DIR: Sam Mendes • WRI: John Logan, Neal Purvis, Robert Wade, Jez Butterworth • PRO: Barbara Broccoli, Michael G. Wilson • DOP: Hoyte Van Hoytema • ED: Lee Smith • DES: Dennis Gassner • MUS: Thomas Newman • CAST: Daniel Craig, Christoph Waltz, Ralph Fiennes
Well, here we are. Probably one of the most anticipated Bond movies of all time and likely the most hyped, non-Disney film of the year. Not to mention our first full look at how the producers’ experiment to Marvel-ise the Bond franchise has panned out.
After taking some ‘personal time’ in Mexico, Bond (Craig) is not in M’s (Fiennes) good books; Bond’s actions aren’t reflecting well on a Double-O section that’s already facing opposition from MI-5 in the form of Denbigh (Scott). Grounded until further notice, Bond enlists the help of Moneypenny (Harris) and Q (Whishaw) to go rogue and finish the mission he started in Mexico. Following some vague (and plot-hole-riddled-but-don’t-question-it) clues Bond finds himself on the trail of Oberhauser (Waltz). As the true scale of Oberhauser’s organisation becomes clear in the form of SPECTRE, a large and troubling picture comes into view with grave ramifications for not only global safety but for Bond personally as he finds himself caught in a web of events that stretches all the way back through his previous adventures and right back to his origins both as a character and within the Craig-era films on the whole.
This film has a bit of an identity crisis. And by extension so does this (very fanboy centric) opinion of it. On the one hand you have a film that’s trying very hard to show you it belongs in the same club as the classic entries in the series; be it the humour, gadgets, locations or villains. But on the other hand is trying with admirable determination to cement the idea of the entire Craig-era being one long, elaborate continuity. A task it succeeds too well at, to a detrimental degree. (By so convincingly pretending this was all planned out in advance, they’ve undermined various characters and plot points in previous movies and likely created a nightmarish miasma of plot holes.) So filled with homages is the film that any self-respecting Bond fan owes it to themselves to go see this yet the actual cinemagoer aspect of one’s brain can’t ignore how obnoxiously overlong and utterly devoid of pacing it is. (For comparison, Casino Royale is only five or so minutes shorter than this, yet this feels like it easily veers toward Lord of the Rings length and Dark Knight Rises levels of poor pacing.) This is to say nothing of the fact that the shoehorned-in destiny that this version of the Bond-verse is now saddled with will likely irritate longtime fans as much as seeing the return of familiar elements will delight them.
It is a pity that the only major complaint one can level at this as a film is the pacing/length issue because otherwise this hits practically every mark in terms of being both a great action-adventure-spy movie and a great Bond movie. This is one of the finest casts this series has ever assembled and they’re all great (your Waltz milage may vary and Andrew Scott is merely decent but otherwise, superb) and more importantly they all get a lot of screen time. Additionally, the locations are all gorgeously shot and visually diverse, while the action set-pieces are impeccably staged and suitably inventive. Yet the pacing issue works against every one of those positives. Welcome as the increased screen time for M, Moneypenny, Q, et al is, it comes at the expense of grinding to a halt an already sluggish A-plot and in some cases kills the pacing of an action scene (great car chase, fun Moneypenny-at-home scene; terrible as one sequence), and that’s when the film isn’t just arbitrarily ruining more singularly focused scenes. Skyfall’s pre-titles sequence stands out as one of the series’ finest and most action packed yet despite upping both the scale and ambition, SPECTRE’s keeps needlessly stopping and starting to a maddening degree. If ever there was an argument for the merits of why deleted scenes should stay deleted or how necessary a merciless Harvey Weinstein figure can be in the editing room, it’s this movie.
All this would be more acceptable if it was in service of something and while there are interesting ideas brought up in terms of both political commentary and franchise deconstruction (hell, even the title sequence brings up interesting notions of reversing the usual objectification/vulnerability dynamic), yet all of these are given comparatively little screen time. A solid half an hour of this film could go; the humour could be punchier, the dead air in conversations could be minimised, the action scenes could be much more breathlessly edited and the film on the whole would stand much stronger. Make no mistake this is far from a bad movie and very far from a bad Bond movie. This is absolutely worth seeing but the disappointment in the final result is an unfortunately niggling aftertaste.
Hardcore Bond fans might ultimately be a little annoyed and average filmgoers might be a little bored but this is still every bit the grandiose spectacle we were promised. Mendes has continued to push the line of what we consider a Bond movie and Thomas Newman’s score feels much more comfortable this time around; teasingly experimental while retaining familiar elements and with more inclusion of the Bond theme than we’ve had since the Brosnan era. The level of bombast has only grown, Craig continues to be unable to put a foot wrong and this has one of the boldest endings in the franchise’s history. If after fifty-three years, this series can still put a smile on this jaded cynic’s face and still leave you wondering what the ending means for how the franchise may evolve, someone somewhere is doing something right.
12A (see IFCO for details)
Spectre is released 22nd October 2015