Published on October 28th, 2015 | by Brad0
SPECTRE Review: A Waltz With the Devil
So after all the build-up and anticipation, Spectre hit cinemas worldwide this past Monday. Daniel Craig’s fourth outing in James Bond’s 24th cinematic adventure sees Sam Mendes return to the director’s chair after the monster success of Skyfall. Anticipation has been at a fever pitch for this one, and I was fortunate enough to take in a screening on Monday night, so let’s dive in. Be warned, some aspects are inevitably going to have to be spoiled, though I’ll do my best to keep the important stuff under wraps. SPOILER ALERT though, just to be sure.
In the wake of the destruction and chaos caused by Silva in Skyfall, MI5 and MI6 have been merged under one roof, in the hands of Max Denbigh, codenamed C (Andrew Scott). C is into absolute surveillance and drone strikes, and wants to close down the 00 section. Bond, meanwhile, is chasing down one last lead left to him by the old M before her death, which will lead him into the web of a global conspiracy, centred on the mysterious Franz Oberhauser (Christoph Waltz).
Title Sequence and Bond Theme
The actual opening to the film is spectacular. Taking place during the Día de Muertos celebrations in Mexico City, we open with a lengthy single tracking shot following Bond from the streets, through the celebration, up to the hotel room of a young woman he’s picked up, out onto her balcony, across some rooftops to his target for assassination. It’s an absolutely bravura moment, one of the best uses of the single tracking shot you’ll see in anything. Chaos ensues, leading to Bond fighting his target and a helicopter pilot as the vehicle flies upside down over a crowd. It’s an absolutely sensational opening. Shame it had to be followed by Sam Smith.
There’s no footage on YouTube of the opening titles yet, so I can’t show you them, and I don’t want to inflict that song on you unduly. Suffice to say that The Writing’s On the Wall is a strong rival to Madonna’s Die Another Day as the flat-out worst Bond theme of all time. Smith’s voice doesn’t sound like someone strangling a cat so much as a cat that’s into autoerotic asphyxiation. The opening credits have a strange octopus motif to go along with the traditional naked women and firing guns, which puts one unfortunately in mind of Hentai tentacle porn. All in all one of the less successful title sequences.
The Villain and Their Plan
Our chief villain is Franz Oberhauser, played by the fantastic Christoph Waltz. The head of Spectre is a mysterious figure, pulling strings behind the scenes for the majority of the screen-time. When he’s present, though, Waltz owns every moment of it. He has no master plan to foil, really, he’s just the hitherto unseen head of the organisation Bond has been battling ever since Daniel Craig stepped into the tux back in Casino Royale. We always knew Le Chiffre, Mr White and Dominic Greene were working for someone more powerful, but the revelation that Silva had ties to Spectre as well is a good one. This is the first time we’ve officially seen Spectre since Diamonds Are Forever, although here they appear to be more of a global crime syndicate rather than the Special Executive for Counter-intelligence, Terrorism, Revenge and Extortion we once knew. Oberhauser and Bond have a history, though, and their disdain for each other is palpable every time they meet.
Dave Bautista is also on the side of the villains, as Oberhauser’s silent assassin. He’s a thoroughly imposing physical presence, and his fist-fight with Bond on a train has to go down as one of the most brutal fights I’ve seen in a big studio picture in years. Also adding antagonism is Andrew Scott’s C, whose Orwellian surveillance schemes cause him to butt heads with Ralph Fiennes’ M. Scott’s performance, though not bad, feels a bit sub-Moriarty at times, and he’s largely outclassed by Fiennes.
Following Roger Deakins’ cinematography work on Skyfall was never going to be an easy task, but they made a hell of a good call in replacing him with Hoyte Van Hoytema. Last seen stepping into Wally Pfister’s shoes on Christopher Nolan’s Interstellar, Van Hoytema brings Spectre’s locations to life in some style. The most eye-catching work is done in the aforementioned Mexico City sequences, before the film travels to London, Rome, the Alps in both Austria and Switzerland, Tangier and Oberhauser’s desert lair before returning to London for the climax. Oberhauser’s lair is a particularly good set, really amping up the “classic Bond” feel that Spectre goes for throughout.
Relatively thin on the ground this time. Q injects Bond with some nanotech to track him and gives him a watch with a particularly loud alarm (boom boom) and Bond steals an Aston Martin DB10 prototype gadget car intended for 009, but that’s about it really.
Most Inappropriate/Politically Incorrect Moment
It’s probably just because it’s Monica Bellucci that I really noticed this, and there have been several characters like this in the past, but seriously – her role was bloody terrible, wasn’t it? The widow of Bond’s target from the opening scene, she’s literally in the movie to exposit whilst looking gorgeous in her underwear. Which she does, and I’ll never complain about seeing Monica Bellucci in any state of undress, but yeah. The role’s par for the course for a Bond film, it just seemed odd to have such an icon playing it.
Apart from the Hentai in the opening credits? Dave Bautista’s character says one word, and I don’t know if it’s him delivering it or not, but the ADR isn’t great, and the delivery is even worse, not to mention it’s just a terrible line. It’s the type of gag that ruined every other line of Avengers: Age of Ultron, and it really doesn’t fit the moment at all.
*C has a gun on M*
C: “Moron. That’s what M stands for isn’t it? Moron.”
*He pulls the trigger and nothing happens. M opens his hand to reveal the bullets.*
M: “Well, now we know what C stands for.”
How Good is it Really?
Spectre is very good. I imagine it’ll be one of the twenty best films I see this year. However, it’s not as good as Daniel Craig’s best work, Casino Royale and Skyfall, and perhaps more crucially in the landscape, it’s not as good as 2015’s fellow spy flicks Kingsman: The Secret Service or Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation. It has a more classical Bond feel than any of Craig’s previous efforts, so if you’re one of the people who has been turned off by the post-Die Another Day era of Bond, Spectre might well be the one to entice you back. The performances are excellent across the board, with particular credit going to Christoph Waltz, who completely steals the film. The action sequences are exceptional, and the 148-minute running time flies by at a fair old whack.
The problem, I think, is that Oberhauser doesn’t really have an end-goal for Bond to prevent. Spectre’s unseen hand is the status quo, and he’s just keeping it going, whilst indulging in a little sadism over his shared history with 007. With nothing direct for Bond to prevent, the film lacks a certain urgency. There are a couple of scenes towards the end which insert literal ticking clocks to be overcome to try and mask this, but that slight feeling of narrative inertia is always there.
Ultimately, though, that is a relatively minor woe in what is for the most part a top-class piece of cinema. Daniel Craig’s time in the tuxedo has been a supremely successful one, and if Spectre is to be his final outing, as has been suggested, it’s a very fitting ending. Though of course you’d like to see him finish his contract and do a fifth one.
James Bond will return.