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Was Spectre as bad as we thought it was?

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Come on admit it, you’ve looked into the mirror and uttered the phrase, “The names Bond, James Bond.”– I know you have.

While other franchise movies have established themselves as major contenders, Bond, by comparison, was the original. A vast library of 24 films with each incarnation offering something different, shaped ultimately by the times in which they were created.

With Bond 25 now back on the starter blocks with Cary Fukunaga taking over the directorial duties from Danny Boyle (put down to ‘creative differences‘), it’s time to look at Bond’s last outing: Spectre.

A better Britain?

Skyfall was released to much applause in 2012. Britain at the time, still very much in Europe, was also still very much in the pink. Buoyed by a hot summer and a successful time hosting the Olympics (interestingly directed by Danny Boyle), it felt like ‘Cool Britannia’ was very much back on the ascendancy.

Only three years after finding both critical and commercial success, Sam Mendes hoped to repeat this run with Spectre. But Spectre turned out to be a very different film, with different themes. And despite a spectacular cast, Mendes didn’t seem to get the recipe quite right. It should also be noted that Sam wasn’t actually hoping for a repeat, in fact, it took near on all the persuasive power of both Daniel Craig and Eon productions to convince him to return. Having felt like he’d achieved what he wanted with Skyfall, maybe some of this reticence is evident in the final production?

If we believe the hype, the opening sequences to Bond films get a disproportionate amount of pre-production planning. Spectre has a strong opening, from the single continuous shot to the climatic helicopter fight, everything is in place for a belter of a movie. However, things start to go wrong about a third of the way in.

Relying on retcon

In a misjudged effort to retcon the previous films in Craig’s tenure together, we learn the shadowy organisation, Quantum was actually SPECTRE all along. Pub quiz fact: SPECTRE stands for SPecial Executive for Counterintelligence, Terrorism, Revenge, and Extortion – wink.

Due to previous issues and a pending court case, Eon and MGM were unable to use Spectre or the character of Blofeld for some time, owing to the famed Kevin McClory court case. It was alleged he had co-authoured Thunderball with Fleming and asserted to own key story elements. However, with matters resolved in the courts, everyone’s favourite cat-stroking megalomaniac was free to grace our screens once more.

The role this time fell to the ever talented, Christoph Waltz. However, an early mis-step in the PR machine sought to hide this detail with Waltz being given the name of Franz Oberhauser. Having learnt nothing from the pushback squared at Star Trek’s Into Darkness with Khan-berbatch, this disingenuous backhander at fans became an early press obsession. Something that in interviews, Waltz was visibly bored trying to conceal/defend. Weirdly this was something that they’d done in the build-up before Skyfall’s release with Eve Moneypenny – yawn!

Back of a fag packet plot

Blofeld has a network of surveillance systems which he’s keen to resell to governments. When they hold out against the system’s integration, he plans various nefarious schemes to ensure they eventually become compliant. He’s also recruited a legion of believers, most notably new character, C, that we can only presume stands for Criminally underused, played by Andrew Scott of BBC Sherlock fame. He schlocks his way through new civil servant boy on the block whose head has been turned.

Bond working through a posthumous tip-off from Judi Dench’s M, follows a source which eventually leads him to confront Blofeld. But here’s the rub, without any irony for the Austin Powers films, we learn that Blofeld is Bond’s stepbrother. *Mic drop.*

In what has to be the stupidest narrative move ever, we’re now into brother jokes and daddy loved me best territory, erghhh. Why they did this, we’ll never know, but I hate the premise and execution, rendering it shallow, unjustified and totally under-explored.

Craig, however, is to be commended, every inch of frame he occupies he exudes Bond. His overall commitment to making a Bond film is evident in every scene, but the story seems to just run out of steam.

Fleeting moments of greatness

There are some great high points though, with stand out cinematography from Hoyte Van Hoytema (check out his workflow for lighting scenes) and some seriously evil henchman hijinx thanks to Dave Bautista playing it mute as a more sensible nod to earlier films.

We’ve got some big action set pieces, which in Spectre feel totally unnecessary and seem to block the film’s character development. The car chase in Rome feels like a pastiche and is criminally boring given the location, plus the alpine plane chase feels derisory from earlier Bond films.

But once again the women come off the worse as Monica Bellucci is gone in a heartbeat. Léa Seydoux has a promising start but just needs more to do. She does a lot with the screen-time she has and there are some genuinely emotional scenes, but it’s all way too brief.

There’s a weird feeling that in the third act M, Moneypenny and Bond are part of some splinter group and the penultimate scenes see Bond rescuing Seydoux’s Madeleine Swann from a derelict looking Vauxhall House, at this moment the pacing goes out of the window.

Should you bother watching?

I think the take-away feeling from Spectre is that it feels incredibly formulaic and doesn’t advance any of the characters as it goes. It’s bargain basement Bond, compared to the high of Casino Royale which brought Bond back with a bang in a Bourne aware world, in comparison, Spectre feels a bit tired.

At least in the good old days of Roger Moore and Connery, everyone seemed like they were enjoying themselves, yet despite the odd sprinkle of humour, Spectre is all a bit too dark and gloomy. Tonally I feel like it wanted to go darker, but then wimped out. As a result of the Sony hacking scandal, leaked emails reportedly questioned problems with Spectre‘s final act. I think much of these observations weren’t fully ironed out and it just limps on to a conclusion.

It’s still a great action adventure with some relevant themes around global surveillance, but it just doesn’t hit the sweet spot.

Here’s hoping Craig goes out with a bang in the next one – consider Spectre to be a martini that’s not shaken enough and maybe a little over-stirred.

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