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.