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New Release Review - SPECTRE

Bond goes on the trail of a mysterious and sinister organisation.


Review by Eric Hillis (@hilliseric)

Directed by: Sam Mendes

Starring: Daniel Craig, Christoph Waltz, Ralph Fiennes, Monica Bellucci, Lea Seydoux, Stephanie Sigman, Dave Bautista, Naomie Harris, Ben Whishaw, Andrew Scott, Rory Kinnear


"Spectre is like one of those boutique magazines you find in hotel rooms and on passenger planes. It's printed on glossy paper, immaculately designed and packed with appealing products, but devoid of engaging content."





When James Bond arrived on cinema screens in the early 1960s, a large part of the franchise's appeal was its travelogue aspect. In the days before package holidays, audiences were as enthralled by the exotic locales visited by 007 as by the action he engaged in and the beautiful starlets he bedded. The world has changed now, and globe-trotting has lost its mystique. We now travel to previously inaccessible locations, only to spend the entire vacation glued to laptops and phones, planning our next trip. We're increasingly losing the ability to live in the moment; it's all about the next big thing, and we're seeing this reflected in the 'universe building' of our blockbuster franchises, which all too often play like extended commercials for some future installment. The 007 series has now succumbed to this virus. Not so much a movie as the fourth episode of a five part future box-set, Spectre is like one of those boutique magazines you find in hotel rooms and on passenger planes. It's printed on glossy paper, immaculately designed and packed with appealing products, but devoid of engaging content.
After the refreshing respite of Skyfall, this latest installment returns to the 'Quantum' storyline established in the first two Daniel Craig outings, Casino Royale and the risible Quantum of Solace. Now that it makes no sense for a British secret agent to foil dastardly plots around the globe at the request of Her Majesty, the film is forced to have Bond act as a rogue agent. Following instructions left on a DVD by the late previous M (Judi Dench), Bond has been tracking down members of a mysterious organisation, and following a pre-credits 'incident' in Mexico City, he's suspended from duty. But that won't stop 007 from snooping around, enlisting the aid of tech wizard Q (Ben Wishaw). You would be forgiven for drawing the obvious similarities with this year's Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation, coincidental of course, but indicative of the lack of imagination in today's big budget storytelling.
Skyfall did an excellent job of updating Bond for a world in which Britain has taken a backseat on the world stage, while updating key characters for a new generation, but in doing so it's built a rod for its back that Spectre struggles to carry. Naomie Harris's Moneypenny has gone from a predatory sexbomb to a mousy secretary; Q has been evolved into this series' version of the techy nerd Benji, played by Simon Pegg in the MI series; and because he's now played by Ralph Fiennes, the film shoehorns M into the drama, giving him a key role in aiding Bond that really adds nothing to the narrative.
Then there's Bond's women. Skyfall pulled a wonderful stunt in making Judi Dench the female lead. Here, we're back to old-fashioned arm candy. Lea Seydoux is miscast, looking a lot more uncomfortable in a lavish gown here than she did in any of the explicit sex scenes of Blue is the Warmest Color, and there's a distinct absence of chemistry between herself and Craig. Early hints that the movie may be daring to deliver a platonic relationship between these two leads to an "Oh, come on!" moment when the inevitable coupling occurs. And as for poor Monica Bellucci; well, I felt embarrassed that one of the great icons of European cinema is reduced to a piece of meat for a one scene cameo here.
There's a scene in which Bond steals a car from Q's lab, its buttons labelled with the usual Bond car weaponry; but in a crucial moment, 007 discovers they don't actually work - it's an unfinished prototype, much like the film itself. Spectre seems to take place in some bizarrely depopulated post-apocalyptic world, where the streets of major cities like London, Rome and Tangiers are devoid of human life. A car chase in the Italian capital is laughable in how Bond and his pursuer encounter only one other motorist. Similarly, when a fight breaks out on a train, the carriages are eerily empty of fellow passengers. A building collapses in Mexico City, one of the world's most densely populated metropolises, and yet it's completely empty, apart from a conveniently placed sofa.
Much has been made of the amount of money lavished on this production, but the money's not on the screen, with unforgivably amateurish greenscreen cropping up at inopportune moments. Stories of millions of dollars worth of destruction of cars seem now clearly bogus, as the car chases are underwhelming, minimal in damage wrought, and are closer to commercials than Friedkin-esque speed-fest. The main set-pieces are aerial based, with Bond finding himself behind the controls of out of control helicopters and planes, and they lack the visceral nature of their land-based cousins.
Director Sam Mendes is the film's one shining light, as he interjects lots of references to other movies here and embraces the 'world's largest trainset' appeal of blockbuster filmmaking. The film's highlight is a bravura Touch of Evil homage in the pre-credits sequence, while there are visual nods to North by North West (the film that inspired the cinematic Bond) and, oddly, a couple of Eyes Wide Shut references. Spectre also plucks from Bond's past, with Dave Bautista essaying a role that's essentially a combo of Robert Shaw and Richard Kiel, and the introduction of a cult figure from the heyday of the franchise. One sequence has Bond walk down a corridor lined with portraits of Eva Green's Vesper Lynd, Judi Dench's M and Mads Mikkelsen's Le Chiffre. How badly Spectre could use actors of their quality, as its haunted by their ghosts.



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