"It's All A Matter Of Perspective" - My Review
Posted 06 November 2015 - 08:23 AM
Overall this film, personally, was more enjoyable than ‘Skyfall’. While it has strong points and weak points, as all the Bond films do, this felt like it was Craig’s first “classic” James Bond. Yes, we don’t need to repeat the nostalgia of the past, but we can’t deny there is a winning formula audiences want to see from their 007 regardless of the actor of the era. And those elements are there more so than before; the established mission, a memorable villain and henchman, the Bond girls, the car chase, the stunts, the action, the Vodka Martini.
• Daniel Craig finally shows us his established James Bond 007 here. Teased over 9 years and so close to getting there in ‘Skyfall’, here in ‘SPECTRE’ he uses everything he’s learnt before to be a Bond we cheer for, laugh with and feel for. It’s like the past incarnations of Connery, Moore and Dalton come through Craig’s performance. He is more laid-back, witty and confident in situations, but also still a cold-blooded assassin who is vulnerable.
Some moments you may see as striking for his interpretation, like for instance his Bond is still reckless and at times a loose cannon and a heavy drinker, but then this is something new and an established character since 2006. Craig has that swagger to Bond many will have a hard time to replace if and when the time comes to replace him, because he’s so comfortable now in the role that he’s made 007 a real character on a real journey, and this story, I feel, thankfully ties up a lot of the journey itself started in 2006 for him to either now continue with new paths forward or to call it a day. I think he needs one more to tie up his journey...but cut back on the near alcoholism and reckless behaviour; you ARE James Bond after all, not some maniac.
• Léa Seydoux climbs up the Bond girl ranks of the Craig era to sit comfortably behind Vesper Lynd. She can act, which is important and not just there for purpose. And even with her background in the story, she’s not thrown into action like Camille was in ‘Quantum Of Solace’. She’s emotionally vulnerable, and her personal issues work well in the overall context. However, her development is under-cooked and with the events that play out, never convinces me of her journey with Bond is anything like it was with Vesper Lynd. There is obviously a romance brewing, but it didn’t feel very natural, and at times their actions felt forced by their surroundings, to “make the best of it” before time ran out so to speak. But I’d certainly like to see more of her as she is beautiful, very grounded and, as said, a very good actress alongside Craig.
• Christoph Waltz, the man you now see was born to play a deliciously sly and cunning Bond villain doesn’t let the team down as Franz Oberhauser. Yes; he is sadly under-used even more than Javier Bardem in ‘Skyfall’, but the difference is his presence is felt during this film when he’s not on screen. He’s a threat, and he has power. The film’s action ripples out from his center, and Oberhauser is always looming over this story even when he’s not present. “You came across me so many times yet you never saw me” rings more true now.
Waltz doesn’t play him as camp, not at all. He is a man who has pretty much got what he wants; he is confident, laid-back and in control. He’s clever and merciless and very dangerous. Waltz isn’t physically intimidating, but then not all the best villains are; it’s how they come across on screen and he comes across wickedly brilliant – super dialogue that makes so much sense in the context of the story, linking everything in the Craig era to the nefarious SPECTRE organisation perfectly. He makes this film for me and is my favourite villain of the Craig era to date, and in anyway shape or form I hope we somehow see him again in the future.
• David Bautista is our evil henchman. Enough said. No meak and mild goon here trying to talk tough and look scary with a gun, no. This henchman is the real deal, and much like Jaws, Oddjob and Red Grant he holds his own against 007 and is set on one thing – killing James Bond. He is physically imposing; a silent killer with a deadly touch who says more with his actions than with words. The train fight teased between Hinx and Bond is one of the best fights in the Bond series and certainly in Craig’s run. It’s brutal, violent and we really see Bond take a beating to the point where it looks like he’s outmatched.
• Monica Bellucci is very under-used, but she plays her part and fits into the story well; without her Bond wouldn’t have much to go on, and she looks wonderful in (and out) of her dress. Her role was also not as straight-forward or concluded as I expected also, which was nice.
• Ralph Fiennes, Ben Whishaw and Naomi Harris blew me away with their roles as the solid MI6 team. They got the most laughs from the audience with the wry dialogue, wit and overall performances. Comfortably set from ‘Skyfall’, they make a more convincing intelligence unit; relationships are solid and thankfully they’re not thrown into the action as much to make them just like Bond. They have their own weapons; knowledge and personal skills which are used brilliantly. Very likeable and thankfully all with expanded roles, especially Whishaw, who brings easy humour to the classic Q-Branch scenes with 007. Llewelyn would be proud.
• The other cast like Andrew Scott, Rory Kinnear, Stephanie Sigman and Jesper Christensen are all crucial to this puzzle. None of them are discarded and all sizzle on screen to help form the allies and villains around Bond and his world at MI6. Great talent on screen, probably one of the best since ‘Casino Royale’.
For each location used, director Sam Mendes and cinematographer Hoyte van Hoytema expand on what makes each one come alive. The jaw-dropping Day Of The Dead celebration in Mexico City. The architecture of Rome. The frozen plains of Austria. The sun-baked landscape of Morocco. The playground of British Governments in London.
There's no globe-trotting for 2 hours, but a few select choices that are fully used to deliver a rich experience, which each setting lending to the narrative. The cinematography delivers just as much here as it did in ‘Skyfall’, maybe not as picturesque Roger Deakins, but still letting you see and appreciate these gorgeous locations and what they all offer to us as viewers and to Bond traversing them.
The soundtrack was the factor that didn’t shout out much to me. Thomas Newman returns and already seems to have struck up a comfortable rapport with Mendes in using music to narrate their interpretation of James Bond. Lots of familiar cues return from ‘Skyfall’ both for drama and action, which isn’t a bad thing as it gives the film a sense of familiarity and presents us with new themes for certain “Bond moments”. Yes, the James Bond theme is there but again not used very much, and when it does it’s in the, what I personally feel, over-used and over-the-top blaring brass motif. However, there are some haunting moments that do work very well.
The main theme by Sam Smith, “Writings On The Wall”, is certainly not one of the most welcomed songs in the series and certainly no Adele. However, I will admit that the edited down version mixed with the gorgeous title sequence won me over. The lyrics and music make so much sense watching the very eerie sequence by the talented Daniel Kleinman. Shadows of Craig’s earlier films come back to haunt us (Vesper is done hauntingly beautiful) and the deadly tentacles of the SPECTRE octopus control all we see on screen. It’s the best of the Craig era, and of the past 30 years I’d say.
Yes! We have action! No! It’s not over-done. And I can tell you we've seen all the sequences teased in the trailers. And thankfully there isn’t much CGI on the whole, except for some background work and explosions.
• The pre-title sequence opens with a seemingly one fluid take lasting a good 5 minutes taking us through, up and around the vibrant Day Of The Dead festival in Mexico City for an explosive chase that turns into a dizzying spectacle on and inside a helicopter over a plaza full of people. It’s one of those breath-taking sequences where you forget to breathe due to the thrills on screen. There is always something happening on screen; fitting music and gorgeous costumes bring the festival to life and its nothing short of brilliant. The helicopter battle, blending CGI and practical effects, is simply chaos. Good chaos, of course. 3 corkscrews and dozens of other twists and turns show that the Bond team certainly know how to give us something original after 53 years!
• Rome gives us a city that looks stunning at night, and home to the Bond Aston v Hinx Jaguar car chase. I feel this was a little disappointing as it never hit a high-note. It is very well staged of course, but it’s more like a controlled street race rather than a vicious chase, and there’s a few too many comedic moments that don’t really add anything.
• Austria is a setting you can’t help but mirror to ‘On Her Majesty’s Secret Service’, but events soon help you forget. A great plane chase against Land Rovers goes up, over and across dangerous mountains and hamlets, through trees and barns and causing the hair-raising stunts you’d expect. Again, the team offer something never seen before and this only adds to the enjoyment.
• Morocco looks stunning on camera and gives us the Hinx v Bond train fight. This is a fight that, as said before, for me must go down as one of the best. It’s brutal, nasty and the modern day Bond v Jaws from ‘The Spy Who Loved Me’ fused with Bond v Grant from ‘From Russia With Love’. Add to this the spectacle of Oberhauser’s lair in a loving nod to Ken Adams' hollowed out volcano from ‘You Only Live Twice’, and you have a setting that offers plenty of bang and surprises for your buck.
• London, a staple in these Craig films to continue to development of Whitehall and British Intelligence features as strongly as ever with its grand buildings, iconic landscape overlooking the River Thames and the ghostly shell of the former MI6 building in ruins. With the river and Vauxhall the focus for most of the explosive finale, it certainly helps you see London in a new dangerous light.
All of the above is due to a crew that know their audience and know the Bond they want to offer us. While it may not be the Bond for everyone, it certainly is the Bond for the masses who pulls in over $1b at the box-office age 50 years old. Now aged 53, the franchise show no signs of stopping. Sam Mendes puts his ‘Skyfall’ stamp over this, with a comfortable look and feel with a crew who showcase everything needed from costume, to set design and editing to make this a sharp looking film full of suspense, drama and romance. It’s a continuing story on the whole, and so it’s nice to have a family who started this new “era” back in 2006 and newcomers since 2012 all here for the ride.
"I think you’re just getting started." - Moneypenny mutters to Bond in an early scene set in his surprisingly grim London flat. In one way James Bond is getting started finally, but in some ways he’s also coming to an end of his journey; Daniel Craig’s journey that is.
As said, on the whole this has good and bad points. I didn’t find a problem with the pacing at all compared to ‘Skyfall’, and some may say the personal links don’t work but in the wider scheme of things they do, and thanks to the acting talent it all comes across in a way that just makes sense. Nothing is shoe-horned in.
Well, almost nothing. The relationship between Bond and Swann, the crux of this story and the basis of the title song itself, felt rushed and under-developed. I didn’t invest in their outcome as much as I did with Bond and Vesper in ‘Casino Royale’. Granted, Eva Green really owned her part and Léa Seydoux does hers convincingly, but on the whole I couldn’t buy it. Words are said and actions taken that come across as nothing but the result of rash decisions and forced hands. And this leads to my other main irk; the finale. Once we hit London we get into a more familiar “race against time” scenario to stop the evil plan, but once a certain button is pushed (literally) it loses its way for me personally.
It gets a little noisy and a little under-whelming and happy with the CGI. I’d have preferred the finale to take place in Morocco between Bond and Oberhauser, but for sentimental value to link everyone and everything it had to be London. And the closing few minutes didn’t sit with me at all – I don’t know how to take it or what to make of where it’s going now, and I didn’t really want the things I don’t feel we need; blaring brassy James Bond theme and a big nod to the 1960s again. If anything, can we move on from that aspect as well as the personal agenda now? It’s the one thing I can’t stand now; it’s too much a sickly nod to the past.
It’s been done. Let’s move on. But, saying that, I don’t know where they will move on to with the ending of this as. Watching it a second time however, a certain character coupled with a certain few shots that he sees makes me think we may have another personal vendetta in Bond 25.
So on the whole, a fitting return to more of the welcome 007 traits of the past presented for a modern generation. It's up there with 'Casino Royale' and probably my favourite Craig-era Bond film for sure. Not my favourite of the 24 films, but now right in the Top 10 for definite.
It’s funny, it’s emotive, it’s brutal and nasty (the sound of drills echoes in my mind). I only hope we can have more from this current family of Bond cast and crew because they’ve ended one journey but started another that I want to see progress. This is solid entertainment, and it’s finally found the right combination of new and classic elements to make something fresh.
But to take the journey with or without Daniel Craig? I honestly can’t answer that like I could of at the end of the previous 3 films. I don’t know what will happen now, which both excites me and leaves me feeling nervous as to where this established 007 universe will now go.
Posted 12 November 2015 - 04:04 AM
Just to address one point (something I've also seen critics say), and that is Monica Belucci being underused. I don't agree. Her screen time was small, but it was also some of the best and most memorable stuff in the film. She didn't need more screentime to make her mark.
Posted 12 November 2015 - 08:48 AM
I do agree she was perfect for Lucia - I think it's a case of how good she is, and how alluring and almost like a SPECTRE femme fatale she could have been. I'd have loved her character to play a little more in the SPECTRE group and Bond's tracking them down.
Just glad she wasn't typical fodder to be killed off.
Posted 24 November 2015 - 02:15 AM
Good review. I agree Spectre really loses its chops during the final act in London. It's a very 'bumpy' film, with excellent scenes interspersed with absolute drivel. I struggled with it through one sitting and admire your stamina viewing it 4 times in rapid succession.
Posted 27 November 2015 - 12:34 PM
Thank you! It does hold up after 4 views for sure for me, always seeing new things....but yeah the finale gets a little Brosnan-era towards the end.