Spectre spoilers follow, yo.
Spectre is Sam Mendes’ second time to bat with the Bond Franchise after his 2012 Skyfall. However, sadly, it seems he couldn’t bottle that lightning a second time.
Almost everything is a step backwards in quality from his previous outing. The marriage of modern “Bourne era” Bond with the old school sensibilities of the franchise that worked well in giving Skyfall a fan pleasing flavour feels much more forced and contrived this time around. Spectre frequently shifts between tones and modes, not knowing whether the scene is better served by tension building, a one liner, or the occasional slapstick. Almost every bit of humour feels misjudged and undercuts the sense of dread the film is striving for. When it’s not shoehorning in awkward comedic interludes, it is making reference to past films so blatantly that it feels like returning writers Purvis and Wade want desperately to convince audiences that yes, this is indeed a James Bond film! Look, here is a fight on a train with no musical score like From Russia with Love! Spectre attempts to be too cute for its own good.
Speaking of writing and looking backwards through franchise history, Purvis and Wade appear to have been taking from their Brosnan era playbook. Dialogue feels less character motivated and more in line with the quip happy, yet desperate to be taken seriously Brosnan Bond films. Pervis and Wade seem content to cram in as many one liners and witty asides without regard to quality or character truth. Where Casino Royale was pure in its intentions to depict the circumstances leading up to the birth of Bond as we know him, Skyfall wrestled with themes of ageing, obsolescence and death, and even the poorly received Quantum of Solace had hints of a bigger force at play behind the scenes, Spectre actively undoes any of the intrigue created in the previous Craig Bond films by being simultaneously convoluted and over plotted, and revealing everything that had previously happened was the end result of sibling rivalry. It’s fair to say Quantum of Solace had a worse screenplay, but that’s because it didn’t have one. The writers’ strike hit right during its production resulting in the muddled movie we have today. Spectre has no such excuse.
That’s not to say that nothing in Spectre was good. Individual scenes are interesting when taken out of context. The film is gorgeously lensed and staged with a good sense of geography and pacing to the action scenes and a minimal use of hand held camera. It is a handsome looking picture. One scene in particular, a meeting held by the organisation Spectre is dripping with menace. It is a pity such craftsmanship for individual pieces did not result in an exceptional whole.
Christoph Waltz was under-utilised as series big bad Blofeld, spending much of his onscreen time spewing exposition rather than engaging in villainy. Ralph Feinnes acquits himself well given the material he had to work with. The other principle players suffer for various reasons. Moneypenny feels flat, much like in Skyfall, Q is exaggerated to the point of caricature, and Craig’s Bond himself comes off as tired and uninterested in the movie he finds himself in.
Spectre was not done any favours by being the 3rd Craig Bond film in a row to suggest the 00 programme is antiquated and in need of replacement. It had nothing interesting to say about the nature of modern intelligence programmes other than in a world where everyone is being watched, anyone, even cartoonishly evil villains, can be doing the watching. It even fell back on the same counter argument that sometimes, a human’s judgement is still needed. In a post Snowden world, such a topic can be mined for great thematic depth. Spectre does nothing more than use it as window dressing for an uninteresting and underdeveloped narrative arc connecting Blofeld to Bond. It’s kind of embarrassing to suggest that the remake of Robocop integrated this message more comfortably into its mangled, Frankenstein’s monster of a corporate movie.
Spectre was too long at 150 minutes. The weird thing is I cannot think of what could actually be trimmed from the movie, with the screenplay in its current state, to make for a tighter, better experience. Its attempt to be the fun Craig era Bond film left it without its own sense of identity. It is ultimately a lot of wasted time spent treading water on a movie and a screenplay that do not justify their own existence and is a huge let down after Skyfall.
Surprise Crimson Peak mini-review
Crimson Peak got the same reaction out of me that Pacific Rim was trying to. It was a gloriously camp genre film that acted as a homage to a much beloved story telling style, and I had a huge amount of fun with it. To be clear, Crimson Peak is a creepy Gothic Romance with supernatural elements. It is not a horror film, but that is not to say it doesn’t try to be spooky from time to time. If anything, I honestly believe Crimson Peak would have worked as well without any supernatural elements.
The production design is the obvious star of Crimson Peak. It is a gorgeous, gorgeous movie to look at with a pallet of deep greens, golds, and reds. Del Toro has a way with colours, set design, and creature design, and Crimson Peak is no different.
It feels like it has more in common with his Spanish Language films than his English ones, but is more fun and slight. Specific scenes in Crimson Peak mirror those in Pan’s Labyrinth, and the ghost and creature design harken back to The Devil’s Backbone, with one ghost in particular bearing a striking resemblance to the little boy’s ghost. Doug Jones once again hits it out of the park with amazing physical performances that are inhuman and grotesque, yet clearly pained and fuelled by suffering.
The characters are stock types, but are played exceptionally by a very talented cast. Jessica Chastain is absolutely wonderful and gives the standout performance.
It is a good fun time at the movies, nothing more, nothing less, and I would like to see it again.