Movie Review: Spectre

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The 24th film in the 007 franchise features all of the staples of a James Bond film. Beautiful women, beautiful cars, beautiful locations, and Bond…James Bond.

After the fallout of the events from Skyfall, a cryptic message from Bond’s past sends him on a trail to uncover a sinister organization. While M battles political forces to keep the secret service alive, Bond peels back the layers of deceit to reveal the terrible truth behind Spectre.

Daniel Craig’s portrayal of James Bond is by far my favorite of all the reincarnations. He plays James Bond like a weapon, an assassin with a willingness to use his license to kill. The tone of Craig’s Bond films has also been more serious and gritty, reflective of a post-Jason Bourne brand of spy.

With Casino Royale, Craig’s Bond was presented as an edgier and darker version of Bond. The first film of the Craig era, named after Sir Ian Fleming’s first Bond novel, signaled a new beginning, a fresh take on an outdated character.  Gone were the exploding pens and invisible car. We now had a modern-age, brawling and more realistic Bond.

While Quantum of Solace was a disappointment, Skyfall proved to be amongst the most popular, successful and frankly, the most beautifully filmed Bond movie to date. The success of Skyfall intensified expectations for the 24th entry in the Bond franchise to almost unreachable heights.  Daniel Craig’s Bond films have given the character a past, with characters and plot linkages between the films that serve as connective tissue. For better or for worse, everything seems to come full circle in Spectre.

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Spectre is a gorgeous film – not quite as dazzling as Skyfall – but still impeccably shot.   The first scenes of the film are excellent. We’re taken on a breakneck tour through Mexico City, carried out through a seemingly single track shot through streets, elevators, hotel rooms and rooftops. The opening to Spectre is all tense confidence and excellently paced action. This is exactly what we expect of Daniel Craig’s Bond, suspense, spy-vs-spy antics and some really great and beautifully filmed action sequences.

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Unfortunately, the rest of Spectre is a bit of a disappointment. While the opening scenes show all the ways a Bond film can go right, the rest of the film illustrates exactly how it can – and do – go wrong.

In Spectre, MI6 is facing a crisis, as international governments plan to centralize intelligence and surveillance data into a singular hub called “Nine Eyes”, which essentially labels the spy agency as unnecessary. It’s much of the same “old dog, new tricks” from Skyfall with a lot less finesse.

As the film progresses, Bond uncovers a sinister plot that not only ties together recent events, but also pulls in threads from all of the previous Daniel Craig Bond films. At the heart of it all is a man named Franz Oberhauser, played by a maniacal Christoph Waltz.

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Christoph Waltz, plays the villain with such cartoonish glee, that he’s at odds with the depth and gravitas of Craig’s performance. We’re supposed to believe that Oberhauser is a ruthless and brilliant revolutionary, but instead, he comes off as a parody of a Bond villain, with explanatory monologues and all. There’s no conceivable motivation for Oberhauser’s actions, or for other players in the film to follow him.

Typical to any Bond film, we have our Bond women – with Lea Seydoux playing a formidable and evenly matched Bond accomplice as Dr. Madeline Swann. She’s stunning, but also extremely smart and capable. Naomie Harris reprised her role as Moneypenny, but was unfortunately sidelined to “assistant”; and the glorious Monica Bellucci served as little more than a plot device – such a disappointing misuse of such a talent. The rest of the MI6 motley crew, including Ben Wishaw as Q, Ralph Fiennes as M and Rory Kinnear as Bill Tanner, provide some great moments of comedic relief, but provide a lot of “filler” for an extended running time.

Dame Judi Dench is sorely missed.

There’s also the addition of Dave Bautista, who joins the ranks as a baddie henchman named Mr. Hinx – providing us with a stunning car chase and an absolutely amazing fight sequence on a train, plus a grand total of ONE word of dialogue.

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There are far too many stories and forced narrative connections jammed into a 2.5 hour running time. What should have been an epic conclusion turned into an absolutely ridiculous story arc. Visually striking locations, wonderfully paced action and fine performances from Craig and Seydoux create an entertaining Bond film, which is unfortunately hampered by a weak script.

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We end up with a stylish “Craig-era Bond” flick with “Pierce Brosnan Bond” sensibilities.  The film is thoroughly entertaining; but the story leaves a lot to be desired.  Let’s just say that we’re shaken, but not really stirred.

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