Filmsy Reviews: 007 SPECTRE
Director: Sam Mendes
Starring: Daniel Craig, Christoph Waltz, Léa Seydoux, Monica Bellucci, Ralph Fiennes.
Quick Summary: James Bond faces a secret criminal organization, headed by his greatest foe.
Rating: 007(½) / 010
The following article contains heavy usage of puns, inside jokes and cultural appropriation. For your convenience, we have highlighted them all in green. The author's opinions expressed herein are not the author's own since he has no original thoughts. However, his views absolutely reflect those of everyone on TCS.
The name's Max. 52xMax. I'm a movie review agent with a license to thrill, and I will now set my goldeneye to the right spectre and tell you whether this movie is for your eyes only, or if it will knock the living daylights out of all the other spy movies out there; if it's a view to a kill, or if it will just make the franchise live long enough to die another day ...OK, that was really, really lame. I know, alright? But I think it was a good pre-emptive exercise to get all the puns out of my system and avoid further embarrassment. So, just pretend this whole thing never happened and let's start over.
Your mission is, should you choose to accept it ...Dammit! Let's just show the damn trailer, OK?
(I promise it will not self-destruct like the last time. We already fixed that bug, and on behalf of the Q branch I apologize for all the casualties)
So this is it, people. The latest James Bond film is finally here, and as a lifetime fan of the series I won't even pretend to hide my excitement. It's also the reason I've been reviewing all the spy films through the year. Well, that and the fact that there have been so many spy films this year. For a little while, it seemed like spies were the new superheroes, even though there was still a crapload of superhero films (not that I complain, since those are generally good too).
But James Bond deserves a special mention, since the iconic 007 agent of the (previously-unacknowledged-but-then-turned-out-to-be-very-real) British Secret Intelligence Service known as MI6 is whom everyone thinks of when they think about secret agents. The character created by real-life badass Ian Fleming has a very rich history and mythology that spans further than the original (and follow-up) novels, and even the film series they spawned. Because even if you've never seen one of the over two dozen movies, or if you only know Sean Connery as that filthy Spaniard from Highlander or Indiana Jones' dad, chances are you still know quite a lot about Bond.
Which is pretty revealing for a secret agent.
Bond. James Bond. Part-time playboy, part-time superhero, full-time awesome, 007 is the ultimate boyhood fantasy: he gets to travel all over the world fighting the bad guys, while also wearing fancy clothes, driving around in the fastest cars, having more gadgets at his disposal than Batman and Steve Jobs combined, and always getting the girl. Not exactly a role model but, like I said, this is just escapism, and movies are the perfect vehicle for that sort of thing.
Or maybe not the perfect vehicle, but still pretty sweet.
But the latest reimagining of the franchise in 2006 included a hard reboot of the previously-flimsy-and-flexible-but-still-somehow-established continuity, which involved getting a fresh start with a fresh face by adapting Fleming's first James Bond novel Casino Royale, which had only been previously adapted as a TV movie in 1954, and as a comedy in 1967, though neither of them are part of the "official" Eon Productions canon.
This new James Bond was a more serious and pragmatic character, who didn't give a damn about the way his drink was prepared and had a no-nonsense approach to problem-solving, which often consisted on things like running through a wall in order to catch up with a parkouring bomb-maker, or beating the ever-living shit out of his enemies with a crowbar rather than using a knockout gas pen while dropping one-liners without breaking a sweat.
Slowly, but steadily, this reinvented Bond has been transitioning into the one we recognize, instead of yet another gritty action series that is 007 in name (number?) only. That's not to say the Craig-era Bond movies are anything to scoff at, quite the opposite. Casino Royale is one of the best Bond movies of the last couple of decades, along with Skyfall which really set the bar high, perhaps so high that it might have hurt future installments... But I'm getting ahead of myself.
"What's that? You'll have to speak up, I'm wearing a shoe.
Oh, I need to get smarter about these things? Gotcha."
Anyway, before we delve any further into Bond nerdery, I feel like I need to explain a few things for those who are not very (or at all) familiar with the franchise. I'm not going to tell you the very basics, because you probably know those already from popular culture (or know how to google), but enough that you can watch this movie without getting lost or feeling there's stuff you're missing out.
Let's talk some numbers:
Spectre is the 24th of the "official" James Bond movies. That is, movies made by Albert R. Broccoli and Harry Saltzman's production company Eon, which owns the rights to Ian Fleming's characters and has been almost exclusively dedicated to these movies for over 53 years, since Sean Connery made his debut as the first James Bond in 1962's Dr. No.
Daniel Craig is the sixth person to (canonically) play James Bond, following Sean Connery, George Lazenby, Connery again, Roger Moore, Timothy Dalton, and Pierce Brosnan.
This is the second Bond movie (after Skyfall) directed by Sam Mendes. It's also the third time he's worked with Daniel Craig, after 2002's Road to Perdition.
This is Craig's fourth time portraying Bond (fifth if we include that crazy stunt with the Queen during the London Olympics).
As in "they literally used a stunt double". You didn't actually think the Queen of England would jump with a parachute, did you?
(Everyone knows that the Queen flies using an umbrella, Mary Poppins' style)
It's important to notice that even though all of the movies are self-contained enough that you could still watch them without missing much of the plot, the four movies of the Craig era (Casino Royale, Quantum of Solace, Skyfall and now Spectre) follow a single narrative which starts before Bond has even earned his status as a 00 Agent. Also, both Quantum and Spectre pick up right after the events of their respective predecessors, so there might be a few things that are referenced here which don't necessarily lead to new developments so much as they help establish the series' new continuity.
Some other interesting facts:
The criminal organization known as Spectre is one of the biggest legacies from the old movies and novels. Although so far the new movies had stayed away from many of the classic elements of the Bond mythos, bringing back the secret organization whose goldfingers tentacles were in all the evil pies is a step in the opposite direction, as they had not shown up for 35 years. Reintroducing these villains was a pretty bold bet and, if it pays out (with the highest stakes at the Casino Royale), it might define the future of the franchise.
Depending on how you're counting, Spectre has appeared or been referenced in some form or another in at least 6 of the Bond movies, usually as the main villains, or as the puppet masters moving the strings behind the stage. Both the organization and its usual leader Ernst Stavro Blofeld (and the cat he loves to pet) are almost as recognizable as Bond himself. If you've ever wondered why so many spy franchises (both spoofs and serious takes) have rigorous numerical hierarchies and ridiculous acronyms (such as UNCLE, CONTROL, SHIELD, HYDRA, COBRA, KAOS...), or why there are so many cartoony villains who are always lurking in the shadows or petting a cat, well, this is all due to Spectre's evil evil-doing.
As a matter of fact, SPECTRE stands for "Special Executive for Counterintelligence, Terrorism, Revenge and Extortion", though the new movies have apparently abandoned the silly acronyms and capitalization... because this is still serious business, goddammit!
Whereas I stand for "Highly Entertaining Recurring Business of Inserting Easter-Eggs".
When trying to write "the spy novel to end all spy novels", Ian Fleming (who actually served as a spy in a special task force during WWII along with his pal Roald Dahl) initially wanted his main character to be "an extremely dull, uninteresting man to whom things happened", so he picked up the name James Bond from a birdwatching guide written by an ornithologist because he thought it was "the dullest name [he]'d ever heard".
Bond's official title (within the fictional portrayal of real-life agency MI6) is RNC James Bond CMG, RNVR | 007. Which roughly means he's a "Royal Navy Commander of The Most Distinguished Order of Saint Michael and Saint George and Member of the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve", working for the Military Intelligence of the British Government, Section 6. So you can see why it would be more convenient to just call him by his codename (codenumber?). Still, it's not uncommon for both enemies and allies to refer to Bond as commander.
It also makes him the awesomest sailor this side of Popeye
(And certainly the ornithologist who's kicked the most ass).
The eponymous 00 before the 7 is also a designation, part of an elite division of MI6, presumably consisting of 9 agents at most at any given time. And as you probably know, what distinguishes 00 agents is their license to kill, on her majesty's secret service... Sorry again, I thought I had run out of puns, but it turns out that when it comes to bad jokes about secret agents, nobody does it better.
Anyway, that's enough trivia. Let's talk about the actual movie, because diamonds might be forever, but we only live twice:
Alright, alright. I'll say Dr. No to the stupid name-dropping and puns.
Sorry, I'm out of control. This is getting more addictive than black Thunderball
Like I said at the beginning (or at some other point, I lost track already), Spectre features the reintroduction of many of the classic elements that, as fans of the series, we want, nay, demand in a James Bond movie, which had been denied to us in previous installments in favor of a grittier, contemporary and more realistic take on the genre. But rather than shoehorning them in and expecting audiences to go along with it because that's the way things should be, the process through the 4 movies of the Craig era (but specially Skyfall) has been gradual and progressive in such a way that you almost buy it that it'd make sense for a secret agent to have an ejector seat in his car and an exploding watch. Not an invisible car, though, that'd be ridiculous.
So the Bond that we meet in Spectre has come a long way from the one that earned his 00 status by choking some dude in a bathroom and had his testicles scratched by Hannibal Lecter (long story, you had to be there). He's also gained some trusted allies, and since this is still Bond we're talking about, lost a few more in the line of duty. Some people would prefer that Bond were this permanently suave dude ordering martinis in Monte Carlo, always with the perfect comeback even in the face of death, but I have enjoyed the character development we've seen through the series so far, and actually believe it might be its biggest strength. This time around, the writers took the time to develop not just Bond but also the supporting roles. So characters like M (Ralph Fiennes), Q (Ben Whishaw), and even Moneypenny (Naomie Harris) get to be multidimensional and play an active part on the films instead of just providing exposition and moving the plot along.
Speaking of... Whatever happened to Felix?
Spectre actually involves two of these recurring characters kickstarting the story, as previous M (Judi Dench, the only remaining legacy from the Pierce Brosnan days) leaves Bond a final clue that leads him to familiar foe Mr. White (Jesper Christensen), who in turn agrees to help Bond uncover a huge conspiracy, if only he can protect his estranged daughter Madeleine (Léa Seydoux). Meanwhile, the future of the agency he works for gets compromised, as (again echoing real-life events) MI6 merges with MI5, and the new guy in charge, code name C (Andrew Scott) plans to get rid of the 00 branch and replace it with drones and modern omnipresent electronic surveillance.
Long story short: James Bond needs to go rogue in order to dismantle a secret organization no one believes is behind all the evil in the world, and the only person who can help him is a mysterious woman who might or might not betray him at any minute. If any of this sounds vaguely familiar, it's because that's the exact same plot as Mission: Impossible - Rogue Nation. But it's not like these scripts are very original in the first place, so I guess that's alright.
And of course, at the head of this shady organization there's a man who shares a past with Bond, and has been manipulating events in order to get back at 007 for some complicated reason we may or may not find out. What we do know is that the name of this guy is Franz Oberhauser (Christoph Waltz) and it's definitely not Ernst Stavro Blofeld... You know, in the same way that Sherlock Holmes was definitely not Mr. Roarke on that space movie.
In the same way these guys were also not at all inspired by Bond supervillains.
So, on the one hand, we get to see a return to the tried and true formula of the action-packed cold opening (a pretty awesome Dia de Muertos sequence filmed from in Mexico with love), followed by the psychedelic credits sequence (which features a pretty mediocre musical effort by Sam Smith). Then, we see Bond traveling to all sorts of exotic locations through the globe (because the world is not enough for 007) and being chased by Hugo Drax the Destroyer. All along, there's action scenes, glamorous settings, fast cars, plenty of octopussy pretty women (Léa Seydoux, Naomie Harris, in addition to Monica Bellucci and her huge Moonrackers), and even the cool gadgets are back. All culminating in the final showdown with the magnificent bastard villain who's been setting it all in a way that results in an epic climax.
At the same time, we get more of that character development and backstory. We find out that one way or another, Spectre has been behind pretty much anything that has happened to Bond since the very beginning, including his greatest defeats... and don't even bitch about spoilers now, because the trailer isn't exactly subtle with all that "author of all your pain" thing. In fact, don't be surprised if it turns out that non-Blofeld used a time machine and is the one responsible for the franchise reboot in the first place. I mean, it's not like it hasn't been hinted before that James Bond is a Time Lord and every time they switch actors is because he regenerates. His TARDIS is probably that Aston Martin... which is almost cooler than a DeLorean.
The end result is a movie that tries to please everyone which, as we know, always works wonderfully.
"Let the sky fall, I got the millions I got paid as a quantum of solace".
(Damn it, it's contagious!)
Seriously, though. It's not that this is a bad movie. Not at all. And it's not like anyone cares about my opinion, since the movie beat out all the box office records in the UK and it's been doing great in the US and the rest of the world. The people who made Spectre might even get a few BAFTAs out of it... Probably not for acting (and probably no Oscar nods either), though the whole cast does a great job, particularly the leads. Even Dave Bautista's Mr. Hinx is an aptly menacing henchman in the tradition of Jaws and Oddjob, though he has some very big (or in the case of Nick Nack, very tiny) shoes to fill. Oberhauser himself, though, has a rather stupid motivation and, even if I bought it, I felt that he wasn't long enough on the movie. The bits he had on screen were wasted opportunities for Waltz to do what he does best and chew the fuck out of the scenery, since they instead opted for a very low-key performance which might have worked fine if it didn't contrast with the over-the-top explosions and high-speed chases during the rest of the movie.
Overall, this isn't even close to being one of the worst Bond movies of all time (A View To A Kill, Tomorrow Never Dies, I'm looking at you!), but neither is it among the best ones (Goldfinger, Goldeneye, Skyfall). If I had to rate this movie on a henchmen scale, going from Nick Nack to Jaws, Spectre would fall somewhere in between Mr. Wint and Mr. Kidd. That is, not quite deserving to be buried with snakes like Baron Samedi, but not worthy of having a nice honeymooooooon with Dario either.
Spectre is a decently entertaining evening, but it tries to cover a lot of ground, and even though it is quite long (148 minutes) it tries to cram way too much without really having earned it. Furthermore, a lot of the action feels somehow forced, and it fails to deliver on a satisfying climax.
Something about the spy who loved me with a golden gun.
No recommendations this time around. You probably have TV shows to catch on, or maybe even would like to go outside for a change and have an adventure. Until next time, live and let die long and prosper.
52X Max will return... maybe. After all, tomorrow never dies.
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