THE SPECTERS OF SPECTRE
The man (James Bond), the myth (Bond), and the icon (007). Such are the names that come to mind when speaking about Ian Fleming’s most notorious spy super sleuth: James Bond. Moreover, the Hollywood feature films of Fleming’s character of Bond have become more iconic, spanning over 53 years with several different actors stepping into the role of 007. The most recent incarnation of this comes from British actor Daniel Craig, who has exploded on-screen with a more “gritter” and action-oriented Bond with his films Casino Royale, Quantum of Solace, and Skyfall. Now, after three years of being away from the silver screen, Daniel Craig’s Bond returns in the new movie Spectre. Does this latest theatrical chapter of 007 meet its high expectations or is it just another run-of-the-mill James Bond flick?
Despite the personal losses he has endured (over the last three films) and welcoming his new “M” boss (Ralph Fiennes), James Bond (Daniel Craig) is still on the hunt, chasing after ghosts from the past. After receiving orders from the late M (Judi Denchi), Bond continues the hunt for revenge, despite MI6’s order for him to stand down, which ultimately leads him to Mr. White (Jesper Christensen), an old adversary who informs the secret agent an evil organization known as Spectre is rising to power, led by the shadowy Franz Oberhasuer (Christoph Waltz). Traveling through Europe in the hunt for Franz, Bond engages with the recently widow Lucia (Monica Bellucci) and settles in with his latest paramour Madeleine Swann (Lea Seydoux), a clinical psychologist who has ties to Spectre’s history, while crossing paths several times with the organization’s Hulk-like enforcer, Hinx (Dave Bautista). Back at London, M, Moneypenny (Naomie Harris), and Q (Ben Whishaw) are confronted with the reality of a bureaucratic nightmare with British Secret Service head, C (Andrew Scott), who is leading the charge in shutting down MI6’s 00 program.
THE GOOD / THE BAD
Like most, I grew up watching the James Bond films. I haven’t seen them all, but there are a couple of them that are memorable (Goldfinger, Moonraker, and GoldenEye just to name a few). When Daniel Craig entered the role, I was, at first, a little bit leery, feeling that the relativiely unknown British actor wouldn’t make the “cut” as the illustrious 007. Boy was I wrong about that with Casino Royale and Skyfall been two of my personal favorite bond films. After the success with Skyfall, many speculated that the next bond feature will have to “go big or home” in trying to bring the right sense of balance of action, suspense, and good spy storytelling. Spectre, the 24 film in the James Bond saga, does achieve enterainment as a standalone 007 movie, but mostly fails to impress in comparsion to some of Craig’s previous Bond features.
The spy movie has been done many times this year (KIngsman: Secret Service, Spy, Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation, The Man from U.N.C.L.E.); all of which have mimicked and/ or done parodies of the classic genre. The James Bond movies are the prime staples to that film genre, pioneering the way for to movie category to flourish and branch out. Thus, Spectre has that certain inherit feeling of nostalgia and familiarity to its name alone (an alpha male spy agent, high tech spy gear, an evil organization, sleek cars, beautiful women. etc. ).Whether you like Spectre or not, you cannot deny yourself the thrilling sense of watching a James Bond movie and letting nostalgia wash over you.
Sam Mendes, who previously directed Skyfall, returns to the 007 project as the director for Spectre. From get go, Mendes begins the movie with a bang, opening up Spectre to wondrous pre-opening title sequences (set in Mexico City during Dia de Los Muertos celebration) that sure does catch a viewer’s eye and attention. It’s a beautiful sequence with decorative costumes (for a cast of thousands extras) and set to a rhythmic percussive score that will surely have your feet and/or hands tapping, while the camera is fixated on Bond’s movement, weaving in and out of the festivities as if it was a single unbroken shot/ take. It then ends with a adrenaline chase that plays into the franchise well-known title sequence that leads into Spectre’s main storyline. All in all, it’s fantastic and great opening salvo to a Bond movie.
It’s also very interesting that the Spectre ties into the previous Craig Bond films, acting as a final chapter of sorts to his Bond saga with familiar names and events being echoed throughout the movie. With all the rumors circling about Daniel Craig not wanting to return to the role of 007, Spectre does allow his Bond story to come full circle and closes his character up to ride off into the sunset. Whether he comes back or not is still a mystery, even for a 00 agent.
The main problem with Spectre (as a whole) is that the movie doesn’t try too hard in certain aspects. Granted the film carries the pedigree of the franchise, but pedigree alone can’t hold up expectations, even for a James Bond movie. While Spectre holds its own as standalone James Bond feature, the same thing cannot be said when its being measured up against the rest of Daniel Craig’s Bond films (most notably in Casino Royale and Skyfall). While Spectre’s overall action is good in the movie, the action scenes were more intense in Casino Royale. While Spectre’s story is interesting, Skyfall had a better one. While Spectre introduces a new “Bond” girl in Lea Seydoux’s Madeleine Swann (will talk more on that below), Eva Green’s Vesper Lynd from Casino Royale was a convincing love interest. And while Sam Smith’s song “Writings on the Wall” definitely feels like James Bond song, it pales in comparison to Adele’s “Skyfall”.
Even the film’s main bad guy Franz Oberhauser feels generic and doesn’t live up to his potential. Christoph Waltz is a fantastical actor (love his role in Inglorious Basterds), but him as Oberhauser doesn’t feel not all intimidating. Sure, he plays the part to what he’s grown accustomed to (a cross between sadism and blitheness), but the character fails to project a great and memorable Bond villain such as Javier Badrem’s Silva in Skyfall. It also doesn’t help that Spectre has a weak story. Much like the Quantum organization in Quantum of Solace, the villainous Spectre organization is never fully realized and shown its maximum potential. We, the viewers, don’t get to see much of the group do anything, besides having secret meetings, listening in on people, and causing some calculated attacks. It’s a missed opportunity, which has a great idea, but never brought to light. In short, the film feels like slightly “stagnant” and doesn’t go too much out its way to prove to be the “best” in Craig’s Bond movies.
Actor Daniel Craig has proven to be the most “physical” James Bond with more action-oriented scenes with his character, trading in the numerous spy tech gadgets for a good old fashion fisticuffs brawl when dealing with his enemies. In Spectre, Craig returns to his post as the stoic (with slightly humorous one-liners) and stone-faced 007 we’ve all grown accustomed to in the past three installments. While he does do great job in bring his Bond persona to life on the silver screen, his character development of James stays flat (a big difference to what his character as expressed in the previous movies). Whether designed by the writers or on his acting part, Craig’s James Bond in Spectre as the “look” and “feel” of the iconic spy, but lacks the depth (insightful and emotional) that he’s conveyed in his earlier 007 chapters.
As with each bond film, a new love interest is sparked between 007 with the traditional “Bond” girl (or girls). Stepping into the spotlight is actress Lea Seydoux playing Madeleine Swann, the main “Bond” girl in Spectre. While I’m not denying her acting ability, Seydoux’s Swann just doesn’t feel like a great love interest for either Daniel Craig or James Bond. Yes, her character smart, intelligent, and somewhat doesn’t fit the “mold” of the typical “Bond” girl, but then she starts to swoon over Bond at the drop of a hat, which I do not buy into; resulting in making her character uninteresting and a throwaway love interest with little chemistry towards the famous MI6 spy. Actress Monica Bellucci shares a brief encounter (in a typical 007 fashion) with James as the recently widowed Lucia Sciarra. Bellucci looks the part and sort of wished that she was the main “Bond” girl rather than Seydoux’s Swann.
The rest of “Team Bond” (as I like to call them) does do a pretty job in reprising their role from the previous Craig installments. Ralph Finnes get a little bit more screen-time in Spectre as “M” the new head of MI6 as well as Ben Whishaw’s tech savy Q, who does prove to have some of best “humor-ish” lines in the movie. Naomie Harris’s Moneypenny also gets a little more time in front of the camera, fleshing out her character here and there, while actor Rory Kinnear’s Tanner is still in the background as a minor character, but serves as continuity for the past two movies (Quantum of Solace and Skyfall).
Rounding out the cast is Andrew Scott’s Max Denbigh (nicknamed “C” by Bond in the film). Scott, who most will know from his role as Moriarty in the BBC’s television series Sherlock Holmes, does good job as C, but doesn’t seems as “villainous” as he could be and seems more restraint in his character. Jesper Christensen makes a welcomed return as the shady Mr. White and does share a great scene with Daniel Craig’s Bond, between friend and foe. Lastly, Guardians of the Galaxy star Dave Bautista plays Hinx, a behemoth enforcer for Spectre that seems reminiscent to the classic 007 henchmen (with a very imitating and grandiose entrance to his character). It may not be as memorable as his role as Drax the Destroyer, but Bautista gets the job done and proves, to me at least, a highlight of seeing Spectre.
While we were graced with Craig’s introduction to 007 in Casino Royale, we were then given the adequate continuation in Quantum of Solace. The same thing can be said with Skyfall as we are now given a less caliber sequel in Spectre. The 24th James Bond feature feels like a classic “paint-by-numbers” 007 movie, meandering through the standard troupes found in this long running franchise, but to a lesser degree from recent films. While the movie shines with a thrilling opening sequence, a stylish look, and overall continuity found in some of its character and overarching story in the “Daniel Craig” saga, the movie just simply lacks substance and doesn’t rise to occasion, which is disappointing, to say the least. Personally, I’m torn over Spectre, feeling like I liked the movie, but feeling like think it was just “okay” at the same time. Bottom line: Is Spectre worth seeing? I definitely think it is. It’s just not the best Daniel Craig Bond film to watch. As the saying goes “Started out with a bang and ends on a whimper”.