Thursday, 29 October 2015

Review: Spectre

This review contains minor spoilers for 007: Spectre.

It's a shameful secret of mine that - despite being a film blogger, a british film blogger at that - I've only ever seen one James Bond film: 2012's Skyfall. As Spectre is only my second, my thoughts on this new outing for the world famous super-spy may be different to those from long-term fans of the series. Indeed, while my expectations were somewhat high following Skyfall, which was one of my favourite films of 2012, I found myself quite disappointed by this new installment. That's not to say that Spectre is bad, in fact there were many enjoyable moments, but there were simply too many flaws for the film to be considered one of the stronger entries in this long-running franchise.

For starters, let's talk about the villain played here by Christoph Waltz. Details on both himself and the criminal organisation this film is named after have been sought by fans, as both were rumored to be closely intertwined with James Bond's life. This film reveals that this is indeed the case however it simply isn't enough to turn Waltz's character into a memorable villain. In fact, I'd argue he is quite the opposite coming across as rather underdeveloped even when the credits start rolling. Perhaps this is particularly clear in the wake of Javier Bardem's turn as Raoul Silva, one of the most menacing villains I've seen in a blockbuster film in the past decade at least. Not only did Waltz come across inferior in comparison but additionally never seemed to pose a great challenge to Bond, whilst the grand plan of evil organisation Spectre never seemed to be explained in depth. Indeed, upon leaving the cinema with my friends the first thing I said was, "So what were the bad guys planning again?" They knew no better than I did. Needless to say, it's difficult to be engaged in the conflict between Bond and his antagonist when the audience is given little indication of the stakes involved.

In spite of these problems, Spectre does hold some entertainment value. Daniel Craig puts in a great performance as a weary-looking Bond (perhaps a reflection of Craig's own exhaustion with the role), and the return of well-executed one-liners and comedic moments offer some much-appreciated relief amidst a relatively gloomy atmosphere. Craig has expressed a desire to leave the Bond franchise behind, and although he is contractually obligated to do one more installment, Spectre does feel like the natural end to his run given how it pulls together plot threads from Casino Royale, Quantum of Solace and Skyfall. Waltz does the best he can with what he's given although as we've already discussed his character Franz Oberhauser leaves something to be desired, and the rest of the cast particularly Naomie Harris, Ralph Fiennes and Ben Whishaw are all on top form as Bond staples Moneypenny, M and Q. Former wrestler and Guardians of the Galaxy star Dave Bautista is perhaps the weakest member of the ensemble, given little to do besides look angry and punch Daniel Craig. I understand that silent muscly henchman are a Bond tradition but the lack of substance and charisma to Bautista's character made his scenes less engaging than others, and I wonder if it would have been wise to reduce the character's role to allow more time to develop Waltz's main villain.

Of course another trademark of the Bond franchise is the casting of beautiful woman for the titular character to seduce. In this movie however, things on this front came across very dated. Indeed, this film pulls the audience in with the illusion of progression. The first woman Bond seduces is one his own age which is a turn-up for the books and indeed Monica Bellucci's character shows much potential as the events of the opening scene leave her life in grave danger. It is a great shame then that she is soon abandoned for a younger model (twenty years younger to be specific), in the form of Lea Seydoux's Madeleine Swann. Although all hope is not lost immediately as after being forced to join Bond, Swann quickly makes it clear she has no intention of sleeping with the spy and can handle herself without his slightly patronising lessons. This too is a refreshing level of competence for a female character in the Bond franchise, but again this too is soon thrown out as by the end of the film Swann does indeed succumb to Bond's charms and becomes little more than a damsel in distress in the film's final act. This not only contradicts the character traits the film itself established in Swann's first appearance, but also seems to highlight the outdated views this franchise holds when it comes to female characters.

However, the aforementioned strong performances and effective comedy moments do strengthen this film's weaker aspects, while the action sequences are as grand as you would expect from the 007 series. Indeed, from the beginning Bond is involved in some of the most ambitious action scenes I've seen this year, and so fans who may have felt Skyfall was somewhat light on action will be surely better served here. Ultimately, I didn't dislike Spectre, but likewise I didn't find myself overly enamored by it. The antagonists were forgettable and their plan unclear, while the series has begun to show its age in some places. That being said, there are just enough entertaining moments to fill the film's lengthy two and a half hour runtime, although its true that you may occasionally be looking at your watch and wondering how long is left until the credits start rolling.


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