technical standard as possible. The film’s humour (delivered mostly via Whishaw’s Q) often finds its feet with satisfying results. And a trifecta of tightly choreographed set pieces round out the foundation for what should, arguably, have been the equal of Mendes & Craig’s previous effort. But when the film fails, it does so like a lame duck, the product of ponderous plot holes and unstuck narrative landings. While still entirely worthy of a trip to the cinema, SPECTRE fails to capitalize on the momentum established in Craig’s other leaner Bond films. As the old adage goes – ‘too many cooks spoil the broth’. And while the raw ingredients in SPECTRE are as good as they’ve even been, we’re left wondering whether we really needed as many of them as were thrown in. 

Images courtesy of The Suits of James Bond

Directed by Sam Mendes.

Produced by EON Productions.

Distributed by MGM/Columbia Pictures.

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