Reel Talk

The Comfortable Mediocrity of Spectre

Spectre Poster

I love James Bond. I don’t talk about it nearly enough on this site, but he’s seriously one of my favorite fictional characters of all time. He’s essentially a superhero, and my love for him has reached a point where I can find enjoyment in pretty much any of his adventures. I’m pretty sure I’ve read pretty much every novel that’s been published, except the latest and maybe a couple of the John Gardner’s, read most of the comics, of course seen all the movies several times each, played most of the video games, and listen to a playlist of all the theme songs (including some alternative versions that didn’t get picked) on a far more regular basis than I should care to admit. I used to be way more obsessed though. In high school I attacked the Bond franchise with the same amount of vigor as I should have been studying. I definitely learned the order of the movies, the years they came out, and even the directors easier than I learned the correct order of the US Presidents and the years they were elected, which while not really any more relevant to my day to day life, is a little more socially acceptable. So of course I’m going to go see a new Bond movie on opening night. I’m not a religious man, and movies are kind of my church. And James Bond is one of my holy saints. I’ve gone to see every Bond movie in a theater since the World is Not Enough,  and plan on seeing every single one that comes out until either I die or the franchise does. Which is just a long, dragged out way of saying that I went and saw Spectre last night.

And it’s okay. Not great. Certainly not one of the best Bond’s, but by no means one of the worst. It’s quintessential middle-of-the-road Bond. It’s not one people will be lauding in the future, and it’s not one that people will deride in the future. It’s probably going to be one of those Bond flicks that people struggle to remember, or that’s details bleed into other ones. And really, that’s probably the biggest category of Bond films. As a real Bond fan, I can admit that objectively, not many of them are actually good films. But Bond movies kind of transcend typical taste for me, and are on their own scale. It becomes more about if it’s a good Bond movie, not a good movie. Kind of like how I consider the best movie of the franchise to either be Casino Royale or From Russia With Love, while the best Bond movie is probably Goldfinger. Bond movies have their own standards, cliches, and tropes for me that make it hard to judge against movies in general. There’s something to enjoy in every Bond movie for me, and even ones that are objectively terrible still find their way onto my TV every now and then, because even a bad Bond movie is fun to me.

But let’s get to the movie. Right from the beginning the movie was tickling my fanboy nostalgia by FINALLY having a Daniel Craig Bond flick start with the gun-barrel opening. But we then oddly move to a black screen with a quote about the dead returning to life, before getting to what was honestly one of the best parts of the movie, the cold opening. I really love Bond cold opening, and kind of wish that this had been a stand-alone story like the older movies used to be, but that’s a pretty minor nit-pick. Anyway, we start off in Mexico City during a Day of the Dead festival, and we have a really amazing and well-choreographed single take shot that finds Bond in his skeleton outfit with a random lady as they stalk an assassin Bond is after through a hotel. Bond then sneaks along the rooftops and attempts to snipe the assassin after seeing him do some weird greeting of showing his hand, and overhearing them mention a “Pale King.” Bond then accidently triggers a massive explosion that ends up having the whole building crumble. We get a goofy Roger Moore moment on Bond falling onto a couch, and then he chases after the assassin. They make their way to some city square type place that seems to be the focal point of the festival, and he sees the assassin get in a helicopter to escape. Bond gets in the helicopter and after a pretty impressive, if shoddily edited, scene, he rips a ring off the assassin and boots him out of the helicopter, getting us to the credit sequence.

Spectre Day of the Dead

So, I really don’t like this theme song. I’m not a big fan of Sam Smith and his weird falsetto voice, and this whole song really just flops for me. It has really dumb lyrics (which isn’t a new thing for a Bond theme) and just feels kind of impotent. The whole song feels like it should be building to some big payoff, but it never does. His voice builds to some huge killer moment, and just falls back to his high pitched whining, which ends up being kind of an apt metaphore for the rest of the movie. And the title sequence itself is weird as hell. All sorts of terrible octopus hentai visuals that just seem stupid. There’s even some strange moment where it shows some previous moments from the Craig era, like Vesper, Le Chiffre, and Silva. No love for poor Dominic Greene, which also becomes a runner throughout this movie.

The real plot then gets going by having Bond get yelled at by M (Ralph Fiennes) for blowing up stuff in Mexico when he wasn’t even supposed to be there. He suspends Bond just in time to meet a new character, some weaselly dude that they call C the whole movie (Andrew Scott). And he’s obviously a villain from the very first scene. He’s some bureaucrat from MI5, and he’s basically here to shut down MI6 and the OO program and move everything over to some cyber-spying thing. That whole plot is kind of dumb and just seems to be there because Edward Snowden is a thing. And man was it a bad idea to cast Andrew Scott, a guy who is most known for being Moriarty in the BBC Sherlock series, where he originally showed up pretending to be a good guy. Why wouldn’t we immediately assume and know he’s not on the level? Just a weird call. Anyway, even though Bond is suspended and told not to leave the country, he immediately starts planning on doing just that. He gets Q’s help in making him invisible, Moneypenny’s help to find who the Pale King is, and the previous M’s help from beyond the grave to know that that assassin from the beginning is involved in an evil organization. Which is weird. M knew about Spectre and just kept it quiet until after she died? It’s so strange and they don’t even bother explaining it.

Anyway, Bond heads off to Rome to the funeral of the assassin he kicked out of the helicopter, and while there, he meets his widow, the criminally underused Monica Bellucci. Bond seduces her and finds out that the organization her husband worked for is meeting in a super secret club house to elect a new member. So after he sleeps with her more out of genre standards than anything else, he heads off to infiltrate the organzation. He wears the weird octopus ring and gets into a giant boardroom where people talk about all the horrible things the organization is up to. Then the head of the group shows up (Christoph Waltz) and intimidates everyone. We then meet the wonderful new henchman, Mr. Hinx (Dave Bautista) a crazy, strong, silent dude with metal thumbnails that just pops a guys eyeballs to prove he’s cool enough to join Spectre. Bond then gets recognized by Waltz, who I guess should be called Franz Oberhauser, but is actually Ernst Stavro Blofeld. Bond then runs away when all of Spectre turns on him, and has a crazy awesome car chase with Mr. Hinx. He get away after dumping the car in a river and pulls an awesome Roger Moore moment by smoothly landing with a parachute and just strolling away like nothing happened.

Spectre Car

Moneypenny calls Bond to tell him that the Pale King is his old friend Mr. White from Casino Royale and Quantum of Solace, and so Bond heads off to Austria where Mr. White is hiding. He finds him, and it turns out that he’s been poisoned by Spectre and is going to die soon. Bond convinces him to give him a lead on Spectre in exchange for keeping his daughter safe, and heads off to the Alps. White’s daughter, Madeline Swan (Lea Seydoux) is a psychiatrist working in some weird clinic on top of a mountain, and Bond meets with her, telling her she’s in danger. She blows him off, and he goes to talk to Q, who gets a rare field visit to help Bond out. Bond gives him the Spectre ring he pulled off the assassin, and somehow scans it to get DNA that proves that Spectre is behind Quantum, Le Chiffre, Mr. White, Dominic Greene, and Silva. What? That scene made no sense, and we just gloss right over it. So weird. Anyway, Mr. Hinx shows up, kidnaps Swan and we have a weird chase scene where Bond follows Hinx’s truck in a plane. It’s kind of uneventful and badly edited. But it ends with Hinx knocked out and Bond rescues Swan.

Bond convinces her to help him, and they head off to Morocco to a hotel that White just owns a room in I guess. Bond knows that it has a secret inside, and after destroying most of it and having a drunken conversation with a mouse, he finds Mr. White’s secret room of evil. Bond and Swan investigate the room, finding photos of Swan as a girl which makes her sad, and a VHS tape that apparently has footage of Vesper getting interrogated, which makes Bond sad. But then they find White’s weird GPS computer which is tuned to the location of Blofeld’s super secret base in the middle of the Moroccan desert. So they get on a train, because trains are always safe in a Bond movie, and go to the base. We then get a fun scene where Bond is straight up wearing the Goldfinger suit and has a conversation with Swan while they both drink martinis. Then Mr. Hinx shows up to give us another wonderful and destined to be classic fight scene. They have a drag-out brutal fight on the train that’s really reminiscent of the From Russia With Love fight scene. The fight ends with Hinx trying to throw Bond out of the moving train, but thanks to some help from Swan, he ends up getting a rope around his neck, dragging him out of the train to his death while muttering his only line, “shit.” It’s pretty great.

Spectre Suit

Then they get to Blofeld’s super secret base, and the movie starts to unravel. They’re welcomed by Blofeld, who starts intimidating them and monologueing like a classic villain. He lets Bond know that he’s behind that weasel C (duh) and that he’s been unleashing terrorist attacks around the world to convince all the major world governments to join an intelligence sharing program that’s actually a program that will give all the government secrets in the world to Spectre. He then drugs Bond and gets him tied up in some crazy dentist chair that will drill into his brain for some sort of surgical torture. Blofeld then dumps a lot of exposition while his trademark white cat is walking around for fan service. Turns out after Bond’s parents died he went to live with the Oberhauser family, and was essentially Blofeld’s little brother. Oberhauser killed his father and faked his death, and became Ernst Blofeld in a moment that most people are rightfully comparing to the Khan reveal in Star Trek Into Darkness. It’s purely for the fans, because it’s a reveal that means nothing to the actual characters. And man do I not like it. Why does Blofeld need to be Bond’s brother? That doesn’t make sense. I was really worried that Andrew Scott was going to turn out to be Blofeld, which would have been even dumber, but this reveal still is stupid. I was hoping against hope that it would turn out Oberhauser would just be the bad guy for this movie, and just be a Spectre higher up. That would be fine. Just a random villain who is Bond’s sort of brother, but having Blofeld be it? Kind of needless. Anyway, Bond manages to escape with Swan and blows up the base, seemingly killing Blofeld, but if there’s anything Bond fans know, it’s that Blofeld’s are hard to kill.

Spectre Waltz

We then get a really weird second climax where Bond and Swan head back to England to stop C’s plan. They meet up with Q, Moneypenny, Tanner, and M and all start working together to take down the evil C. It’s pretty great, and would have been a lot of fun in a less bloated movie. I love all of Bond’s supporting cast, and it’s a lot of fun to see them helping out in the adventure. So M gets to C and stops him with Q’s help while Bond tries to find Swan who gets kidnapped by Spectre goons and taken to the old MI6 headquarters. M confronts C and I was really disappointing that C is just straight up evil. My wife and I talked about it, and it would have been much better if C had been an unwitting pawn, a dude who legitimately believed that the 00 program was antiquated and that the cyber stuff was necessary. If he was an idealist who was manipulated by Blofeld it would have actually given the character some depth, but instead he’s just evil and Andrew Scott is officially type-cast. C accidently falls off a building a dies just after Q stops his evil plan from working, and we find Bond having a conversation with Blofeld in the ruins of MI6. He now has the classic scar over the eye, and pulls a goddamned Joker move by wiring the building with explosive, and giving Bond enough time to either escape or save Swan. But of course Bond does both, and gets out of the building with Swan and chases after Blofeld’s helicopter on a boat, shooting it down with a handgun. Blofeld’s helicopter crashes onto a bridge, and Bond comes to meet with him, holding a gun to his head. But Bond surprises even himself by not killing Blofeld, and arresting him instead. Which is just going to let him escape and keep messing with Bond. He then rides off into the sunset with Swan, because apparently they’re in love now. The End.

This was just such a mixed bag of a Bond movie. It just felt a little too ambitious, which is often the Achilles heel of a Bond movie. Really, when I look at the list of movies, there aren’t that many that are terrible, and there aren’t that many that are great. Most are just kind of average. Like a Simpsons episode, no Bond movie is wholly bad though. There aren’t a lot of great Bond movies, but there’s countless great Bond moments. And this movie had some. The opening scene, the train fight, the car chase with Hinx, and really most of the scenes with M and Q are really great. But there’s a lot of flaws too. Swan wasn’t as great a character as the movie thought she was, the “reveal” of C was completely obvious and pointless, and I really don’t like the idea of Blofeld being connected to Bond in this weird way. It just felt like they were trying too much. They got the ability to bring Spectre and Blofeld back, and just seemed so excited to do that they didn’t think it through. And man was all the weird connection things dumb. I’m perfectly fine with Quantum being affiliated with Spectre. That makes sense. They’re evil organizations, and it was pretty obvious that Quantum was a stand in for Spectre when they didn’t have the legal right to use that name. But Silva? That makes no sense. Why was he involved? It just reeks of them wanting to wrap every little plot thread of the Craig era together and make Blofeld this weird puppet-master that had to buildup, because they didn’t plan on them being connected. I kind of liked the strange symmetry of having Skyfall being unaffiliated with the larger Quantum plot, kind of like how the other third film, Goldfinger, didn’t have anything to do with Spectre. But I guess that wasn’t appreciated by the makes of Spectre. In the end, this was a decent Bond movie, and a kind of lackluster film on the whole. The editing wasn’t great and the plot got incredibly muddled. I’ll definitely watch this movie plenty of times over the course of my life with Bond, but it’s not a favorite. It revels in the tropes and nostalgia of the series I love, and finds it’s place with the bulk of the movies, right in the middle of the pack.

Spectre Blofeld

Spectre was written by John Logan, Neal Purvis, Robert Wade, and Jez Butterworth, was directed by Sam Mendes, and released by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Pictures, 2015

Categories: Reel Talk

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