Glass Review - M. Night Shyamalan shatters his superhero universe by trying to bring out the good in all of us
There’s no arguing that superhero films are practically a dime-a-dozen these days. Whether it be the ever-increasing instalments from the sweeping Marvel Cinematic universe, DC’s attempts to forge-ahead with their own dramatically dark cosmos, or Fox’s sometimes lacklustre yet sometimes hilarious offerings. We certainly aren’t short of flicks that tread the same, familiar ground of awesome action sequences and climactic CGI battles. But every now and then though we get an offering like Glass (2019). A film that delves a little deeper into the genre. Behind the lens of good versus evil and right versus wrong. A movie that questions how the genre itself came to be born. And one that asks us to consider whether we’re all heroes, albeit in our own stories.
The conclusion of a trilogy that began with Unbreakable (2000) and was tenuously held together by Split (2016), M. Night Shyamalan’s Glass (2019) picks up right where its predecessor left off – with Kevin Wendell Crumb and his personalities, including The Beast – on the run. This time four young girls have gone missing, and it’s up to David Dunn, aided by his now grown-up son Joseph, to save the day - the former guard having thrown off the reluctance of his younger years and turned full-blown vigilante. After a showdown in an old factory the pair wind-up in a psychiatric facility, where the mysterious Doctor Ellie Staple tries to convince them, as well as fellow patient Elijah Price, that their ‘powers’ are no more than easily-explained trauma, illness or delusion. But this is Shyamalan, so expect things to get weird and twisty before the credits start rolling.
To a degree the movie is somewhat worthy of the praise enamoured fans have been bestowing upon it. However, it is clearly not without its flaws. For starters it tends to drag. While the first and last quarters of the film gallop along in a wave of adrenaline and tension, popping between personalities in the fun and chaotic way Split (2016) did, the entire middle section seems to pay unnecessary homage to the stylings of Unbreakable (2000). There are never-ending long, pensive looks from Bruce Willis, piles of pointless dialogue telling us things we can clearly already see, and too much time spent keeping the character’s separated instead of using the incredible talents of its A-list ensemble. Honestly, if Shyamalan’s point was to make us, the audience, feel like we too were trapped in the psych ward, then he certainly made it. Because after spending more than two-hours waiting for a goddamn pay-off, by the time it comes around we’re too tired to really care.
Stylistically it’s a knock-out though. We’re back to the straightforward yet stylish colour co-ordination of characters. Green for David Dunn’s Overseer, yellow for The Beast and purple for Mr Glass. Even the homes, workplaces and supporting characters imbue the same tones throughout, emphasising that everything, through to the finest of details, has been carefully considered and planned. Similarly, unlike Marvel and DC’s offerings, when the heroes and villains flex and fight here, it’s impossible to tell which moments are CGI and which are simple practical effects. It’s seamless and points to why, even after so many flops, Shyamalan is still going strong. After all, this is a man who managed to convince two of the biggest competing studios in Hollywood – Disney and Universal – to bring their separate properties of Unbreakable (2000) and Split (2000) together.
The glue that holds the film together though isn’t Shyamalan, but rather the impressive and outstanding work of James McAvoy. Pushing the boundaries even further on his Dissociative Identity Disorder character of Kevin Wendell Crumb, the Scot presents us with 20 different personalities this time round, each with distinct voices, movements, facial expressions and backstories. It would be a lot for any actor, but he pulls it off with aplomb, providing majority of the film’s light-hearted, tension-breaking moments. He is backed by a solid cast too, including veterans Bruce Willis and Samuel L. Jackson. While the former is his same surly self, the latter is disappointingly utilised, barely uttering a line or a facial twitch for first half the film. What is nice though, is to see the return of three prominent supporting characters and how their relationships have evolved in respect to the ‘main three’. Spencer Treat Clark’s Joseph has developed an endearing and often times comedic connection with his father, while Charlayne Woodard still brings the same sympathy and strength to Elijah’s mother. Anya Taylor Joy too brings much needed emotion in connecting with The Beast. The only one to truly falter is Sarah Paulson’s doctor, thanks to a limited backstory and mountains of meandering dialogue.
So, is Glass (2019) a great film? No. Not by a long shot. Frankly, it feels somewhat akin to the literal train wreck that opened the trilogy. But, just like that moment, it is also hard to look away. Because we want answers. We want twists. And we want to hope that superhero movies can be thought-provoking pieces as well as CGI smash-ups. And while Glass (2019) probably isn’t the one to provide it, if the closing moments are anything to go by though, it certainly sets to the scene for such future endeavours. Because sometimes the villain is good. Sometimes the monster is a protector. And sometimes the hero is the inspiration for someone to believe in themselves.
Rating: 2.5 Head Tilts out of 5
Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom Review - Extinction might have been better than this fun but formulaic sequel
Twenty-five years ago, everyone’s favourite chaotician Dr Ian Malcolm pointed out that the scientists who helped found Jurassic Park ‘were so preoccupied with whether or not they could, that they didn’t stop to think if they should’. It’s an ironic sentiment really, because it seems like it’s the one thing everyone at Universal studios failed to consider themselves before greedily opting to issue four more sequels. You see, while Steven Spielberg’s 1993 original is largely considered a cinematic classic, almost all of the follow-up films have left somewhat of a sour taste in fans' mouths. Firstly, there was The Lost World: Jurassic Park (1997), which while engaging was little more than frivolous fun. Then came Jurassic Park III (2001), a critical and commercial flop that included second-rate CGI and one of the most annoying ringtones ever put to screen. And what about 2015’s Jurassic World? Which was hailed a reinvention of the genre 20 years later but delivered… well… an almost scene-for-scene retelling of the original. And so, we come to the latest offering, Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom (2018), a film that serves as an entertaining ride, but once again, does little more than rehash the tried and true methods of old. Honestly, why does no-one ever listen to Malcolm?
Picking up three years after the crew’s dismal second attempt at a theme park, this time around we are brought news that Isla Nublar and its dino-inhabitants are about to go boom, thanks to a giant volcano (which, let’s be honest, was never so much as alluded to in any of the previous films). With a potential second extinction looming, one of John Hammond’s old colleagues, Mr Lockwood (who again, we haven’t really heard of until this point,) puts his hand up to fund a daring rescue effort to save nearly a dozen species. Recruiting Claire and Owen, under the guise of saving their old friend Blue, the velociraptor, it’s not long before everyone is back on the island and double crosses are springing left, right and centre. Oh, but they said they were going to save the dinosaurs and move them to a new sanctuary? They couldn’t possibly be scheming to sell them to the highest bidder as weapons or game animals, right? Well, those naive thoughts are from the days when the Jurassic series was innocent and pure. So once again it is up to our protagonists to thwart the evil wrongdoers, as a fantastic volcanic explosion, a newly modified monster and a third act set in a creepy mansion in the woods, rounds out the movie and provides about every cliché the action genre affords.
Frankly, it’s frustrating to see the same formulaic dilemmas appear yet again, in a film that could arguably have been a break from tradition. We’ve got a new genetically-engineered dinosaur that – wait for it – causes huge problems for our main cast. Then there’s the ethics of whether man has the right to play God by saving or creating dinosaurs. We’ve got the geneticist who is willing to produce the monsters but needs some time to develop them. And let’s not forget the dangers of bringing the once extinct animals onto the mainland, let alone including a Tyrannosaurus Rex among them. Or what about having a child hide from the beasts in a small space that requires them to pull down a vertical hatch? Add in a dose of an underdog velociraptor saving the day from the bigger, badder foe, as well as characters such as the cute grandchild, hacker, and games keeper who takes trophies from his hunt, and I think we have pretty much covered every movie, right? Honestly, did the writers actually discuss the script? Because it's almost painful to see the studio repeat the mistakes of their past.
That’s not to say that the film doesn’t have its redeeming moments though, with the first half a relatively-convincing adventure flick, full of volcanoes and the same goofy and cute Claire and Owen dynamic we have come to know and love. Touching ‘documentary style’ footage of the former raptor keeper bonding with a young Blue will also warm even the coldest of reptilian hearts. And then there is the series most heart-breaking moment, as a lone brachiosaur tries valiantly to escape the oncoming explosion. Amidst the chaos and confusion of the scene there is a profound sense of sadness, as director J.A. Bayona pays homage to fans of the original, before finally letting the series break free of its island constraints. But for all the social commentary and moving moments (a particularly noteworthy ‘nasty women’ comment springs to mind), there is just as many aspects that drag us back. In particular, a sloppy scene that presents the idea of cloning something other than a dinosaur, before relegating it to little more than the next logical step in genetics. Since when were dinosaurs (real, live, freaking dinosaurs) not enough for these films?
For the most part the acting is also solid, with Chris Pratt delivering the same charismatic turn as most of his post Parks and Recreation (2009 - 2015) roles. Bryce Dallas Howard gets a good run too, sans the high heels this time, while Rafe Spall and Toby Jones join the show as the stereotypical villains (what is it with Brits being devious?). Sadly, both deliver very little substance for their efforts. Justice Smith is by far the best of the new crop though, pitched as the comic relief, and is backed up by the tough-but-somewhat-forgettable Daniella Pineda. As for the child role (C’mon, what is a Jurassic movie without a kid? Am I right?), stepping into those shoes is actress Isabella Sermon, as the granddaughter of James Cromwell’s mysterious Mr Lockwood. She’s got the cutes, the accent and the attitude to stand alone and has made a decent mark in her first on-screen appearance. But for a film heralding the return of Dr Malcolm himself, it is downright criminal the lack of screen time Jeff Goldblum is given. Surely there was more he could do than sit in a courtroom, right? That’s like, I don’t know, having Oscar-nominee and Golden Globe award winning actress Laura Dern phone-in her role… oh wait…
Perhaps the most frustrating part of Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom (2018), is that it’s legacy was one of enthralling, terrifying and awe-inspiring spectacle. Of moments of pure dread and once-extinct creatures that screamed to life. Elements that have slowly been sucked away by the franchise’s numerous chapters. Five instalments in and it’s hard to see how the series does little more than make us feel like we’ve been stomped all over. Going extinct might actually have been the answers to our problem. But, if there’s one shining light in the darkness it comes in the film’s closing moments, which while setting audiences up for yet another offering (a 2021 release has already been nailed down), finally suggests we could be given a fresh road to go down.
Rating: 2 Fed-Up Malcolms out of 5
Fifty Shades Darker Review - A grey sequel that proves only slightly more pleasurable than its first film
When Fifty Shades of Grey (2015) first hit screens on Valentine’s Day two years ago, the trailers told audiences to expect a sleek, sexy, edgy and eyebrow-raising look into the world of BDSM. Naturally, it was none of those things. While the film went on to earn millions worldwide, critically it was deemed a disaster, hobbling away with a C+ CinemaScore and a dismal 25% rating on Rotten Tomatoes. This time around those trading their hard-earned cash for a ticket to the sequel have no excuse for the film they are delivered. Swapping directors and again promising a stylish and saucy take on what was originally Twilight (2008) fanfiction, Fifty Shades Darker (2017), is at best a blunt, unfeeling and oddly unsexy attempt at a big budget blockbuster. At worst, however, it is a complete mockery of what real relationships should be. See, while there is no doubt this instalment is more elegant and engaging than its predecessor, it is hard to shake the notion that the film just isn’t about experimenting in the world of BDSM anymore. But instead about the role of a man in controlling a woman.
We pick up just a few days after Ana and Christian awkwardly parted ways with their laughable and cringeworthy elevator goodbye. Since then Miss Steele has managed to establish herself as the personal assistant of Seattle Independent Publishing’s editor Jack Hyde, while Mr Grey has been wallowing in self-pity, keen to reignite whatever ‘passion’ the duo had to begin with. Following Ana to her friend Jose’s art exhibition, Christian begs her to give him a second chance and invites her to dinner. Ana, the strong, independent woman she is, agrees to the date if only ‘because she is hungry’, and the further into the movie we go the clearer it is her appetite is for something a little more salacious than a simple salad. So, she reluctantly agrees to pick up where they left off provided Christian renege the rules and punishments and soon the two are back in a routine and revelling in their newfound ‘vanilla’ relationship. Vomit spew. The baseless plot doesn’t end there though, with the pair’s rekindled romance threatened by two former flames. Leila (Bella Heathcoate), the sub-turned-suicidal-stalker and Elena (Kim Basinger), the dom-turned-jealous-cougar. And that’s all before Ana’s boss gets his creep on, a helicopter crashes and a proposal gets announced. Not even daytime soapies could write a story this stereotypical.
Where does one start with this film. Well, first-off let’s discuss the sheer-volume of questionable clichés that pop up in the two-hour runtime. We’ve got wine-tossing, face-slapping, masquerade-ball attending, a helicopter crash and not one, but two crazy stalkers. Most cliché of all though is the notion that Anastasia is a self-sufficient woman who ‘don’t need no man’. For all her feigned-independence she lasts about three minutes before she goes crawling back to Christian, who proves to be just as domineering, controlling and manipulative as he was before. To him, Anastasia is a possession and one he must own, whether that be her image, her time, her company, her job, or her sexuality. Similarly, the duo’s relationship in this film once again presents the idea that one partner must change for it to work. Where Anastasia had to challenge her notions of a ‘normal’ relationship in the first film, here Christian must give up his sadistic ways to keep the girl.
As for the script, they may have abandoned their ‘fifty shades of fucked up’ train-wreck that closed out the first film, but they clearly haven’t learnt from it. Instead the filmmakers use a myriad of corny and ridiculous scenes to justify their own ends. Say, like the time Ana wows an editor’s meeting by stating they should simply turn to online authors. A bit like the one who wrote this rubbish to begin with. You can’t really discredit scriptwriter Niall Leonard for trying there, especially when he is in fact the husband of the book’s author E.L. James. But even the worst of films can be worth the ticket price provided the script is somewhat decent. Sadly, that is where Leonard fails. Too caught up in pandering to his wife’s original content, the movie becomes a cyclical bore. Stalker here, Ana fed-up with Christian’s domineering there, sex scene and then kiss and make-up. Rinse and repeat. Not only does this add nothing to the ‘kinky’ genre they are trying so hard to establish, but it adds little to the cinematic world in general. Even the sex scenes don’t sell the film, framed in the same way, nearly shot-for-shot. Breasts, bare skin and ‘sex eyes’ don’t seem to be enough to keep people interested anymore.
It’s not all doom and gloom though. At least this time around the leads have both relaxed enough into their roles to develop some sort of chemistry. While Johnston continues to give it her all in that charming and naïve ‘girl next door’ way, Dornan continues to play Grey as somewhat of a brick wall. Expressionless yet chiselled, he is around only for his good-looks. And appreciate them the female viewers will, as he saunters around shirtless for half the film almost entirely for no reason. But just like the way Johnston’s Anastasia is pitched as the better half of the duo, so too is the actor better than this film and even she seems to be staring off into the void at times. It may have got her the career-boost she desperately wanted, but some things just aren’t worth selling your soul for. New additions Basinger and Heathcote are criminally underused too, appearing on screen for five-minutes apiece like they are simply literary tools thrown in to give the film some edge. It’s as if the filmmakers (or maybe more accurately the scriptwriter) didn’t know what to do with them once they had conjured them there. When Rita Ora almost becomes the best bit of a film, something has clearly gone tragically wrong.
There is no doubt that Fifty Shades Darker has tried hard to distance itself from its former film. And in some ways it even succeeds, playing into its cringeworthy sadism instead of running from it. But BDSM, at least according to the readily available literature on the subject, seems to be the trust between two people to take chances and experiment. And while this film does that with its audience, it forgets the fundamental rule that you ask whether everyone is okay at the end. Because for all the goofy fun and popcorn escapism we are delivered, the novelty of such love has certainly worn off. And we’re definitely going to need some wine before we can be Fifty Shades Freed.
Rating: 2 Seductive Stares out of 5
The Western is a hard genre to conquer. Not only does it come with standards set by Eastwood, but today’s political correct society threatens its very core, reminding us that violence begets violence and that it is never the answer to life’s problems. That being said, it is also a genre that won’t die. From Joel and Ethan Coen’s atmospheric actioner True Grit (2010) to Tarantino’s grisly and comical Django Unchained (2012) the dry dirt and grime of the West continues to be front and centre in cinema even in the 21st Century. Antoine Fuqua’s latest attempt The Magnificent Seven (2016) is another such piece, paying homage to its predecessors as a loud, bullish and brutal remake of the 1960’s classic, which itself is a remake of Akira Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai (1954). Although it never quite lives up to its title, falling more under the banner of The Moderate Seven or The Meandering Seven, it does deliver some semblance of humanity, even if it amounts to nothing more than a stylish but forgetful posse piece.
Set in 1879, the film follows the trials and tribulations of Rose Creek, a small town situated nearby a literal goldmine run by the heavy-handed and egotistical industrialist Bartholomew Bogue. Looking to expand his business and take the townspeople’s land, Bogue murders and menaces his way to the top of the hierarchical chain, appearing as an unstoppable force to all but Emma Cullen, a proud widow seeking righteousness but willing to settle for revenge. Recruiting the brooding and mysterious Sam Chisolm, the duo go about securing a band of misfit mercenaries to fight for their just cause. From Joshua Faraday to Goodnight Robicheaux, normal names are as few and far between as the talent in the townspeople they set about training to fight. The story culminates, of course, with the big showdown, full of TNT, Gatling guns and sombre scores. The intense, bloody battle bears little weight though, with all the emotional investment sucked out in favour of pyrotechnics and a high body count.
The Western genre is bred deep in The Magnificent Seven, from the wide open spaces to the simple townsfolk and hardworking horses. We might never actually see a tumbleweed blow through town, but we never stop thinking that it might happen. Despite its numerous flaws, Fuqua cannot be punished for emulating the greats of old though, bringing a widescreen element to the western and invoking that old time feel through a series of saturated colours. It’s no Blazing Saddles (1974) or The Good, The Bad and The Ugly (1966), but dammit if it doesn’t work hard to ensure it lives up to their legacy. What lets it down is its dependence on violence. Where it was used to shock and silence audiences of yore, nowadays it is so ingrained in our filmic culture, most audience members don’t even bat an eyelid let alone wonder where all the blood is when so many lives are lost.
A blockbuster cast round out the title team, including Denzel Washington, Chris Pratt, Ethan Hawke, Vincent D’Onofrio, Byung-hun Lee, Manuel Garcia-Rulfo and Martin Sensmeier. Entrusted with the seemingly impossible task of tackling characters once inhabited by Hollywood heavyweights like Yul Brynner and Steve McQueen, the most refreshing part of the new crew is that they meet the ethnic standards so often called upon in cinema. While Washington is a stoic and immovable force, his reason for joining the fight revealed in a standout monologue, it is Pratt who is the heart of the film, full of quips, one-liners and self-sacrificing notions that steal the show. The rest remain figures in the background however, defined by their killing skills and given little emotional depth. Similarly, Stellan Skarsgaard’s Bogue falls well flat of Eli Wallach’s terrifying and taut performance, full of selfish bravado and one-dimensional development.
The most touching moment in The Magnificent Seven though, comes not from what we see on screen, but what we hear behind the action. The film was the 158th and final soundtrack score from acclaimed composer James Horner, killed last year in a tragic plane crash and alongside the input from his long-time co-collaborator Simon Franglen, it is a resounding and momentous beat, echoing its predecessor even if not redefining it. Similarly, while the story may lose motivation and morality, the commitment to aesthetic saves it, cinematographer Mauro Fiore delivering some interesting and idealistic shots when not pounding the gunfire home. Perhaps the best example is the moment Chisolm is silhouetted on horseback against the blue-black sky, a frontiersman through and through.
Like any remake the real question regarding The Magnificent Seven is why. Why do we need it? Why is now the right time? Why should we spend our hard-earned money on it over everything else? Sadly, after slugging my way through its two-hour run-time, I still don’t quite have an answer. Despite its best efforts, The Magnificent Seven never quite gets its spurs spinning, instead a cumbersome cash-grab that leaves audiences feeling just a little empty. But thanks to its appealing performances and ability to stay true to its roots it’s not a complete write-off either. Revolutionary may not be in its vocabulary, but charismatic, clichéd and charming make the cut, ensuring that even if it doesn’t live up to its predecessors, it deserves to be mentioned among them.
Rating: 2.5 Cowboys out of 5
Jason Bourne begins his latest film with a simple voiceover that states ‘I know who I am. I remember everything.’ It’s ironic, considering the screenwriters seem to have forgotten that we audience members do to. We remember how clean cut The Bourne Ultimatum (2007) ended. We remember how neatly it tied up the loose ends as David Webb came full circle on his memory loss, confronting those responsible before disappearing into oblivion. And we remember how the saga made a name for itself with its signature taut and tense action, as well as its creative and complex narrative. Sadly, hardly any of these elements remain in Universal’s fifth franchise film Jason Bourne (2016), which sheds its identity, loses its supremacy and delivers little in the way of ultimatums.
Picking up almost ten years after Bourne leapt to his ‘presumed’ death, our heroic amnesiac assassin is now living on the fringes in Greece, using his spare time to make money from bare-knuckle boxing. That is until rogue ex-CIA agent Nicky Parsons returns to disrupt his life, having hacked into the organisations database to take their secret programs public. What she didn’t count on finding out however was that Treadstone was actually started by Jason’s father. Lied to by the agency once again and spurned on by a very personal revenge, Bourne decides to go after the men who killed his father to keep him quiet. The convoluted and chaotic story begins to wear thin by act three though, as the chase crosses continents to Las Vegas, where a side-plot about a new program and an associated social media platform titled Deep Dream take centre stage. Double-crosses and deaths aplenty fill up the film’s two-hour-runtime, as does as a revolving door of new government officials looking to take Bourne down. For an agency so hell bent on keeping its programs a secret, there sure seems to be a growing list of people that know about them.
There is little to like though with this more emotional Bourne, one no longer built upon vengeance but grounded in revenge. Despite finally regaining his memory, the new film paints our protagonist as more lost than ever. He no longer feels four steps ahead of his foes and it’s a hard concept to become accustomed to. Even Damon’s trademark stoic facial expressions begin to verge on bored at times. Jason Bourne’s most annoying point though is the constant questioning over whether the series’ main man has truly left the program behind him. While it’s the obvious next step in his story, it’s practically a punch-in-the-gut to see someone who has strived for three movies to put such stupidity behind him, to then even consider re-joining the conspiracy. Mostly though, it’s a shame on the studio and the screenwriters for suggesting such a storyline in the first place.
That being said, there are a number of positives about our return outing to the Bourne universe, including the intense and iconic shaky cam and the strong focus on the formulas of old. Whether it’s the first or the fourth time, there’s something genuinely thrilling about seeing Bourne battle baddies. Greengrass takes his action auteur status to new heights here, with a raft of manic motorbike feats and violent hand-on-hand punch-ups. While it will never beat the third film’s genre-defining rooftop run sequence, where the super spy soared weightlessly through a window, the final car chase scene of Jason Bourne adds some much needed adrenaline to proceedings. The scene piques our interests as an armoured SWAT vehicle rampages through traffic, the director destroying more than 170 cars in the process. Unfortunately it also brings to mind the recent events in Nice, making us think twice about how easily casual violence can also be wrought in the real-world. One other important element the film does touch on however is the new age of technologically-based weapons. Foes can no longer be simply struck down with a fast blow, a pen, or a rolled-up magazine. They are the unseen and unheard in a string of binary, revelling in removing people’s privacy. The politics poignantly playing on today’s Apple versus FBI drama and Facebook’s monumental reach, providing a refreshing side to a somewhat dated saga.
On the acting front Damon delivers a more subdued version of the heroic character we’ve all come to know and love. There are sparks of the original super spy, but sadly they seem are few and far between. The government officials meanwhile are bland, predictable fiends. So much so, it’s hard to say whether Tommy Lee Jones gives one of the best performances of his career to make us hate him, or instead was simply so annoyed with the script he wasn’t really acting at all. For what it’s worth, my money’s on the latter. Academy Award winning actress Alicia Vikander also suffers, as her character selfishly switches allegiances left, right and centre. Vincent Cassel’s unnamed asset is one of the more intriguing characters, but at the end of the day even he is a one-dimensional recycled caricature of previous incarnations like Clive Owen’s The Professor or Karl Urban’s Kirill.
While there is little substance to the story, the fifth instalment in the franchise and the fourth film from Damon and Greengrass does hold fast to the original saga’s slick style. There’s fun, frivolity and fast-paced action to keep audiences interested. However, one can’t help but think that despite reuniting the dynamic duo, Jason Bourne boils down to little more than another unnecessary studio sequel. You may know his name, but by the time your through you’ll kind of wish it wasn’t attached to this film.
Rating: 2 Over the shoulder shots out of 5
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
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