Thursday, 12 November 2015

Spectre (2015/UK)

Julien Faddoul

** (2 stars)

d – Sam Mendes
w – John Logan, Neal Purvis, Robert Wade, Jez Butterworth   (Based on the Characters by Ian Fleming)
ph – Hoyte van Hoytema
pd – Dennis Gassner
m – Thomas Newman
ed – Lee Smith
cos – Jany Temime

p – Michael G. Wilson, Barbara Broccoli

Cast: Daniel Craig, Christoph Waltz, Léa Seydoux, Ralph Fiennes, Monica Bellucci, Ben Whishaw, Naomie Harris, Dave Bautista, Andrew Scott, Rory Kinnear, Jesper Christensen, Alessandro Cremona

Earlier this year when I reviewed Furious 7, I expressed my disappointment in how a once singular series of films had been frustratingly systematized by the current Hollywood cinema surrounding it. Comic Book films are the dominating market for Hollywood, which means serialized, referential storytelling is the preeminent command. Each film is a sequel to the previous one, with information stacking together to give succeeding moments higher volume and to mitigate fans who are paying attention to every detail.

Because I’m an idiot, it had only occurred to me while watching Spectre – James Bond number 24 – that this series has also conformed to the might of continuous storytelling. Including Casino Royale (2006), Quantum of Solace (2008) and Skyfall (2012), the Daniel Craig Bond films have all tried to tell one continuous story about haunted pasts, ageism and the fear of global security in a world of rapidly growing technological advances. With Spectre, Mr Craig, director Sam Mendes and writers John Logan, Neal Purvis and Robert Wade attempt, in 148 minutes (the longest Bond), to solve all unanswered questions that were left by the previous three films. As a result, Spectre feels a lot like The Dark Knight Rises (2012): Bloated, enjoyable, at times taxing and at times dazzling.

Doubtless the best of these four films is the prior one: Skyfall (2012), which, in securing Mr Mendes as director (an unorthodox choice) and his usual DP Roger Deakins, gave us a Bond film rich with active pomp and gorgeous imagery. For at least the first hour, Spectre is on this level, making it all the more devastating when the film plunges into the generic ocean hard in its third act.

The opening sequence is superb. The film begins with a chyron, stating that “The Dead are Alive” and then thrusts us right in the middle of the Dia de los Muertos celebration in Mexico City. Clearly an homage to Orson Welles, the opening shot is over four minutes long, this time shot by another master craftsman, Hoyte van Hoytema. It tracks 007 through the swarms of people as he attempts to assassinate a terrorist on the posthumous orders of MI6’s previous M (Judi Dench).

What occurs then links him to Rome where he encounters a sexy widow (Monica Bellucci), a speechless hitman (Dave Bautista) and the actual villain of the piece, Franz Oberhauser (Christoph Waltz), the leader of a criminal organization called Spectre. The only other pivotal relationship Bond has in the film is with Dr. Madeleine Swann (Lea Seydoux), whom he meets in Austria and is the daughter of someone familiar who I won’t reveal. Of course, he is able to get to these places with the help of both Moneypenny (Naomie Harris) and Q (Ben Wishaw).

Meanwhile, the current M (Ralph Fiennes) is having troubles of his own, a power struggle with C (Andrew Scott), the head of the privately-backed Joint Intelligence Service, which consists of the recently merged MI5 and MI6. C campaigns for the closure of the 00 section, believing it to be outdated.

It is best not to think too hard about the plot of Spectre. It would only ache. Mr Mendes constructs several delectable set-pieces in Rome, Austria and later on in Tangiers. They involve helicopters, planes, trains and of course Q’s latest cutting-edge automobile. But there is a constant sense of thematic evasion throughout the first of half of the film, which wouldn’t be a problem if the film didn’t so consistently insist on how paramount its own existence is. We are constantly told that Bond will understand all very soon, again, like a comic book. For most of this, Mr Waltz’s villain is fairly nonexistent and when his part of the story becomes crucial - as well as the exposing of his secret identity - it is when the film becomes so utterly bogged down in mythology and references that all the fun trickles away. Bond goes through a torture scene that is somehow both overly ridiculous and hopelessly generic at the same time and the climax of the film is as pathetic as a Roger Moore installment.

The question of course is where will this series go next? After Spectre, it is hard to see how this series could encompass any larger ground – though that has never stopped Hollywood blockbusters from trying. The 007 films have always been indelibly linked to the period of which they were made, so my disappointment in seeing this character converted into a comic book protagonist is not totally unexpected. The Pierce Brosnan films were made in 90’s, so they were about spectacle; the Craig films were made in 00’s, so they are about continuity.

There have been many think-pieces on whether this vogue is killing cinema. Not only do I find it laughable that one would think any trend can kill cinema, but in this particular instance, it has barely altered it. The televisionization of 250,000,000-dollar movies can’t change cinema, it can only change the way people produce 250,000,000-dollar movies. When you see the same thing happening to movies that cost 250,000 dollars, that’s when a cultural change has occurred.


  1. What do you say to what appears to be the common Bond Fan opinion, which is that Skyfall was awful and Spectre mediocre?

  2. I'm not sure what I can say to that, since I'm not an avid Bond fan. The only one I wholeheartedly love is FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE. If what you say is true, then I can't quite decode it. Why would they feel that way about SKYFALL and SPECTRE? Unless they feel, as I do, that the general gloom that the series seems to be wallowing in (like so many others) is manufacturing a fatigue. Thoughts?

  3. My apologies, I did some hunting up and I got my Bond movies confused. I wasn't thinking of Skyfall, I was thinking of Quantum of Solace.

    With Spectre, it's hard to say why it got the reaction, fandom and the internet isn't known for being specific (or consistent). Most of the comments I read were different variants on the phrase "it wasn't that good".

    I agree, I think it's gloom-related fatigue. There's only so much milage you can get out of "dark and careless world".

  4. SPECTRE has its problems. SKYFALL is a much tighter film. And QUANTUM OF SOLACE is a haphazard mess, mostly because Marc Forster has neve been able to shoot action coherently.