Dir. by Sam Mendes - 2 hrs. 28 min.
by Clayton Hollifield
Put simply, I've never seen a (non-George Lazenby) Bond film that was so bad that I gave up on the series. Even the ones that weren't great were still passable; I got a late start on the series with Pierce Brosnan, and "passable" is the single most apt word to describe his Bond films. As for the Daniel Craig films, they seem to alternate between awesome and pretty good. Since "Skyfall" was awesome, that means "Spectre" is...
"Spectre" finds Bond (Daniel Craig) wallowing in the aftermath of "Skyfall," having been handed what amounts to a secret mission. Bond infiltrates an assassin's guild meeting, is found out, and then ends up promising to protect a lovely young lady, Dr. Swann (Lea Seydoux), from that same assassin's guild. At the same time, Bond has been suspended over his actions in the last film, and the double-oh program is trying to fend off a hostile takeover from other British intelligence agencies.
The first thing that keeps taking me by surprise is that the "down" films of the cycle follow immediately in the footsteps of the previous, awesomer film. It might not kill the Bond folks to include a friendly reminder that you might want to throw "Skyfall" in ye old laserdisc player to brush up on where things stand before you wander into "Spectre." But at the same time, the opening sequence of "Spectre," set during a Dio de los Muertos celebration in Mexico City, is compelling, thrilling, and a lot of other adjectives that mean you're going to grip the shit out of your armrest for about ten minutes there. Are there other, quality action sequences in "Spectre?" Sure, but the opening sequence is easily the best of them.
From one viewpoint, it might feel like the film blows it's load in that first sequence. In terms of straight up action, maybe. It ends up feeling like the film isn't supposed to be entirely about action, though. Things are more complicated than that, although it's difficult to make brooding about one's life choices as thrilling as blowing things up. And this film is a bit of a thinker. This might be the first Bond film (at least that I can remember, and I'm far from an archivist on this matter) where he has to deal with someone who not only understands very clearly who and what Bond is, but also has turned her back on that life by deliberate action. The relationship between Bond and Dr. Swann might be par for the course for Bond, but she also forces him to examine himself and what he does. Bond, at the core, is a man of action, not of pensive thought, but whether or not that self-examination will lead to hesitation at key moments is a big question here.
This is where fighting on a train will get you.
As far as villains go, well, I'll watch Christoph Waltz all day long. And Dave Bautista has a great turn as the mostly-mute Hinx. The two, although they don't really work with one another (like, they're not a duo or anything) present diametrically-opposed problems for Bond. Blofeld (Waltz) is all brains, sadism, and self-delusion; Hinx is enormous and likes to physically fight people. He's pretty good at it, too. The larger (evil) plot is somewhat interesting; it has to do with data collection and sharing. The great news is that "Spectre" seems to have a better, more even approach to technology than did "Skyfall." And also, the "good guys" don't come off like grumpy old farts about these things this time around. Instead, some of the bad guys get to embody why there's a bit of a backlash (the arrogance of youth, having a poor understanding of the larger situation) against having things dictated to you by twenty-somethings. In "Spectre," it's the difference between trying to find a place for technology in the world, and viewing technology as a sacred inevitability.
So I think the big point I'd make about "Spectre" is that this is by no means a bad film. Also, you should watch "Skyfall" sometime in the week preceding seeing "Spectre." But this is more of a movie about ideology with action elements than something that's constructed solely as an action film with compelling plot points. So, muich like "Quantum of Solace," "Spectre" comes off as a bit muted, a bit more cerebral, and these are things that people might not necessarily be asking for out of their Bond films. But if you're open to those things, this is a solid (but not top-notch) addition to the series.
Sam Smith - "Writing's on the Wall" - live on the Graham Norton Show
3 / 5 - Theatre