SPECTRE attempts to blend ‘classic,’ 21st century Bond

SPECTRE poster

SPECTRE poster

The review will have a spoiler after the ninth paragraph. There’ll be a warning before that begins.

SPECTRE, the 24th James Bond film, attempts to blend “classic” and 21st century Bond style.

For much of the movie, the Sam Mendes-directed movie succeeds. It’s two-thirds an excellent James Bond film. During that portion it mostly mixes early Bond movie escapism, introduces more humor without going overboard and still retains the more dramatic emphasis of the Daniel Craig era.

However, the last third is more exhausting than exhilarating. Like many action movies today, it’s too long and could stand some tightening. The last third isn’t bad by any means, but it loses the momentum of the first two-thirds.

Last year’s hacking at Sony caused many details — including complete script drafts — of a hectic scripting process to become public. The final story line (credited to a tag team of John Logan, Neal Purvis, Robert Wade and Jez Butterworth) is smoother than most who read that material would have guessed.

SPECTRE, though, still has rough spots. When the lead woman character, Dr. Madeleine Swann (Lea Seydoux) falls in love with Bond, it seems forced. She’s convincing when she says she’ll try to kill Bond if he comes close to her. She’s less so when she warms up to him. Swann is to supposed to be “the one” to make Bond get over Vesper Lynd from Casino Royale. For the Spy Commander, doesn’t really seem that way.

Some reviewers have criticized SPECTRE’s increased humor, saying it’s too much like a Roger Moore film. Actually, it’s more like an early Sean Connery 007 film. The humor in SPECTRE is very much in line with Connery humor (“Sergeant, make sure he doesn’t get away,” Connery/Bond says in Dr. No, referring to the dead “Mr. Jones” in a car’s back seat).

Craig doesn’t engage in overt puns but humor arises from situations. Ben Whishaw’s Q actually gets one of the best of the humorous lines when he refers to Bond’s penchant for destroying vehicles. Meanwhile, Craig’s humor content comes from situations such as when he’s being ridiculously respectful (but not jokey) to M (Ralph Fiennes) after going rogue (again) in the movie’s pre-titles sequence.

Christoph Waltz is fine as the movie’s villain (more about that in the spoiler section). Having a top-notch opponent always helps a Bond film.

Among the crew, cinematographer Hoyte Van Hoytema delivers big time after many fans had expressed worry when Skyfall’s Roger Deakins opted not to return. Composer Thomas Newman is adequate, but he actually recycles some of his Skyfall score. The music is reasonably effective but a Newman 007 score is like watching a man wearing clothes that aren’t his size. Action movies aren’t his forte.

Spoiler section follows. Last warning.

SPECTRE is built around the “reveal” that Waltz’s Franz Oberhauser is really …. ta DA DAAAAA….Ernst Stavro Blofeld.

Seriously. A movie called SPECTRE’s “spoiler” is that the organization is headed by Blofeld. That’s like making a Sherlock Holmes movie where the villain is revealed to be Professor Moriarty. Or a Superman movie where the villain is revealed to be Lex Luthor.

Old-time Bond fans are (rightfully) going to be skeptical when the filmmakers act like this is a big secret. New Bond fans won’t really care, they just want to see a good villain.

Now, if the film had been structured so Waltz’s character was a flamboyant front man and Blofeld turned out to be someone else, that’d be fine, or at least understandable. But Mendes and his scribes spend more time on this than is necessary.

Mendes has said the audience can’t know more than the characters. Yet, in From Russia With Love the audience knew more than Connery/Bond (though not everything, of course) and that film worked just fine.

Meanwhile, there’s also the reveal that Blofeld was Bond’s foster brother (sort of). That’s very similar to the way the Hawaii Five-0 television series rebooted arch villain Wo Fat to have a personal hatred of Steve McGarrett. It also inches dangerously close to Austin Powers/Dr. Evil territory. Thankfully, it doesn’t go that far.

End spoiler section.

Whatever SPECTRE’s flaws, they can mostly be overlooked, at least until the movie is over and the viewer is headed out of the theater. The movie shows “classic” Bond still has something to offer as it is adapted to the 21st century. GRADE: B-Plus.

7 Responses

  1. To me at least, I don’t think there was ever any question that a truly larger than life – so called “classic” – Bond film could work in today’s day and age. I still think that CR (aside from having a huge villain’s lair or something along those lines) was about as close to classic Bond as you could get.

    My issue with SPECTRE was the awful script. The whole Blofeld/Bond shared backstory thing was a huge misstep, but anyone who had seen the trailers knew it was coming. My issue was that Blofeld’s entire motivation to become a criminal was that his Dad liked Bond when they were growing up. That’s it. And they don’t even spend much time dwelling on – or talking about – that aspect. It feels like it’s thrown in during that torture scene just because they wanted to make some sort of attempt at giving the villain motive no matter how stupid it was.

    They easily could’ve just gone the route the series did with FRWL and had SPECTRE target Bond because he kept foiling their plans. Instead they ret-conned SPECTRE into being the masterminds behind the events in CR, QoS and Skyfall (and the Skyfall thing seemed like a huge leap even when compared to CR & QoS), gave no explanation into how Mr. White & Quantum ever fit into SPECTRE, and then threw in a weak love story as well. I thought it was at least good up until the last act that took place in London, but I honestly think there wasn’t a single bit about the sequences in London that is redeeming for the film. I legitimately felt that the last 10 minutes of that film were awful. Craig’s Bond has now quit MI6 3 times in 4 films, Blofeld has pretty much got to escape unless he’s going to be Hannibal-esque pulling the strings while in prison, and it seems all too obvious that they’re setting up Bond 25 as a film where Swann ends up sharing an all too similar fate with Tracy.

  2. IT’S very strange why most people after seeing the movie, Believe christoph waltz character is Ernst stavro Blofield. After learning that bond and the mastermind of SPECTRE grew-up together. How could he be Blofield ?

  3. @Baldwin: They believe that because it’s explained in the movie. It’s not strange at all.

  4. This was so much better than “SKYFALL”. So much better. It had a few problems with the movie – namely Sam Mendes’ sparse directing style, the car chase in Rome and the screen chemistry between Craig and Léa Seydoux.

    Otherwise, I felt this was a better written film than “SKYFALL”. It was a relief to be spared the misogyny and major plot holes. I enjoyed the connections between the previous three films. I also enjoyed how the theme of death and past ghosts seemed to be introduced in both the movie’s theme song and the opening sequence featuring the Day of the Dead celebration in Mexico City. And although both Craig and Seydoux weren’t the greatest screen team, both gave excellent performances. So did Christoph Waltz, Ralph Fiennes, Jesper Christensen, Naomie Harris, Ben Whishaw and Dave Bautista.

  5. […] has its faults. This blog’s review, while liking the film overall, cited the “reveal,” the length and the last third of […]

  6. Why does no one have an issue with the fact that, after having parts of his brain drilled into, those affecting balance and facial recognition, Bond gets up in a bloodless white shirt, shoots his way to safety and then goes on to a physically grueling 3rd (or is it 4th?) act with no more bleeding, healing time or ill-effects?

  7. […] to remind everyone, this blog had a favorable review of SPECTRE. At the same time, in some respects SPECTRE indicates that Eon should at least review its […]

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