Thursday, November 12, 2015

Spectre - Not Spectacular

Spectre (2015) Starring Daniel Craig, Christoph Waltz, Léa Seydoux, Ben Whishaw, Naomie Harris, Dave Bautista, Monica Bellucci, Ralph Fiennes. Directed by Sam Mendes. Written by John Logan, Neal Purvis, Robert Wade and Jez Butterworth. Based on characters developed by Ian Fleming. Produced by Michael G. Wilson, Barbara Broccoli.  Color United Kingdom/United States. Run time: 148 minutes. Action, Adventure, Espionage.

There seems to be a trend in television and film storytelling to try to blame all the world’s ills on some secret multi-national organization with unlimited resources that functions to help its own cause to, dare I say it, “rule the world.” Anyone familiar with TV’s Blacklist has heard of the Cabal. Even the recent installment of Mission: Impossible, Rogue Nation, had the Syndicate. It’ll probably come to no one’s surprise that Ian Fleming’s James Bond novels also had such an organization: Spectre. The only book that Spectre is really a significant threat is Thunderball, published in 1961.

While prominent in early Bond films, if you're new to the James Bond Cinematic Universe and Spectre doesn’t sound familiar, it’s because it hasn’t appeared in a movie since For Your Eyes Only (1981) and then only as a cameo for its leader Ernst Stavro Blofeld.

Well, everything old is new again and Spectre is back and the organization is sort of plastered over the top of all the Daniel Craig Bond films in an attempt to tie them all together. Once again, Blofeld strides the top of the organization with Quentin Tarantino favorite Christoph Waltz in the role. Understated evil wears well on Waltz.

Christoph Waltz is Ernst Stavro Blofeld, the main villain in Spectre.

Like the best villains, Blofeld has a secret fortress, this one in the middle of the Algerian desert, filled with loyal and heavily armed minions who seem to be there only to ramp up the body count. Not only does Blofeld take responsibility for all the pain in Bond’s life, killing every woman Bond has cared about (forget what you thought you knew from the other films), but he also has another connection to Bond that I will leave for the film to reveal, though it's not one Ian Fleming had thought of.

Every time there is a new Bond film, the comparisons between the current Bond and past Bonds are inevitable. Daniel Craig is definitely not your father’s or your grandfather’s Bond for that matter. He is not suave like Sean Connery or Pierce Brosnan, but that’s okay. He’s more of an enforcer type and that works well in the new world order. You don’t mind if he beds a woman now and then, but you want him to fight rather than negotiate.

Daniel Craig returns for the fourth time as James Bond.

Monica Bellucci may seem like an interesting choice for a Bond girl. An accomplished actress, she is also over 50, making her, I believe the oldest Bond girl, or should I say woman. Still a beautiful woman, the real shame is that there is so little for her to do.

Monica Bellucci is under used as a Bond girl in Spectre.

Bond’s main love interest in this film is Dr. Madeleine Swann (Léa Seydoux), the beautiful daughter of one of Bond’s more recent foes, Mr. White (Jesper Christensen), last seen in Quantum of Solace (2008). (It’s okay if you don’t immediately remember him after seven years.) When last seen, he was a major player in Quantum, a secret organization in its own right, but we now know was simply a subsidiary of a much larger one. The last film I saw her in was Woody Allen’s Midnight in Paris (2011). Even in the relatively small role of Gabrielle in that film, she made an impression and she does here again. Not an award-worthy performance, but still very good.

Lea Seydoux plays Dr. Madeleine Swann, Bond's love interest.

While Daniel Craig is the star of the film, the minor characters have a lot more to do than they have in previous films, at least the ones in the Craig franchise. While I’ve never been a big fan of Ralph Fiennes, I must say that he makes a good M. And while there will never be a Q like Desmond Llewelyn, Ben Whishaw, now in his second appearance in the role, is definitely growing on me. Bill Kinnear as Bill Tanner, the MI6 Chief of Staff, is also showing staying power. Rounding out the usual supporting cast, Naomie Harris is also back as Moneypenny, the former agent now M’s assistant.  This is really turning out to be a good supporting crew for whoever the star might be.

Spectre, the film, delivers on your Bond check list. There is an elaborate opening sequence, there are the multitude of International and exotic locales, the martini shaken but not stirred, the Aston Martin DB5, “Bond, James Bond”, the theme music, the beautiful woman with whom Bond has a tryst and of course, product placements, the new staple of the franchise. While Heineken beer gets a screen credit, I can’t imagine they’re happy that it was used to pour down a mouse hole.

Bond films have a standard of their own, but I sometimes felt that this one was stretching the rules of good writing. I know that there are passages that no one but a Bond screenwriter could get away with and only because he’s writing a Bond film. There are, in fact, four writers for this film, which is rarely a good sign. At times the rubber band of congruity is stretched to the breaking point.

While the film has its share of pyrotechnics, there are definitely some slow stretches and the film is a little too long. I think there’s a rule that Bond films should not be boring. Like the theme song “Writing's on the Wall", sung by Sam Smith, this Bond film is just okay. Not that that will equate to lower box-office, but maybe it’s time to shake up the creative team, as they may have to, once again, reboot the franchise.

We are told that James Bond will return, but that future may or may not include Daniel Craig as Bond. His status is somewhat up in the air as of this writing. I’m not sure if he has one more film on his contract or not; and the film leaves the future ambiguous. If this is Craig’s last go round, no one could blame him for wanting to get out. The man has literally lost teeth and fingertips for the role. While I wouldn’t mind him coming back, he might want to get out while he’s still in one piece.

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