*** (out of 5)
November 6, 2015
Daniel Craig as JAMES BOND
Christoph Waltz as OBERHAUSER
Léa Seydoux as MADELEINE SWANN
Ralph Fiennes as M
Monica Bellucci as LUCIA
Ben Whishaw as Q
Naomie Harris as MONEYPENNY
Dave Bautista as HINX
Andrew Scott as c
Rory Kinnear as TANNER
Directed by: Sam Mendes
BY KEVIN CARR
Listen to Kevin’s radio review…
I have been a fan of the James Bond movies ever since I first saw “Moonraker” as a child in theaters. And no, it wasn’t just because I got my first glimpse of on-screen nudity during Saul Bass’s iconic credits sequence. I fell in love with the franchise from a young age because it was essential cinematic fun.
Bond movies are the very essence of escapism. They are meant to be enjoyment, silly and simple – some sillier and simpler than others. Yes, they can become corny or goofy, or downright ridiculous, but there are very few of the Bond movies that have been released in its 53-year history that I generally do not like. (Those honors go to “On Her Majesty’s Secret Service” because of casting issues and an overdose of inane sexual revolution diversions, as well as “Diamonds Are Forever” because Connery was phoning in his performance and the Bond girls were so terrible.)
Still, even a mediocre Bond movie is a lot of fun in my book. They still have all the things that make them great: excitement and action, girls and gadgets, over-the-top villains, and a level of cool that is rarely reached in movies nowadays.
On the whole, I’ve enjoyed Daniel Craig’s tenure in this rebooted Bond series, even if I’ve turned my nose up at directors stubbornly trying to get away from formula (like the rifle barrel opening that was dropped from the very opening of the films until this new film). There are some worries I have which stem from trends I’ve been seeing in these movies (particularly the most recent two), but more on that later.
“Spectre” is the new film with huge shoes to fill. Its predecessor “Skyfall” was the “Avengers” of Bond films. Not only was it nearly universally loved from a critical standpoint, but it was also the highest-grossing Bond film of all time – by a factor of two (though one-two punch of “Goldfinger” and “Thunderball” each still beat it by a mile). Still, “Spectre” now has to live up to mega-hit blockbuster status rather than to just be a studio cash cow as it was in the 70s, 80s and 90s.
In this new movie, Bond is working off book to track down a mysterious international criminal organization known as Spectre. He was given this directive by the late M (Judi Dench), and his investigation uncovers a criminal mastermind bent on controlling the entire world through surveillance information and terrorism.
“Spectre” is an intriguing mix of old-school Bond and rebooted modern franchise filmmaking. The classic elements are there, including some nearly unbelievable technology, thrilling action sequences, a horny-as-hell lead character and a nice dose of humor that has been sorely missing in the last few films. However, it still tries to service the gritty, more realistic 007.
If you’re just going for the spectacle, “Spectre” is a perfectly fine Bond film. The action sequences are top-notch, and it’s nice to see him return to familiar territory with snow-based action and an Aston Martin car chase. Plus, the cinematography is gorgeous in this movie, stepping up the quality from the run-of-the-mill flick we used to see.
The problems from this movie stem from its script, which is simultaneously overwritten and underwritten. On one hand, it’s trying to keep the flippant charm from the earlier films, but this doesn’t quite work in the modern gritty set-up. Part of the fun of a James Bond movie are throwaway archetype characters (yes, I know it makes me sound misogynistic, but I’m talking about the Bond girls) as well as the goofy villains and henchmen. If the rest of the film feels like it’s trying to stay grounded in reality, this doesn’t quite wash.
On top of that, “Spectre” continues to try to tie things together too much, which has been on the rise throughout Craig’s tenure. The problem with this is that not only does it become ridiculous that everything is linked to Bond, but we shouldn’t want too much growth in the character. Otherwise, Bond will cease to be the alcoholic, womanizing borderline psychopath assassin that we all know and love.
I fear that too much development of James Bond will ruin the character and eventually crush the franchise when a future film fails to make a billion dollars instead of just being happy with a worldwide gross of $400 million. “Skyfall” was an aberration and should be treated as such by the studio, rather than it become the new normal that every film henceforth should be measured by.
I enjoyed “Spectre” well enough, even though it’s trying too much to make things connect. I look forward to the day when we get to see Bond just go on an assignment that only exists for one film rather than make every movie a sequel to the previous installment to appease grumpy critics and audiences who never liked the first 50 years of the franchise in the first place.