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James Bland

The first three Daniel Craig James Bond films exist as a kind of trilogy, telling the story of Bond’s evolution from blunt killing machine to suave, super-spy. By the end of Skyfall, Bond was in a recognisable place for the franchise, surrounded by his traditional supporting cast, ready to take on a new challenge in the next film. SPECTRE however, doesn’t feel like the exciting new chapter that Skyfall hinted at. Instead it feels like an epilogue to the previous three films that still feels preoccupied with putting pieces in place to pay off in future films.

SPECTRE picks up with Bond carrying out the final request of the now deceased M. While hunting down a man that M mentioned in a posthumous video to Bond, he stumbles across the shadowy organisation known as SPECTRE and its leader Franz Oberhauser. From there, the film settles into the classic Bond formula of going from place to place blowing things up. The formula in itself is not a bad thing. Many great Bond films have used that foundation as a starting point to tell an interesting story. But what makes SPECTRE so frustrating is that it doesn’t build from that starting point in any significant way. The film feels as if it is going through the well-worn motions of hot country, cold country, high-tech facility without any of the interesting story beats found in other Bond films to keep it exciting.

The film does more than just borrow the structure from classic Bond. It makes a conscious effort to be self-referential. Nods to older films and the novels are littered throughout the film from familiar names to action beats that reference older Bond films. More obviously, the film borrows a lot from the other Daniel Craig Bond films, the plot being a direct continuation of the Quantum storyline from the previous films. This is interesting from a story point of view but the films continued reliance on themes that have been more than explored in previous Bond films is extremely disappointing. For example, how many times have we seen a Bond villain make a speech about the countless women he endangers on his missions. Yes, it’s an integral part of the character but we’ve seen it all before, several times. Mendes also seems content to repeat the ‘007 is old news’ arc from his previous Bond film, this time in the form of the same predictable ‘surveillance is the evil future’ sub-plot that every other action movie seems to be doing at the moment to seem topical.

The bland structure and storyline could be saved by a compelling villain but that is another area in which SPECTRE falls short. I love Christoph Waltz and was incredibly excited when I found out that he was going to be playing a Bond Villain. Unfortunately he is criminally underused, his character relegated to only a handful of scenes. The most tragic thing is that the scenes he is in are some of the best in the film. The first time he appears is deliciously sinister and will go down as one of the best villain introductions in a Bond film. However, after being thrown into the mix he is absent from proceedings until the third act of the film. His role almost seems like a cameo, appearing again towards the end only to set up future Bond films and to establish the character’s existence within the mythos.

Due to Oberhauser’s absence for the majority of the film, the duty of villain often falls to Mr. Hinx, played competently by Dave Bautista. Hinx operates as a primary threat to allow for action to take place in the various locations that Bond visits while Waltz’s Oberhauser remains in the shadows. While Hinx is a terrifying physical presence, his lack of character and backstory make him an inadequate villain to rest the first two acts of a film on.

And it isn’t just the villains who get misused in the film. Many of Bond’s support crew also seem misused, the most egregious offence being Lea Seydoux’s Madeleine Swann. Her appearance in the film starts as a welcome breath of fresh air, a Bond girl for the 21st Century. She doesn’t hang on Bond’s every word, she can fight for herself and makes a point of saying she isn’t just going to jump into bed with Bond. That is before she does… about 24 hours into their relationship. You could argue that that’s just how the Bond structure is but at this point it just comes across as unrealistic. Tradition is no excuse for poor characterisation. Bond himself is unremarkable, Craig continues to perform adequately in the role, coming into SPECTRE with a slightly coarser, less refined sense of humour that is a refreshing change from the sauve quips employed by previous Bond scripts.

However, despite some poorly written and implemented characters, the film also includes some of the best supporting cast seen in a Bond film for years with the tag team of Moneypenny and Q played by (Naomi Harris and Ben Whishaw respectively) being a highlight. Their relationship is one rarely seen in Bond as traditionally the two characters were relegated to their offices so it is nice to finally see them interact. Special mentions also go to Monica Bellucci, who dazzles in the few scenes of the film she is in and the returning, always sinister, Jesper Christensen as Mr. White.

However, all that story stuff might not matter to you as a viewer of Bond films. You enjoy the fun, over the top action that the series is known for. Well then SPECTRE does deliver in that department, but it doesn’t reach the heights that previous Bond films have achieved. None of the action in SPECTRE rivals the pulse-pounding train chase in Skyfall or the Venice building collapse in Casino Royale. However, that doesn’t diminish the fact that there are some suitably exciting action scenes in the film, two standouts being a brutal hand-to-hand fight on a train and a chase in a rapidly deteriorating plane. There are also some totally uninspired, bland ones. SPECTRE is one of the first Bond films in a long time with an opening sequence that made me worried about the film I was about to see. Even Die Another Day had a good opening sequence. It’s one of the most important parts to get right so it boggles the mind that Mendes would open his film with a distinctly bland helicopter-based fistfight.

The action scenes, even the less interesting ones, are bolstered by Sam Mendes’ outstanding visual style. The vistas are sweeping, the action is nicely kinetic and there is a definite sense of visual panache that can sometimes feel lacking from Bond films. A particular highlight is the opening tracking shot of the film that follows Bond through the crowd at the Day of the Dead festival in Mexico. It also has one of the coolest looking opening credits visuals that Bond has had in a long time, unfortunately coupled with one of the worst theme songs in years.

Overall, SPECTRE’s biggest problem is a difficulty moving forward. It’s clear that Mendes loves the character but his reverence for the franchise seems to have hamstrung him this time around, turning what could have been the peak of the series into a film that, in my opinion, will sit firmly in the middle of the rankings next to View To a Kill and Tomorrow Never Dies.



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About Charlie Cookeone of us since 11:15 AM on 11.05.2015