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Spectre (2015)
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by Peter Sobczynski

"Insert "Bond Is The Warmest Something-Or-Other" Joke Here"
4 stars

James Bond has done battle with any number of archfiends throughout his illustrious career of repeatedly saving the world but in "Spectre," the 24th installment in the long-running film franchise(not counting such unofficial titles as the spoof "Casino Royale" and the Sean Connery comeback vehicle "Never Say Never Again"), everyone's favorite British secret agent comes face to face with what may be the most dangerous foe he has ever faced--sky-high expectations. Oh sure, ever since the arrival of the first film in the series, "Dr. No," the films have been enormously popular throughout the world--even during the period in the 1980s when they seemed to be flirting with cultural irrelevancy, they still attracted huge audiences across the globe--and with the arrival of Daniel Craig in the role of 007 in "Casino Royale," they finally regained the event movie status that had faded somewhat over time and managed to maintain it even though the followup, "Quantum of Solace," proved to be a disappointment everywhere except at the box-office. The next film, "Skyfall," managed to transcend the considerable financial heights of its predecessors by becoming one of the biggest money-making endeavors in screen history with worldwide ticket sales of over a billion dollars. What was even more impressive was that the film itself proved to be one of the very best in the franchise as well--while as technically polished and breathlessly exciting as any of its predecessors, it also brought a real sense of emotion to the character of James Bond that deepened our knowledge of such a theoretically familiar character and gave the story a dramatic heft that never really existed before in the annals of the series.

The massive success of the film--even the theme song by Adele became an Oscar-winning global hit--was obviously a boon for the producers but at the same time, it brought about its own set of problems. After all, having created a sensation on such a rarefied scale, how does one go about following such a thing up? You cannot realistically go much bigger than that film without delving into outright cartoonishness but to reduce the size and scope in even the slightest degree could lead to audience disappointment. To add to the complications, the unexpected rejuvenation of the "Mission: Impossible" franchise meant that for perhaps the first time in the screen history of the Bond films, there was a competitor that could legitimately compete with it at the box office. As it turns out, "Spectre" does not come close to topping "Skyfall," at least from an artistic standpoint, though only the most starry-eyed optimist could have even entertained that as anything but the most remote of possibilities. Instead, it is a perfectly solid Bond outing that has a number of good things going for it, enough problems to keep it a few steps behind the top shelf titles and more energy and spectacle going for it than one might expect to find in a series that is now 53 years old and shows no evident sign of stopping anytime soon.

As per usual for the series, "Spectre" kicks off with the kind of wildly elaborate action setpiece that might have served as the climax of most ordinary films. Set in Mexico City during the elaborate Day of the Dead celebration, it kicks off with a long single shot following a disguised Bond as he picks up a babe in the streets, brings her back to his hotel room, goes through the quickest costume change imaginable and hops from rooftop to rooftop to complete his mission of bumping off feared Italian hitman Sciarra (Alessandro Cremona). Naturally, it doesn't go quite as planned but despite the crumbling buildings and the dangling from helicopters over horrified crowds, he finally gets the job done and manages to secure Sciarra's intriguingly engraved ring along the way. Alas, since all of these activities were unauthorized, M (Ralph Fiennes)--who is already distracted by his battles with C (Andrew Scott), the weaslley new MI:5 head who wants to merge all of the information-gathering systems of the great nations into one and who is contemplating dissolving the 00 program entirely--is forced to put Bond on suspension. Bond follows orders but with nothing else to do, he spends the rest of the film sitting in his apartment getting caught up on past episodes of "Pretty Little Liars."

Just kidding, though we do get a brief and tantalizing glimpse of Bond's apartment. After a brief stopover to visit gadget guru Q (Ben Whishaw) to acquire gadgets both authorized (a sophisticated tracking system injected directly into his bloodstream) and other wise (a fully tricked-out--almost--Aston Martin DV9), he is off to Rome to attend Sciarra's funeral where he meets his widow (Monica Bellucci), saves her from killers, takes her to bed and gets a lead on that mysterious ring, pretty much in that order. This leads to him infiltrating a meeting of a vast criminal enterprise that is presided over by the elusive Franz Oberhauser (Christoph Waltz). With the help of Q and faithful assistant Moneypenny (Naomie Harris), Bond pursues his trail to Austria, where he has a creepy encounter with old enemy Mr. White (Jesper Christensen), whom he did battle with in "Casino Royale" and "Quantum of Solace," that leads him to Madeleine Swann (Lea Seydoux), who is able to identify Oberhauser's organization as the uber-evil SPECTRE. The two then set off to SPECTRE headquarters in Tangier where Bond not only uncovers Oberhauser's evil plan but makes a couple of significant discovers about the man himself--one that won't come as a surprise to too many Bond fans and one that might indeed raise an eyebrow or two among them.

After the all-around triumph of "Skyfall," "Spectre" cannot help but come up somewhat short by comparison. Most of the problems this time around emanate directly from the screenplay put together by "Skyfall" writers John Logan, Neal Purvis and Robert Wade and franchise newcomer Jez Butterworth. The plot is a bit of a shambles at times in the way that it send our hero hurtling across the globe into one dangerous situation after another without always making it clear exactly what he is supposed to be doing or how he knows what to do. (It also bears an occasionally disconcerting similarity to the story of the last "Mission: Impossible" film as well at times.) Of course, one could tag many Bond films with the complaint but the problems go further than that. The emotional underpinnings that gave "Skyfall" an unexpectedly powerful dramatic center are largely absent here. Instead, the overriding theme of the potential abuse of information gathering in the post-Edward Snowden world is introduced but quickly abandoned for the usual comic book escapades.

Speaking of abandoned, the always-welcome Monica Bellucci makes an eye-catching appearance early on (those sleazes who griped about her being the oldest Bond girl--for lack of a better term--will be eating their words as soon as she appears on the screen) but then disappears so abruptly after only a couple of scenes that I found myself yearning against hope that she would turn up later, possibly as the story's ultimate big baddie. In addition, "Spectre" clocks in at 148 minutes and clearly could stand some pruning here and there, especially in the middle section where the story has a tendency to wander about a little too much. The other complaint is one that everybody seems to have with the film--the theme song from Sam Smith sucks on ice. It takes a certain type of performer to pull off the job of doing a Bond theme (with her legitimate jazz pipes, Lady Gaga would be an inspired choice) and Smith is not it--his tuneless sludge will make you yearn for the comparative glory days of a-Ha and Chris Cornell.

And yet, while "Spectre" may lack the qualities to make it a great Bond movie, it does possess enough to make for a good one. From a technical standpoint, the film is impeccable as can be and is one of the best-looking films in the series thanks to the impeccable visuals from cinematographer Hoyt van Hoytema (shooting on glorious 35mm) and the quietly retro production design from Dennis Gassner. Director Sam Mendes, who also did "Skyfall," again demonstrates an unexpected flair for staging exciting action sequences--beside the aforementioned opening in Mexico City, other standouts include a car chase through the streets and alleys of Rome and another pursuit in the mountains of Austria involving cars and planes. In marked contrast to the serious nature of its predecessor, "Spectre" also demonstrates a sense of humor that has otherwise largely been ignored in the previous outings with Daniel Craig (who smiles more in this film than in all his other turns in the role combined) with a number of in-joke references to earlier Bond films strewn throughout to amuse the die-hard fans. (One, involving a hulking assassin played by Dave Bautista, manages to simulatenously reference both the infamous Bond baddie Jaws and the classic film from which his name came.)

In what he has suggested will be his last go-around in the role, Daniel Craig once again owns the role of Bond in ways that no other actor who has essayed the part has come close to achieving, save for Sean Connery, of course. He is undeniably effective during the action sequences as well as the more purely dramatic moments, lending an air of gravity to what could have easily gravitated into nonsense in lesser hands. He also knows his way around a quip and let it be said that he cuts quite a figure in a tuxedo as well. As the designated arm candy, Lea Seydoux may not exactly have a chance to show the dramatic chops that she displayed to such stunning effect in "Blue is the Warmest Color" but she is an undeniably welcome presence nevertheless and gives her part more than it probably deserves. As the main bad guy, Christoph Waltz is onscreen far less than one might surmise from the ads--he only really comes into play in the last third--but he certainly milks the part for all that it is worth. The supporting team of Fiennes, Whishaw and Harris make the most of their expanded parts as well--if Craig is indeed leaving, here is hoping that they can at least be inveigled to stick around for the long run.

Even without the inevitable comparisons to "Skyfall," "Spectre" would not go down as one of the great James Bond films--it goes on a little too long, the story meanders just a little too much and the decision to elevate the importance of the largely derided "Quantum of Solace" is just kind of weird. That said, it is a good one that will keep audiences excited and entertained (especially during its first hour) and while it doesn't exactly transcend its storied history, it does not embarrass it either. Well, except for the theme song, of course.

link directly to this review at https://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=27484&reviewer=389
originally posted: 11/03/15 14:14:31
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User Comments

2/12/17 morris campbell good not great bond movie 4 stars
3/11/16 Charles Tatum Could've lost half an hour, but still good stuff 4 stars
2/10/16 Mp4movieshub It is a Bond-movie so you can’t use normal criteria. I think Craig does a find job in the 4 stars
2/05/16 David Marsden Boring and lame. Bond movies used to be fun. 2 stars
1/22/16 tueliawkbh USA 4 stars
1/22/16 Loopy Nothing all that interesting here, well made isn't enough 2 stars
1/18/16 oz1701 Daniel Craig sleepwalks through an old fashioned unstirred 2 stars
12/08/15 The Big D Not a bad action movie, but nothing like traditional bond. 3 stars
12/02/15 1800suckmydick Yawn. 2 stars
11/14/15 rcurrier Not as good as Skyfall, better than Quantum and all the Moore Bonds 5 stars
11/13/15 Jack I was surprised at how much I liked it. Much better that Skyfall! 5 stars
11/10/15 the truth the best bond movie in 9 years, ties up the Craig era w/ a bow - AWESOME 5 stars
11/10/15 mr.mike Chris F is right, theme not so bad 5 stars
11/09/15 KingNeutron Theme song was pretty bad, but I really liked the film overall. 4 stars 4 stars
11/08/15 Koitus Worth seeing in the cinema for the opening scene. Yeah, theme song sucked sweaty b@lls... 4 stars
11/08/15 Chris F Craigs best Bond film so far. 5 stars
11/06/15 Bob Dog Bond jets to exotic Dullsville. 2 stars
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