November 5, 2015

CINEMA | 'Spectre' – James Bond Gets Shaken

"The dead are alive."
Daniel Craig Sam Mendes | James Bond 007 | Spectre

James Bond seems very tired at this point or at the very least, Daniel Craig, the sixth actor portraying him, does. Spectre, the latest and twenty-fourth entry in Ian Flemming's 007 series and named after the titular fictional criminal organization, brings back and tries to replicate the high watermark and success of its predecessor, Skyfall. Director Sam Mendes has reassembled his team for another tale of outlandish British espionage. However, in almost every conceivable way, Spectre is a subpar and unremarkable follow-up and franchise wrapping direct sequel to the Craig era of Bond films.

In his fourth Bond outing, Craig feels the most haggard, no doubt the result of a gruelling, troubled, and expensive shooting period. His charm, wit, and levity for the material still shows, but Spectre is so overstuffed with dense over plotting—the longest Bond film cracking in at two hours and twenty-eight minutes—and references going back to the franchise reboot Casino Royale as the film looks to pay off every element and villain that's come since. Eon Productions has in the past been able to course correct many times to either resurrect of fix problems with the durable yet formulaic film franchise, but here, Mendes unsuccessfully plays off classic Bond troupes even harkening to the campier Roger Moore era.

The first half is fairly appealing with a dazzling opening tracking shot set at Mexico City's Day of the Dead celebration in big Bond fashion. Soon after, we have Craig's Bond globe hopping to find (uninteresting) clue after clue while trudging up past foes and lovers looking for the architect of his pain, the head of SPECTRE Franz Oberhauser, played by Christoph Waltz. Waltz seems almost too villainous and stereotypical of classic era Bond archenemies as he's never utilized quite enough only showing up here and there in a largely wasted third act performance you've already seen in other, better films many times before.

A subplot involving the modernizing of British intelligence featuring topical themes of government oversight, spying on the public, data collection, and drones wraps in a very charismatic Ralph Fiennes as M in a solid performance, the always fun Ben Whishaw as Q, a serviceable Naomie Harris as Monneypenny, and Sherlock actor Andrew Scott as C, a new, antagonistic bureaucrat. The team aspect is welcome, mirroring shades of the Mission: Impossible series, but it's only one of far too many elements in the Bond film. Add to that, a game but inconsistent Léa Seydoux as the most prominent yet simultaneously throwaway feeling Bond girl and love interest in addition to a non-speaking Dave Bautista as a throwback Bond henchman, Mr. Hinx, constantly hunting Bond down in a brutal but largely unexplained role and none of it really ever comes together the way it should.

By the fourth go-round, James Bond often becomes bloated and goes through the motions as Spectre remixes all twenty-three films before it as it attempts to close the book on the previous three instead of evolving any of the secret agent's storied mythos. It's a competently made, gorgeously looking and executed adventure almost too focused on living up to its predecessor(s) to really entertain or pay off any of its unsubstantial story. After re-energizing the formula in Skyfall, Spectre feels so unexpectedly flat and altogether unspectacular.

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