Spectre (2015) – Film Review
Director: Sam Mendes
Cast: Daniel Craig, Christoph Waltz, Léa Seydoux
By @Roger Crow
“You’re a kite dancing in a hurricane Mr Bond,” remarks Mr White (Jesper Christensen). Remember him? A key player in the Daniel Craig-era Bonds. Shady, enigmatic, and though not in Spectre long, he plays an integral part in the story.
Possibly the best line in the final (released) 007 movie so far. What does it mean? Who cares? It’s the sort of things spies say.
There are many problems with Bond 24, which opens with an enigmatic quote, “The dead are alive”, and a spectacular pre-credits scene in Mexico City. It’s Dia de Muertos, the day of the dead. Bond, dressed in a skeleton outfit (a homage to Baron Samedi in Live and Let Die) is with a beautiful woman, for a change.
“Plenty of chaos”
They walk into a hotel, enter a lift (the same one from Licence to Kill) and go to his room. But Bond isn’t in the mood for love. Maybe his groin-based injury from Casino Royale has returned to haunt him, or maybe he’s got other things on his mind, like the fact he hasn’t caused any major city destruction for a while.
Needing to scratch that itch, he goes off on a mission to kill someone, and reduces a building to rubble, as per.
Following plenty of chaos with a helicopter, we cut to the opening titles and Sam Smith’s humdrum tune, ‘The Writing’s on the Wall’. It’s not a bad track, for the closing titles, but it’s a wishy washy curtain opener. Compare it to ‘Surrender’, kd Lang’s bombastic closing track from Tomorrow Never Dies. That was light years ahead of this, and Sam won an Oscar for his tune! Not that the Oscars mean much when it comes to credibility. But blimey. This ‘say what you see’ track is just average at best.
Anyway, opening titles over and we’re into the meat of the drama. (Less fillet steak, like Goldfinger or Skyfall, and more wafer-thin ham).
“Hiding in the shadows”
Thanks to a little exposition, Bond tells Moneypenny (the ever wondrous Naomie Harris) why he went rogue. The man behind the mayhem? Well, who could it be? In 2015, the ‘is it or isn’t it?’ question loomed large over Christoph Waltz’s character. Blofeld.
The arch villain hadn’t been seen on film for years, not since Roger Moore’s 007 dropped him down a chimney in 1981. Not that he was named, but we all knew who it was. (Max von Sydow’s Blofeld was good in Never Say Never Again, but that’s not official Bond so doesn’t really count).
Obviously there’s been a lot of water under the bridge since then, and this is a new villain for a new era. Well it was ‘new’ six years ago.
Here’s the key problem with Spectre. Blofeld has been hiding in the shadows, orchestrating all manner of carnage via villains from the past few films, like some sort of psychotic football manager.
It’s this sort of ret-conning that annoys me. Maybe that was part of the plan all along. Blofeld, after all, is Bond’s arch enemy, but it just doesn’t work.
There’s a spoilerific idea that Blofeld is also Bond’s brother, which is a little like saying The Joker is also Batman’s sibling. Sorry, no.
Monica Bellucci a phenomenal presence on screen, and the moment her widowed character Lucia awaits her imminent demise is arguably the best moment in the film. With her assassins bumped off by you know who, she and Bond get it together, and then we see no more of her. Just once it would be nice to have a love interest who’s Bond’s age, or older rather than the obligatory young thing he winds up with. Léa Seydoux is a terrific actress, but as Madeline Swann, daughter of the ill-fated Mr White, she’s glacial in this and doesn’t seem to bond with, er Bond.
The key problem with Spectre is it’s a Ferrari shell with a milk float engine. There’s not enough oomph under the bonnet, despite the expensive bodywork of the vehicle. Daniel Craig is terrific as ever, and Waltz, as we know, is one of the greatest screen presences of recent years – when he has the right script… by Quentin Tarantino. And how great would it have been to have QT pen this instalment?
But things just don’t work.
Andrew Scott’s C is a generic bad guy threatening 007’s surrogate family (M, Q, Tanner, Moneypenny). He wants to shut things down at MI6, and without Judi Dench (despite a brief cameo), the film loses that matriarch dynamic that glued the previous films together.
Ralph Fiennes, Ben Whishaw and Rory Kinnear add solid support, but the whole thing is so by-the-numbers it hurts.
There’s a generic villain in Hinx (a wasted Dave Bautista), though a great car chase is fun; a stunt with a plane, which Bond naturally wrecks, because that’s his job, and a beautifully surreal nod to Goldfinger when a Rolls Royce emerges from the desert to take hero and heroine to Blofeld’s lair. It’s a huge meteor crater, which looks great, but there’s a toe-curling torture scene in which Blofeld monologues for a while, and Bond is trapped in a chair while a drill tries to erase his memory. Or something. Horrible, yes, but a wisdom tooth extraction would have been as effective.
Bond and Ms Swann escape, naturally, and there’s an explosion so huge it made the record books.
Director Sam Mendes does his best with the material, but it’s far too long, and the finale in which the writing is literally on the wall, is as so-so as the theme it inspired. Even the score by Thomas Newman seems like a re-hash of Skyfall’s.
What the team needed was either David Arnold, composer of 007 movies from 1997 to 2002, or namesake composer David Arnold, who worked on The Spy Who Loved Me theme and the original Star Wars score. Ideally both of them.
Spectre’s not a bad film. The cast is superb, some of the set pieces are great, and it has explosions and chases and all the stuff you’d expect from a 007 movie. But it’s as flimsy as a kite in a hurricane. And while we wait for No Time to Die, already a year late thanks to you know what, there’s a definite feeling that the stakes have never been higher for Bond.
The same year Spectre was released, Mission: Impossible: Rogue Nation proved to be funnier, more thrilling and boasted an opera scene so good, it ranks as my favourite non-Marvel action set piece of the last decade. Everything Spectre should have done, and didn’t. Hopefully as Phoebe Waller-Bridge tinkered with the ‘new’ movie’s script, No Time To Die will set the series back on track.
Spectre, as the name suggests, is a ghost film; a diaphanous thing which seems quite formidable, but is floating over nothing.