Review Date: 12/14/2015
Rating: 3/5 Peanuts.
In a Nutshell:
Daniel Craig turns in a capable, if unremarkable, last hurrah as the world’s most famous secret agent in a nostalgia-filled, globe-spanning romp of senseless destruction.
So I watched this one a while ago, and then got bogged down with real-world responsibilities (sorry to say, this site doesn’t exactly pay the bills) so my memory is a little hazier than I’d prefer when writing reviews. That said, most of my notes tend towards the negative, and I have yet to write a hatchet-job of a review so maybe that’s for the best.
If you want the tl;dr up front I’ll summarize this film in one word – forgettable. In a franchise with 24 installments over the course of 50+ years it shouldn’t be surprising that there’ll be forgettable ones (I’m looking at you For Your Eyes Only) but it is sad that Craig, who I like as Bond, has turned in two of them, including his final assignment.
I’m going to avoid getting bogged down in the age-old who’s the best Bond discussion, because we all know it was Brosnan, but I can’t avoid looking back at Craig’s surprising, refreshing and unendingly promising first turn as the “blunt instrument” that would come to be one of my favorite Bond films, Casino Royale. There, the quick witted, brooding, apathetic violence of the film was shocking and refreshing. Craig’s Bond was a man in pain taking it out on the world and paying no attention to the collateral damage he caused in his sanctioned (and unsanctioned – more on that in a moment) crusade to stop the “bad guys”. Watching Royale I had the distinct impression that Bond was on “our side” simply by happenstance and that he probably was just as likely to work for Le Chiffre as against him had earlier life events taken a different turn. That was a Bond I wanted to get to know a little better, and although the cliché of the brooding hero emerged in the decade between 2005 – 2015, back in 2006 I was ready for a broody Bond.
Ten years and four (Bond) films later, I was tired of the shtick, and based on his performance I think Craig was too. Spectre tells the story of an evil organization that has secretly been controlling world events to ensure that James Bond suffers. But Bond is incapable of suffering, because Craig’s arc from Casino Royale, through Quantum of Solace and Skyfall and up into Spectre has not been one of pathos but of rather a study in apathy – isn’t language fun? Said another way, Bond hasn’t been learning how to live with his pain or finding ways of shedding the ghosts of his past, he’s been going numb. So when the villain, played in an underwhelming, almost deadpan manor by Christoph Waltz, thinks to inflict ultimate suffering on Bond by destroying the center of his brain that recognizes faces, thereby eliminating his ability to recognize the face of the woman he loves, I could no longer suspend my disbelief, and that’s a big deal for me. Seriously, I’ll gleefully watch a movie about giant robots punching giant Godzilla monsters in the face, so when I can’t buy in to your movie any more, that’s a problem. So why did I have a problem here? Because it wasn’t honest to the character, and if anything it served to undermine the only real connective thread between Craig’s Bond films, despite all the secret “we’ve been building towards this the whole time” nonsense that Spectre tries to sell the audience. Craig’s Bond was comfortably numb, a lesson he learned (/coping mechanism he developed) when Vesper Lynd died in Casino Royale, so the idea that he’s “in love” with admittedly lovely Dr. Madeleine Swann is absurd. Go back and watch his dialogue with Vesper, then watch his dialogue with Swann and then tell me there’s any hint of chemistry or love there.
But alright, this is starting to sound like a rant, and I want to avoid that, so what’s next? We covered the character arc being botched, and let’s just breeze over the throwaway plot of a secret organization trying to take over the world through some nefarious means. We all know that the plot isn’t the point in a Bond film anyway. Thematically, we’ve got yet another big government / too much surveillance is bad thing going on, which I liked except that it was the spies who were arguing against surveillance, which I might have bought if it had been sold to me better – I’m always up for a “who watches the watchers” yarn afterall. Also, there was a pretty good attempt at a “sins of the father” theme, though it probably would have worked better if Bond and Blofeld’s childhood relationship had been explored in greater depth rather than glossed over so quickly I almost missed it.
Lastly though, there was the spy gone rogue because his hands are tied by bureaucrats storyline, which just left me completely unimpressed. This is a theme that has been done to death recently, but even still if it had been done well here I wouldn’t have had a problem with it. But let’s remember something: Craig’s Bond is now 4/4 on going rogue. In Casino Royale he was so “unpredictable” that they put a tracking device in his arm. Then, in Quantum of Solace they sent the CIA to hunt him down. After that he was brought out of early retirement in Skyfall (caused by a near death experience) but was basically being forced right back out the door by the new M, and eventually sent into hiding, so not entirely “rogue” but still untrusted and resourceless. This is why it was so frustrating that when here it was not only Bond but all of MI-6 that was being unceremoniously kicked to the curb.
So yeah, I had a few problems with the plot and a more than a few problems with the movie’s themes, as well as with a lot of the acting, so why the full 3 stars? Well despite all of the above, which bothered me, let’s not forget what I went into the theater to see. I wanted a popcorn crunching action movie, and that’s what I got. The violence was awesome, even if I didn’t get a real sense of peril and I honestly never really worried “how is he going to get himself out of this one?” at any point in time. Sure, there was the scene in the desert where I had a bit of a problem with one-armed firing of a machine gun to accurately gun down like a hundred goons, but it’s James Bond so I let that one slide.
What really saved the experience was both the cinematography and the score. The music was awesome, and I’ll always have an affinity for that age-old James Bond theme, and while it wasn’t Adele, the main credit song was perfectly fine. But the cinematography was amazing! The opening tracking shot was incredible, full of black figures on white marble, and crowds of skeletons dancing in the dusty sunburnt Mexican streets. Continuing with the skeletal theme, the shot of the headlights moving through bare winter trees on a winding road in Rome was simply beautiful, and overall the shot composition ensured that the suggestion of death and danger pervaded the movie.
At this point, you know how I feel about the movie and this is running long so I’ll just provide a few highlights from the rest of my notes:
· Is Dave Bautista the new Jaws? Because I am very behind that – he may be since he didn’t “die” die while on screen!
· There are an absurd number of Dr. No references here
· So James’ balance center was just destroyed but somehow he can one-handed shoot full auto on a machine gun and absolutely Annie Oakley the shit out of an entire army? Oh, and fly a helicopter? Yeah that makes sense…