Director: Sam Mendes
Starring: Daniel Craig, Lea Seydoux, Christoph Waltz, and Ralph Fiennes
The following has spoilers. Be warned.
This has been a busy year in terms of spy flicks. And they were all very different from each other, even when they shared similarities. Spy and Kingsman were both comedic entries into the spy genre, but the former tackled misogyny and the latter tackled class. Kingsman was also a more classically thrilling spy flick, where Spy went more for comedy. The Man From UNCLE was a throwback to the 60s, nice and sleek but ultimately hollow. That too had a bit of a team element, which wasn’t as well utilized as Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation. And Rogue Nation dealt with an evil dark side to the spy game, a hidden cabal of bad guys doing dirty deeds behind the scenes. But it was done with thrills and entertainment in mind. Not like the other spy flick that featured a secret criminal organization. And that would be the 24th Bond movie in 53 years, Spectre.
24 movies. That’s such an insane number of movies, even over the span of 53 years. If there wasn’t a 6 year gap between License To Kill and Goldeneye and a 5 year gap between Quantum of Solace and Skyfall, they could have been up to 27/28 at this point. And it’s been on a hell of a run with Daniel Craig, only having one entry be overly criticized because it had the gall to do something different with a purpose (Quantum of Solace). And it reached a high unseen since Goldfinger with his third outing in Skyfall. So anticipation was high when the new one was announced for this year with Skyfall director Sam Mendes. Then add onto that the news that EON Productions got the rights back to the criminal organization SPECTRE and bad guy Ernst Stavro Blofeld, anticipation shot up. And when the time for it to be released came about, word was…mixed.
Mixed reactions isn’t necessarily a huge deal, as few Bond movies are widely agreed upon. Only a few are widely loved. But some of the negative views were so negative that I was worried. This franchise is singular, in that any new movie could be either be amazing or mind blowingly bad. But my anticipation was high anyway, since it’s a new fucking Bond movie. And now that I’ve seen it twice to cement my opinion on it a little more, I can say I did enjoy the movie. But some complaints about it are very valid.
The movie continues the tradition of Craig movies by being very continuity heavy. In some ways in this one it’s a bit of a detriment, but overall it’s a good thing. Separates him from the other Bonds after Connery. This movie is simply put about Bond looking into a lead about an evil organization that leads him to the titular organization, a bigger and badder group he didn’t know could exist. This exposes something from his past that comes back to haunt him.
I’m gonna get into spoilers here, so be wary. You’ve been warned. Spoilers. Now. Boom. Ok, so they’ve been playing a game regarding Waltz’ role. They’ve said he was playing Franz Oberhauser. And technically he is. But in actuality he is playing Ernst Stavro Blofeld. Which is whatever, ok. He changed his name to Blofeld after faking his death. But what’s stupid about it is that it is tied to Bonds past, and in a particularly dumb way. When Bond’s parents died, Bond stayed with Blofelds father and becoming very close to the father. Blofeld hated his father for that and killed him and faked his death. Which is just terrible. For one thing, Blofeld should have no connection to Bond. They’re only reason for their rivalry should be that Bond is for the angels and Blofeld is for the demons. Simple. But they had to convolute it. And what’s even worse about it is is that they make it seem like Bond is responsible for this, but kinda not really. You wouldn’t be wrong for walking away from this assuming that that is the reason. Me, I took it as Blofeld was bad anyway and Bond just got in the way of that. It’s all just so terrible convenient that it strains credibility. The movie has problems aside from this, but this one cannot be overcome the way the others can. It’s a massive miscalculation on the part of the writers and Mendes. Which is a shame since Waltz is pretty good in the role. And hopefully in future installments he will be back. And hopefully they’ll just ignore the backstory and just deal within. This is easily the biggest misstep in the movie and one I’m gonna have to deal with over time.
So the Blofeld stuff is not great. It’s so not great that it’s gonna color the movie for many people. And hell, it takes up so much time in the end that you might forgot what the actual reasoning for the plot is. SPECTRE is plotting to trick 9 countries intelligence agencies into giving up all their intel to one organization, that they control, so as to stay ahead of the good guys every step of the way. But since the backstory stuff takes up a lot of time in the end, you might think this stuff is being done to get at Bond. Especially since Bond doesn’t even really get into the intel part of the climax. He leaves the dealing with that to M, Moneypenny and Q. And while this isn’t a team movie like the Mission Impossible series, it’s nice to see the team get out of the office and take part in the proceedings. But it adds up to a problem that kinda plagues this movie. It’s something I can get over and a problem that shouldn’t be a problem with a rewatch, but details are kinda glossed over. They leave it up to the viewer to fill in some of the details. Such as the motivation for the Intel scheme. It’s laid out in the movie, but in the first act, during the SPECTRE board meeting where Bond realizes how deep he’s in it. So by the time they reveal the not so well hidden plot, we probably have forgotten that moment. It’s also not explicitly clear why Monica Bellucci is gonna be killed, or why Lea Seydoux needs protection. You can make the safe guess that it’s just Blofeld clearing up any loose ends from a dead employee, but again. Details, not clear.
A big problem this movie has is the pacing. The Craig movies before this have had immaculate pacing, going against the typical Bond movie thing of being bloated/overlong. Some of that is due to the overlong nature of the script, having too many scenes that aren’t very necessary. Trying to add weight to Lea Seydoux’s relationship with her father doesn’t really do to much for the movie. Scenes with Andrew Scott aren’t the biggest barnburners in the Bond series, but at least they have Ralph Fiennes to elevate them to something halfway dramatic. But what kinda makes this movie a little slower than it should be is the editing. Stuart Baird edited Casino Royale and Skyfall, and those two are immaculately edited. Not a trace of fat on any of them and they move with ferocious grace. If he came back for this entry, he could have worked wonders. One scene in particular could have used his craftsmanship, and that is the car chase in Italy. As is, it’s a fairly boring chase. Nothing really going on, no energy to it. It’s just there and goes on a little too long. With a better editor in there like Baird, he coulda juiced it up a good deal. As is, the movie lacks the kick of Skyfall and Casino Royale.
It seems like I’ve been laying into this movie and that I hate it, but that’s far from true. I do really like this movie a good bit. It has some silly lows, but the whole is an enjoyable flick. My main beef really comes from the fact that Mendes and crew overreached. They tried for the same grand, operatic action of Skyfall, but they didn’t completely land it. Mainly due to the misguided failure of the Blofeld backstory. It also feels like he either wasn’t as into it or didn’t have as much to add to a new installment, as this lacks the freshness and soul that Skyfall did. The editing doesn’t help that feeling, but it’s there. But I think for the most part, Mendes does some good work here. In working with cinematographer Hoyt Van Hoytema, he crafts some gorgeous imagery. It’s not as good as Skyfalls, but even a respectable DP like Hoyt is gonna pale in comparison to the next level work that Roger Deakins did in that movie. But Hoytema does some damn fine work.
Mendes also does some good work in the action department. As with every Bond flick, there is a cold open action sequence and it is a stunner in this one. Set at the Mexico City celebration of the Day of The Dead, it’s a flashy scene with a cool one take tracking shot. And it has some cool action involving a destroyed building and an acrobatic helicopter. It’s a badass scene. The car chase is a dud, but that can be forgiven. The climax is also really cool, featuring Bond trying to save someone from a bomb and M’s crew taking down the Intel game. It’s not as high class a climax as Skyfall (take a drink), but it’s pretty cool and ends in a helicopter chase. There’s an escape from Blofelds lair that’s a bit humdrum, but it’s preceded by a cool torture scene. All of it though is shit in comparison to the epic train fight sequence between Bond and Mr. Hinx (Dave Bautista). It’s an homage to the fight in From Russia With Love, but even more brutal. The whole time, Bond isn’t as vicious as he had been in the prior movies. But in fighting Hinx, he has to go full force to fight back and that doesn’t even work well. It’s well choreographed, featuring pretty much no score, and ends with a pretty cool and subtle Jaws reference. It’s an iconic scene and may be the best action scene since anything in Casino Royale.
Mendes also does good work by assembling a damn good cast. Most are returning vets, but the new ones do good work. Lea Seydoux does great work, overcoming a kinda weak character to make Madeline Swann a formidable woman to Bond, holding out against his charms until the perfect moment. Waltz, as I said before, is doing good work with some bad material. Bellucci is sadly underutilized in a massive way, feeling like some scenes were cut out. Andrew Scott tries his best not to telegraph the villainous nature of the role, but the script doesn’t help that out none. Of the returning crew, everyone does good work but my non Bond MVP has to be Fiennes. He’s amazing as M, recalling Bernard Lee in the role. He brings gravitas to every scene he’s in. It’s great work in a subdued role. But obviously, the MVP goes to Craig. He’s always been good in the role, but he’s played the character a different way everytime out. In Royale, he was a more reckless and cocky version of Bond. In Quantum, he was a vicious dog let off his chain. Skyfall, he was a broken down man reclaiming his glory. Here, he’s playing a Bond that’s very comfortable. He’s rakishly charming, witty and most capable of violence when needed. This is a Bond with no growing needed. He’s Bond of yore, feeling exactly like Connery. And it’s grand.
Overall, I gotta say I really liked this movie. It fits into the Bond tradition of having to overlook some massive flaws in it, but that goes with the territory. With the Craig run thus far, it seems like we’ve been spoiled by 3 movies that didn’t fold to the typical flaws of the franchise. This one though does, and it feels like an old school Bond movie. Good highs, silly lows and a good old mix of humor and thrills. It’s gonna be a divisive movie, but one that should get a slightly better reputation as time goes on. Hopefully Craig gets one last go of it as Bond to say goodbye, since this one seems to be doing a lot of setup for the next one to be a new version of On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. But if this was his last, which I doubt, it ends on a fitting note. Big, messy and thrilling, it’s a Bond movie alright.