1 November 2015

Spectre review

It's no surprise that the director of Skyfall, Sam Mendes, was bought back to helm Spectre. Both a critical and commercial success, Skyfall did a lot to reignite audience interest in James Bond after Quantum of Solace proved to many people that this new "gritty" Bond wasn't worth paying attention to, in spite of Casino Royale being amongst the very best films that the Bond franchise has to offer (and my personal favourite - although I'll admit that I haven't seen all that many Bond films). As such, Mendes' return to the franchise that he revitalised is a welcome one, with Spectre showcasing all the things that made Skyfall as notable as it is - but also unfortunately suffering from many of the same flaws.

As M attempts to keep the 00 program alive after MI6 and MI5 are merged, Spectre starts with Bond on an unofficial mission in Mexico given to him from the previous M. Using a ring he finds on his target to enter a secret meeting in Rome, Bond begins his investigation into Spectre, an organisation that he seems to have some kind of link to.

Like Skyfall, Spectre's biggest problem is that it doesn't understand that the central plot isn't as interesting as it thinks it is. At times lacking a clear direction, Spectre has a habit of slowing things down when it should be speeding up, particularly during the middle section of the film - several scenes that do nothing but waste time with pointless wheel-spinning should have been left on the cutting room floor, doing nothing for either the plot nor the characters that they seek to develop and instead causing the film to lose any momentum that it has built up. Additionally, Christoph Waltz is effectively wasted in the role of 'big bad' - with little to do other than recite contrived speeches, he never feels like an actual threat, and the 'reveal' of who he is playing is so obvious that I'm beginning to wonder if we were ever meant to not know.

On the other hand, despite strange way that Spectre tries to link all the previous Craig-era films under one plot (pushing for a continuity that Bond films have never needed), Spectre is the first time I've really felt like someone understands what a modernised Bond film should be. As much as I like Casino Royale, the argument that it doesn't really feel like a Bond film is hard to ignore - gone are the staples of the series that made a Bond film a Bond film, replaced with something more akin to the Bourne franchise with the occasional reference to what we know as a Bond film. The same isn't true of Spectre, which gives us the car and the associated gadgets, the somewhat lighter tone at times, the intimidating and silent henchman (
Dave Bautista is nothing short of excellent as Hinx), the strapped to a table for an impractical execution scene - all updated and modernised in a way that means Spectre never veers too far into the unrealistic or loses the fairly consistent tone that has made the Craig-era films so radically different to what came before.

It's also worth mentioning that the cinematography of Hoyte van Hoytema (who most recently worked on Her and Interstellar) is simply gorgeous, with Spectre joining Skyfall as the most visually impressive Bond films to date. The contrast between the colour schemes of the various locations where Bond finds himself in Spectre is stunning enough, but Hoyte van Hoytema gives Spectre the same atmospheric feeling that made Skyfall stand out, something that helps the film through even its slower moments while making the great moments even greater.

And in spite of my criticism of the films plot, Spectre is full of great moments, particularly in the films action scenes. From a car chase through the streets of Rome to an aerial pursuit in the snowy Austrian mountains to a brutal fist fight on a train, some of the set pieces in Spectre must be instant classics in the Bond series, well choreographed and often incredibly tense - if not wholly original. In different ways, each of these scenes feel almost representative of the Bonds that came before them - the car chase in Rome feels like something that could have happened in a Roger Moore film thanks to the lighter, more comedic aspects it takes on at certain points, and the Austrian pursuit has elements of what I would see as a Pierce Brosnan-esque action scene. This is something I quite liked, it should be noted - but I imagine some people will see Spectre's choice to add a little variation to the proceedings as an inconsistency when compared to the other, more tonally rigid Craig-era films.

In a year filled with spy films (at least 6 released in 2015 - twice as many as the superhero films that people claim are flooding the market) Spectre simply doesn't have the same impact that Skyfall did upon release - but it still manages to feel fresh despite being the 24th film in a franchise that has been going for over 50 years, and that alone is worth commendation. Overall, Spectre is probably a slightly better film than Skyfall simply thanks to the more varied and interesting action scenes, but there isn't much to choose between the two otherwise - and anyone still unconvinced by Daniel Craig's version of James Bond isn't going to have their mind changed by Spectre.

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