Mark Reviews Movies

Spectre

SPECTRE

2 Stars (out of 4)

Director: Sam Mendes

Cast: Daniel Craig, Ralph Fiennes, Léa Seydoux, Ben Whishaw, Christoph Waltz, Andrew Scott, Dave Bautista, Naomie Harris, Rory Kinnear, Jesper Christensen, Monica Bellucci

MPAA Rating: PG-13 (for intense sequences of action and violence, some disturbing images, sensuality and language)

Running Time: 2:28

Release Date: 11/6/15


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Review by Mark Dujsik | November 5, 2015

Spectre, the latest adventure featuring the British spy who needs no introduction, re-introduces James Bond with another lengthy sequence of mass destruction. That seems to be the trend for this current incarnation of Bond, who begins this installment by accidentally leveling a city block of Mexico City during the annual Day of the Dead parade. He then goes on to nearly kill, maim, or otherwise injure dozens, if not hundreds, of innocent bystanders while fighting the pilot of a helicopter. Making the job of the pilot, who's maneuvering an out-of-control helicopter over a massive crowd, more difficult is just the first of many bad decisions our hero makes over the course of the movie.

It's not the worst one, either. We're used to Bond forgoing subtly in favor of spectacle (He always lucks out anyway, and in the funniest moment here, the movie's prologue offers the luckiest of luck-outs with a perfectly placed loveseat). This movie's centerpiece action sequence, though, forgoes common sense in favor of nonsense, but a bit more on that subject will come later.

The Daniel Craig era of Bond movies so far has been marked by indecision. Over the course of the past three installments, Craig's Bond has gone from a charisma-free brute to a generic action hero to a vulnerable spy whose time in the world seems to have expired (The last descriptor belongs to the character in Skyfall, the best of the Craig entries and one of the best of all the Bond films, which used the indecisiveness about the character to its advantage).

Here, Bond is an amalgamation of those three traits, with the movie swapping between them as the story requires. The first outing for Craig, when he was the brute, may not have been the Bond we've known, but at least we could see what the filmmakers were attempting with the shift from our established perspective of the character. This time around, it doesn't seem like the team of screenwriters (John Logan, Neal Purvis, Robert Wade, and Jez Butterworth) knows or even cares who Bond is.

Bond merely exists here, and he does so to do one of two things: to participate in the action scenes and to meander across the globe in search of a bunch of secret things. The plot involves a super-secret criminal organization (that turns out not to be that important), an old foe who becomes a new-but-familiar villain (who really doesn't do much of anything until the movie's dual climaxes), and a plan to unite the world's intelligence-gathering capabilities into an Orwellian nightmare of constant surveillance.

As it was in the previous installment, the question is whether or not James Bond and his skills as a spy/assassin are still relevant in the modern world. One suspects we're not supposed to answer in the negative, but that's the conclusion toward which the movie leads us.

The movie starts with relative strength with the prologue (It's destructive and reckless, yes, but it's also thrillingly staged and shot by director Sam Mendes), the introduction of MI6's new M (Ralph Fiennes) and the impending global surveillance system orchestrated by C (Andrew Scott), and the suggestion that everything that has happened in the past three installments was the setup to this entry. A message from a deceased ally sends Bond to Rome to uncover the clandestine league of villains of the title (He also pauses to aggressively seduce a target's widow, played by Monica Bellucci, in a scene that is almost as discomforting as it is superfluous).

The group's leader is played by Christoph Waltz. His character begins with one name, but by the time he makes his second appearance (well over an hour later), it's fairly obvious which villain of Bond lore he is. Waltz—about as perfect a choice to play a Bond villain and, specifically, this particular Bond villain—and the character are underutilized to an aggravating degree.

There's also a quarter-realized romance with Madeline Swan (Léa Seydoux), the daughter of another old adversary. She's allegedly his equal in almost every regard, but by the time the movie gets to her, their relationship boils down to the two giving each other passionate looks in between chases, fights, and shootouts.

The plot is a lot of wheel-spinning, slowly and unsurely inching Bond closer to the bad guy. Naturally, it's interrupted by a handful of action sequence. The aforementioned centerpiece is a mountainside chase, in which Bond takes to a light aircraft—for reasons known only to and, once some trees inevitably appear, instantly regretted by him—to pursue Madeline's abductors. It's a tremendously silly sequence. More effective is a chase along the Tiber, in which the ineffectiveness of Bond's gadget-filled car is played for laughs (Ben Whishaw's deadpan delivery as Q remains a highlight). Somewhere in the middle are a fight with a silent thug (Dave Bautista) through a train and the double climaxes—a shootout and a race against a countdown to yet more destruction.

One could say a lot of these things about any given Bond movie, really. Spectre, though, turns the formula into something haphazard and uncertain.

Copyright © 2015 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.

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