Film review: SPECTRE, from ‘Built For Speed’

The last James Bond movie, Sam Mendes’ Skyfall was, for the most part, an exciting and clever re-imagining of Bond mythology that drew on both the Bourne movies and the Christopher Nolan’s Batman films for its visceral action, genuinely menacing villain and creepy noir atmosphere. It’s departure from the more frivolous and hedonistic style of the older Bond films didn’t sit well with everyone, though and some viewers thought it lacked the essence of a true Bond. Those detractors will probably be disappointed again as Spectre is closer to Skyfall than any other Bond film. Those who loved Skyfall, may also be slightly disappointed as Spectre takes a long time to get anywhere.

After a thrilling and superbly shot opening sequence set in Mexico City’s Day of the Dead festival, the film settles into a mix of long, slow, confusing scenes of supposed plot and character development interspersed with impressively vigorous, explosive, bone-crunching action sequences.

Somewhere in this noticeably long film is a story about a rogue Bond investigating a series of apparent terrorist bombings only to discover that a sinister organisation named Spectre, lead by the old the megalomaniacal villain (Christophe Waltz), is behind the bombings and many of the tragedies that have beset Bond over the years. As Bond, the very attractive and much younger Madeleine Swan (Leah Seydoux), Q (Ben Wishaw) and Moneypenny (Naomie Harris) attempt to combat Spectre, MI6 boss M (Ralph Fiennes) battles a threat within his organisation.

As with Skyfall, Mendes takes a revisionist approach to Bond as he either avoids, critiques or satirises many of the classic Bond tropes including the franchise’s imperialist attitudes and blatant sexism. Through these changes to the Bond mythos, Mendes explores the idea of a 20th century icon like Bond confronting the 21st century. Consequently, this film makes poignant references to the idea of technology encroaching upon Bonds world as a new MI6 surveillance device threatens to replace the 00 spy program. Here the film also makes compelling statements about the use of information that echoes recent debates about meta-data.

Despite his revisionist approach, Mendes understands the power of Gen X and Baby Boomer nostalgia and delivers plenty of references to bond iconography with the Aston Martin, ejector seats and vodka martinis making an appearance.

Mendes’ Bond films and the Craig era generally has been more serious, melancholic and introspective than Bonds of yesteryear. Mendes even adopts a darker look with his shadowy, yellow-tinted, faux-noir style. While this darker, more introspective style ensures that Mendes’ Bonds are stronger as drama, it tends to make the occasional attempts at comedy seem contrived and tacked-on. Also, the po-faced seriousness makes the more fanciful aspects of the series such as the bad guys who can’t shoot straight and the fact that the villain doesn’t just kill Bond when he has the chance and instead places him in the Dr. Evil-approved easily escapable situation, seem all the more ridiculous.

The success of the recent Bond’s has resided in slick and dynamic action sequences and Daniel Craig’s performance as Bond. Craig is once again terrific giving Bond a rugged charisma, a sly wit, a touch of anti-hero nihilism and Terminator like relentlessness. He also looks as physically capable as ever in this film. The support cast are fine if not remarkable although Leah Seydoux ads some Euro art-house sophistication to the typical Bond girl.

As the chief villain, Christophe Waltz is disappointingly bland. He’s smug but not particularly menacing as Spectre’s CEO.  Thankfully, though, Spectre sees the welcome return of the enormous, indestructible henchman, in this case the hulking sadistic Hinx (former pro-wrestler Dave Bautista) who engages Bond in a terrific From Russia with Love style fight on board train. It’s so visceral and exciting we’re temporarily distracted from the fact that everyone else on the train has miraculously disappeared.

Spectre has many fine moments but often seems like a slower and less thrilling repeat of Skyfall.

Nick’s rating: ***.

Genre: Action/ drama.

Classification: M.

Director(s): Sam Mendes.

Release date: 12thNovember 2015.

Running time: 150 mins.

Reviewer: Nick Gardener can be heard on “Built For Speed” every Friday night from 8-10pm right here on 88.3 Southern FM.  Nick can also be heard on “The Good, The Bad, The Ugly Film Show” podcast.


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