Craig's Moore-era closure.
For good and bad, Sam Mendes finally reaches what appears to be his endgame: a symbiotic blend of classic Moore-era Bond high jinks and Craig-era seriousness.Lacking the emotional heft of its predecessors, SPECTRE goes for broke in the all-action, all-spectacle department, and struggles to know quite whether it wants to just embrace the hammy Roger Moore silliness of it all – humour, gadgets, evil lairs, swooning women, hulking henchmen, impossibly-elaborate torture/death sequences to escape from – or maintain the credibility that the rest of Craig’s entries have fought so hard to build up in the first place.For those who have a soft spot for Moore’s colourful jaunts, and who are prepared to let Craig finally have his Bond cake and eat it, there’s plenty of pure Bond entertainment on offer here. It’s easy to get swept up in the heat of things, with Bond’s tripping across the world from one exotic location to the next in classic style and plenty of planes, trains and automobiles at his disposal. If you dare scratch beneath the surface, however, SPECTRE may not quite stand the scrutiny.
At times struggling with its blend of old and new (the two simply don't always go together) the purported conclusion to the Craig run of mature Bond entries is nevertheless another well-engineered epic ride, following in the vein of Skyfall and matching the theme of past-era nods – both fleeting and full-on tributes – only this time with arguably more focus on the Moore series, again for good and bad. The opening sequence – perhaps the most breathtakingly shot of the entire movie – nods to both Live and Let Die and the Mardi Gras sequence in Moonraker, but soon becomes more of a CG spectacle than it ever needed to be, before thundering into a painfully reckless, but nonetheless engaging, bit of helicopter stuntwork echoing a little of For Your Eyes Only.
So far so good...? Well, not really, with the theme song being one of the absolute worst of the entire franchise – you’ll wish it was one verse – and the actual score proving little better, particularly as it ushers in a first act rife with scampering notes that would have been better off in a Peter Sellars Clouseau movie.
For once, it would be nice if it didn’t take a whole 2 hours before people realised that Bond was right all along.
Indeed the comedy is broad in the first act, and hits a few laugh out loud notes (Q arguably finally becomes Q) but the in medias res plotting is arguably undermined by this tonal irregularity, with the audience struggling to commit to the import of Bond’s ‘secret mission’. Beyond that, the story, rather than delivering on the promise of Skyfall’s closing moments, by having Bond finally do the job he’s tasked with, returns instead to the ‘off the reservation’ antics which have permeated pretty-much all of Craig’s entries. Whilst it’s clear the filmmakers think that it adds tension to have Bond alone, untrusted and on the run, in much the same way as we found with Jack Bauer in 24, it’s actually quite tiring being the only one in on the truth.
Thankfully, despite plenty of first act hiccups, when SPECTRE gets going, it seldom lets up, taking things alpine for an engaging (if way over-the-top) plane-vs-car chase, before hitting the tracks for some classic Bond-on-a-train fisticuffs, which definitely hits all the right Spy Who Loved Me notes. Almost half a century on from the last time we saw the organisation SPECTRE, there’s plenty of Diamonds Are Forever here – in a good way – with some nice gunplay spicing up the arid desert villain’s lair setting (almost harking back to all those legions of red-shirts mowed down in spectacular army-scale battles).
It’s certainly easy to get lost in the fun and frivolity of SPECTRE, a serious-meets-silly Moore-played-straight Craig entry Bond flick.
Beyond that, even the final act brings a few nice surprises, and plenty more explosive setpieces, although it’s hard to fully grasp what was accomplished; what was the endgame; what was the point of it all. At the end of the day, SPECTRE itself feels more a macguffin than this lost treasure that’s been stuck in lawsuit hell for fifty years, and can finally be mined for all its worth. The villain feels underdeveloped, underutilised, unnecessarily quirky (as if Waltz merely wanted to do one better than Bardem) and unconvincingly contrived in terms of his ‘personal’ connections. There’s simply not enough screentime for this super-villain, feeling like the villain-of-the-week, and the grand interweb plan – as topical as screenwriters seem to think it is – feels no better than it was when they hatched it earlier this year, in Terminator Genisys.
The nail in the coffin when it comes to scrutiny, comes on the Bond girl front. After the tremendous Vesper, it’s been hard to accomplish anything anywhere near as impressive in terms of multi-dimensional characterisation and sheer chemistry, and Lea Seydoux provides neither here. Vacuous and way too young to play opposite Craig (who is also outmatched at the other end of the spectrum, rather implausibly seducing Monica Bellucci), it’s all too obvious that they wrote this to be Craig’s On Her Majesty’s Secret Service. But Seydoux is far from Diana Rigg, and the character is consistently off, hampering both the tension of torture / escape sequences and the acceptability of the supposed natural progression of Craig’s Bond character.
Ultimately, SPECTRE likely needs to be watched as part of the set, revelling as much in its immediate siblings as it reminisces fondly over past generations. It probably needs to be accepted more for what it wants to be, than what it actually is, and at this somewhat superficial level, there’s a hell of a lot of sheer entertainment that can be embraced. It is Moore, with attitude, and there’s nothing wrong with that.
Perhaps this is the closest we’re going to get to old classic Bond in the new scheme of things, and this is the price we pay for attempting to blend the two.
It is a shame that the grand stunts feel well and truly surpassed by the Mission: Impossible franchise, that the car chase feels easily outdone by the Fast and Furious series (hell, even Jack Reacher bests this wet Gran Turismo jolly around the sites), and that the female characterisations appear to be painfully stuck in a different decade (a definite step down from prior chapters), but perhaps that’s what you get when you try and so thoroughly mix the old with new; cater for modern generations whilst teaching them about the best parts of the older classic entries.
Maybe without the expectations of Casino Royale and – for some – Skyfall, SPECTRE could have worked out better, operating often purely at a level of sheer escapist entertainment. But I suspect many will have expected a whole lot more. It’s far from that, but you may still find it a whole lot of a silly classic Bond fun.
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