Movie Review: Spectre

We’re nearing the end of the year in movies, and that means my personal “big four” most hyped films are just about on screens. The first of these is 007’s latest outing. Let’s go.

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Starring:
Daniel Craig, Christoph Waltz, Ralph Fiennes
Director:
Sam Mendes (American Beauty, Skyfall)
Rating: M
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In my experience watching and discussing movies, I’ve come to realise that modern James Bond fans, diverse as they are, fall into two major categories: Those who like the movies despite their tendency to hit similar notes each time, and those who like the movies BECAUSE of their tendency to hit similar notes each time. The Daniel Craig era of Bond films has certainly courted the former type more than the latter, sporting a more rustic, sombre edge than the 007 movies of old, not to mention a tendency to draw inspiration more from Bourne and Batman than former incarnations of the suave super-spy.

In 2012 this trend arguably reached its peak with Sam Mendes’ Skyfall, my personal favourite Bond movie, and having achieved something quite surprising given his decidedly non-action back catalogue, Mendes and his crew have returned to make a very different kind of James Bond movie – one for the traditionalists. Spectre is sillier, grander in scope, packs more characters and “ticks more Bond movie boxes” than any of the other three Craig outings, which pretty much means that depending on what kind of Bond fan you are, there’s probably no avoiding either a palpable sense of disappointment or a refreshing sigh of relief. Either way, however, Spectre is a pretty fun time at the movies.

Spectre picks up right where Skyfall left off, with that movie’s sublime final moments taking immediate effect in order to drive a narrative that attempts to tie together all three Daniel Craig Bond films (yes, even Quantum of Solace) with a neat bow. The immediate problem with doing this is that the last three movies all had different directors, showcased different kinds of villains and really did not seem to care much about continuity. Suffice to say things get really awkward and stretch marks start to show as a result. Spectre‘s overarching story approach is its biggest weakness, and I’ll leave it at that, because as much as I want to expand on this point I cannot do so without significant spoilers.

All the story beats do come after a particularly spectacular opening action scene, though. Even amongst the uniformly excellent Craig Bond movie openings – that Madagascar parkour scene, that insane car chase and that rooftop motorbike/train sequence – Spectre delivers a breathtaking first note. The illusion of a single tracking shot follows Bond and a companion through the Day of the Dead celebrations in Mexico City, complete with mesmerising percussion and some cheeky nods to Bond’s decidedly less gritty history – a strong hint at the kind of movie that is to come. The action is powerful and the opening Sam Smith title theme into which it bleeds is phenomenal.

Action-wise it’s unfortunately all downhill from there, but that isn’t to say there aren’t memorable scenes – a snowy cabin approach and a throwback train sequence come to mind – and once again, Bond fans who found Skyfall decidedly humourless and devoid of smooth one-liners will find plenty to enjoy here. The resulting tone is deliberate from Mendes, as is the old-school attention to the once staple “Bond girl” and “evil henchman” roles, here filled with tremendous verve by Léa Seydoux and Dave Bautista respectively.

Spectre is the longest 007 movie in history, clocking in at a leisurely 148 minutes, and there are definitely times when the movie feels slow and a bit meandering. But this also allows more of a spotlight on James’ supporting team than ever before. The new-era versions of Q (Ben Whishaw), Moneypenny (Naomie Harris) and M (Ralph Fiennes) are given plenty of opportunity to shine alongside Seydoux, and they do make the most of it. Fiennes especially is a lot of fun to watch, at times all simmering rage trapped in a cage of bureaucracy beyond his control.

Sam Mendes was candid in the lead-up to the release of Spectre about his desire to avoid making the same movie twice, but I was a bit shocked by just how serious he was about such a philosophy. To some folks Spectre will no doubt deserve that well-worn derisive tag – a “by-the-numbers” James Bond movie. To others, following almost a decade of studio execs playing around with concepts foreign to the enduring spirit of the franchise, such a tag will be tremendously exciting. This is a very difficult film for me to recommend to everyone for this one fundamental reason. Yet personally, as a lifelong Bond fan, I definitely enjoyed taking it all in. If its narrative ambitions weren’t so foolishly large, it might possibly rank just behind Skyfall as my favourite Craig-era movie. As it stands, it’s neck-and-neck with Casino Royale for that spot.

THE VERDICT

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Good:
 Amazing opening, fun supporting cast, homages everywhere
Bad:
A little too long, very awkward continuity attempts
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3.5 VsG !

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