[Review] - Spectre

Courtesy of Eon Productions
I have a theory. No, not a theory. A belief. I believe that, when it comes to franchises, the best thing that can be done is have severe creative turnover. Essentially, no writer or director should work on consecutive entries in a franchise series. And why? Well, creative types tend to get really protective over their ideas. As a creative type, my ideas are my babies. And I will cut you if you come near them. When working in a franchise environment, like James Bond, the series is no one's baby. But still, writers and directors develop affections for how they feel things need to continue. And if they've already had a success, the editors - or producers - will be less likely to say no to them. We see this again and again. Jon Faveau with Iron Man 1 & 2, Joss Whedon with the Avengers, J.J. Abrams with the Star Trek reboot.

And it happens with Bond. John Glen directed five films of the series back to back, each with diminishing returns. Purvis and Wade have written seven of the films in succession, with varying degrees of success. I take no issue with the same creatives being involved over time, but they need distance from the product to allow a fresh perspective to over take them. Otherwise, they just get caught up in their own ideas rather than the best interests of the franchise. I look at Nicholas Meyer's 9 year gap between Star Trek films, or Martin Campbell's 11 year gap between Bond films as excellent examples of how time hones quality.

This is a lesson that Wilson and Broccoli should have learned from, as Sam Mendes, John Logan and Purvis and Wade are stretching themselves quite thing with Spectre, one of the least effective Bond films in the canon. It is the antithesis of everything Skyfall was, made all the more obvious by the fact that it is a direct sequel to Skyfall (you'd think they'd have learned their lesson about direct sequels from Quantum of Solace) as well as a third act to the entire Craig era of films. It is dull, uninspired, tudgulent (yep, made that word right up), and smack of all the worst qualities of a franchise that seemed to be growing beyond its sophomoric tendencies. If Skyfall was a hurtling step forward, this is a groping volley backwards, with it stumbling on the landing back in the heart of the worst of the Brosnan or Moore eras.

Good song though. Credits were a bit... fetishy though.

Hit the jump for the review, which contains no spoilers.

It isn't that Spectre is bad so much that it is dull. Much it made of the fact that at 148 minutes, it is the longest Bond film, and that at $300 million, it is the most expensive. And that seems like a lot of money and a lot of time for very little to happen effectively. The movie opens with the least exciting prologue in the franchise history. This despite a building collapsing and a fist fight inside a helicopter. The same is true of every sequence in the film. Later, there is a car chase in Rome that is utterly without tension or adrenaline. You might as well just watch traffic cameras for all the blood pressure it might get pumping. Fight sequences happen so passively, it seems as though Mendes were bored with the whole notion of action. In a film where a train is essentially disassembled by fists, and a plane is used as a sled, everything ends up feeling very boring. Very disconnected. Very disinterested.

And disinterested is about as close to a theme or thesis as this film gets. Everyone involved, with the sole exception of Ben Whishaw, seems completely put out by being involved in the film. The writing is placid and lazy, the direction lacks anything resembling enthusiasm, and the acting seems like it was done remotely. Exactly twice in these 148 minutes does Daniel Craig seem like he gives a damn, and they are very good moments that then get folded back into the monotony. And its across the board. Its like they filmed the movie exclusively on each actors "I don't give a shit" days. With, I'll say again, the exception of Whishaw, who seems very excited to actually have some character to make use of in this film. Bizarrely, Q is the best developed character in the movie, but looking back on it I'd say it's all performance rather than scripted.

The film picks up almost immediately after Skyfall, and almost immediately begins rehashing everything it can in place of developing its own ideas. Whereas Skyfall was a loving tribute to the best aspects of the franchise, with organic (or mostly organic) references sprinkled between real character development and a developed story, Spectre is as unsubtle and hamfisted as Die Another Day. Whole chunks of the film are essentially reworkings of better scenes from On Her Majesty's Secret Service, From Russia with Love, You Only Live Twice, and Thunderball. These, not coincidentally, are the films involving Spectre the organization. Here, Spectre is just another in a long list of in-jokes and references that don't do anything or go anywhere. Despite being named after them, the film no more presents them as a threat than it might a foreign government. Spectre is the sprectre of the film, in that it evaporates once you get a really good look at it. It's all very Scooby-Doo, actually, with the spook's mask pulled back to reveal a sad old man.

The film is bespotted with non-entities. Dave Bautista's unnamed, nonspeaking goon is meant to recall the likes of Oddjob or Jaws, but does nothing to live in memory (he even has a gimmick, which isn't called attention to, or referenced more than once, thus defeating the definition of a gimmick). Christoph Waltz' villain doesn't even really show up until the end of the second act (which, as I mention it, the film seems to have four acts, which might be a product of it's length, or might be a quirk of the script, or might be because of the terrible editing that pockmarks the film), and isn't really anything to fear. He's really nothing more than an extended reference , forced into an awkward backstory origin with 007 in a way that never once feels genuine. Andrew Scott as M's new boss C is there essentially to give Ralph Fiennes someone to work against, though never as entirely effectively as Ralph Fiennes was essentially someone for Judi Dench to work against in the last film.

And then there are the women. Look, we know that the Bond series has a long history of being misogynistic at worst and being passive about its female characters at best, but this is 2015. There is no longer any excuse for female characters whose sole narrative purpose is for Bond to sleep with, or get locked in a closet with a bomb. The movie feels very archaic, especially after a summer which saw great strides in female protagonists in action movies, like Sicario and Rogue Nation. There are four female characters in the film, I suppose. One is unnamed, Monica Bellucci gets essentially a cameo, Moneypenny follows M around like a puppy the entire film, and Léa Seydoux as Madeleine Swann is there simply as a puppet to manipulate Bond's emotional state from scene to scene. Removing her from the narrative changes the narrative in no substantial fashion, which means she is valueless as a character. In 2015, the female lead has less narrative importance than the custom made Aston Martin DB-10.

The film feels like it was written while looking at the big list of Bond tropes, and embracing them as wholeheartedly and without self awareness as the Roger Moore era. My screening had the audience laughing at the movie. Not at a funny line, at the movie itself. It had lapsed into self parody. The worst instincts and the worst aspects of the franchise, which the Craig era was meant to askew and put to bed, run rampant throughout Spectre. And yet, there is a disconnect as the film still very much wants to stay grounded and realistic and be a Serious Film. But these two personas are taken to such extremes that they can't live harmoniously, which I would argue they were able to do so in Casino Royale and more-so in Skyfall. The film also features a lot of continuity across the Craig era of films, which ends up being hilarious, because they go to great lengths to avoid referencing Quantum of Solace. There is a literal lineup of elements from the films, except from Solace, which is getting the full ginger-stepchild treatment. To which I would say, Spectre should check its hair in the mirror.
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About MR. Clark

Adopting the descriptor of "successfully unpublished author", MR. Clark began writing things on the internet in 2012, which he believed to be an entirely reputable and civilized place to find and deliver information. He regrets much.


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