The Dead are Alive. These are the four words which flourish across the screen to open the 24th Bond film, Spectre (2015), directed by back-to-back helmer Sam Mendes. Four words that quite fittingly describe the movie you are about to watch. Because unfortunately just as the words connote, the film will make you feel like you are dead, as you sit there in the cold, dark theatre, hoping beyond hope that what you think has started off as a great film can’t possibly be descending into this much drivel. For whilst this latest foray into the big-budget world of Britain’s super-spy is not exactly a bad film per se (see Quantum of Solace for that); it’s a film that could have done so much better. We know as much from previous outing Skyfall (2013), which ratcheted up the emotion and the action and never let go until the end credits rolled. Spectre on the other hand is a film that whimpers its way along, leaving you a bit like the film itself by the end - rather empty on the inside.
If there is one thing to be said for Mendes latest instalment though, it is that it begins astonishingly strongly, with a scene that can only be described as an instant classic for the franchise. The five minute tracking shot has us follow Bond, and his obligatory sexy companion, through a crowd of people at the day of the dead celebrations in Mexico City. We follow them as they head towards a hotel, up a lift, into a hotel room, before Bond leaves his mistress on the bed to exit onto a roof and blow up a building. The explosion is so realistic that by this point you’ll feel like you want to shake rubble off your hair and brush the dust off your clothes. One take, five minutes, and not a clear discernible cut anywhere to be found. It’s beautiful, elegant, and classy, everything a Bond film should be, and the scene is easily the reason Sam Mendes is a celebrated sensation in the film-making world. The highs only keep unfolding though as Bond tackles bad guy Marco Sciarra and his helicopter pilot, all the while being thrown about as the machine performs loop-the-loops above the thousand-strong crowd below. It is one of the fiercest and most breath-taking sequences in the series history, and deftly showcases how original and intriguing Bond can still be.
Unfortunately for the film, and for us as an audience, everything goes downhill from there. Take the opening title sequence, which descends into what one can only label ‘tentacle porn’. And yes, I really do say that in all seriousness. From there we follow the whisper-thin plotline of an evil corporation called Spectre and Bond’s attempts to thwart the organisations leader, the mysterious Franz Oberhauser (Christoph Waltz). There’s something about Bond’s orphaned history, as well as a side-plot which sees the 00-Program looking to be shut down by a new-wave of security conscious bureaucrats, and of course the flimsy ‘it only takes 24 hours to madly fall for a strange man who kills people right?’ love interest to boot. If you’ve seen a Bond film before, you’ll know how this film will unfold in your sleep.
The movie does have its good moments though, ones you should cling to as it diverges into the tedious, banal and downright boring second and third acts. Setting the Guinness World Record for the biggest explosion ever captured on screen, this moment is the single greatest vision you’ll get once you cross the half-way mark, Mendes guiding the scene with such precision as to have the actors walk up the stairs, deliver a throwaway line, before the screen is lit up like a Christmas tree. Once again, we witness why Mendes is a fantastic director. Similarly the performances from both Ben Whishaw as Q and Lea Seydoux as Madeleine Swann are gorgeously crafted, delivering the best of the films dry, dark humour. Seydoux effortlessly controls the screen with her presence, for once a Bond girl that can match Daniel Craig stride for stride, taking none of his character’s cocky bullshit. It’s a disappointment then though that her love affair with the MI6 agent feels rushed and overblown, aside from one craftily staged scene on a train where the characters finally get together.
The oversights win the day though, dragging the film down to the murky depths of despair, a place where Bond’s £3 million pound prototype car also ends up. The villains are laughably dispassionate; with Christoph Waltz trudging his way through what could have been a defining villain role. He had past history with Bond, and the build-up of all the three previous outings to potentially make him one of the most domineering forces in Bond’s life, so why the writers didn’t look harder into fleshing out the character astounds me. Similarly, the casting of Andrew Scott brought with it a huge bravado when it was announced, but for the man who played Jim freaking Moriarty in television’s Sherlock (2010), Scott’s Max Denbigh is a mistakenly underused character. One can only wonder how good the film may have been if Waltz and Scott had been allowed to switch characters. At least we know the latter can bring the maniacal when needed. Another underused character is Monica Belluci’s seductress Lucia Sciarra. A one-dimensional figure that Bond rough and tumbles with, she is no more than a five minute distraction, and one that arguably didn’t even need to be in the piece to start with.
What grates most of all though, is that the film can’t really decide what it wants to be. Is it an action piece where we see car chases through the Roman streets with Fiats pushed around like mere toys? Or is it a classic throwback to the golden age of 007 where the camera lingers unnecessary long on a stretch of desert, or pans artistically downwards into a conversation? Well according to Mendes it’s both. And whilst this is the most mature we’ve seen Bond in a long time, the strain of four films weighing on Craig’s emotionless face, as his ending melancholically waves goodbye to his quartet, it’s still sad to see that he goes out with a whimper, and not a bang. Because if this is Craig’s last outing as 007, the man who orders his martini’s shaken, not stirred (and sure as hell not dirty), then there’s little substance in the ‘spectre’ of the ghost he leaves behind.
Rating: 2.5 Tentacles out of 5
Film and TV Reviews
Film and television reviews of everything from independent movies to Disney and superhero flicks.
All video and photo content used on this site is sourced and all credit must go to the original owners. No copyright infringement is intended.
Copyright © 2019. CINEMATICISM.
All Rights Reserved.
Owned by Kirby Spencer.