Friday, 6 November 2015

Film Review: Spectre (2015)

© MGM | Source:
UK, USA; 148 min.; action, adventure, thriller, spy
Director: Sam Mendes
Writing: John Logan, Neal Purvis, Robert Wade, Jez Butterworth; based on the characters created by Ian Fleming
Cinematography: Hoyte Van Hoytema
Cast: Daniel Craig, Christoph Waltz, Léa Seydoux, Ralph Fiennes, Monica Bellucci, Ben Whishaw, Naomie Harris, Dave Bautista, Andrew Scott, Rory Kinnear, Jesper Christensen

“You are a kite dancing in a hurricane, Mr Bond.” – Mr. White

Squuls and Rina watched Spectre and here are 007 things they had to say about it:

001 The Opening Titles

© MGM | Source: The Telegraph
Rina: Sam Smith’s “Writing’s on the Wall” is a very slow and solemn piece of music, but it nevertheless harbours the typical 007 melodics. While it might lack the playfulness of previous Bond songs, it shines by delivering a certain kind of heft and gravitas. The more serious and melancholic tone – given the subject matter of Spectre – only seems fitting. When, during the opening titles, an air of golden fire mixes with one of hopeless gloom and doom, Smith’s impressive vocals manage to unfold in a goose-bump-worthy way. Bond is shown surrounded by attractive women, obscure figures and ghosts of his past. Faces and whole bodies seem mere black silhouettes, like they’re hiding in the shadows with mischief in tow. A menacing atmosphere is further created by an abstract bunch of black tentacles crawling through the montage, taking hold of every moving thing – entwining, rendering powerless, choking. We immediately know, despite the usual sex and glamour, Bond is in for trouble this time. Real trouble.

Squuls: Man oh man! To me this was almost the best part of the movie! – Not that the rest sucked or anything, but I am normally too impatient to sit through these artsy-fartsy intros. Not here though. While Sam Smith’s title song on its own sounds well sung, but highlight-less, it shines in combination with the motion pictures. The sequence connects a fiery golden lightness embodied by Bond with a shadowy blue darkness that symbolizes the shady business Spectre is involved in. And the flow from one moving image to the next is simply brilliant: all is connected by the gliding tentacles of the kraken that symbolizes Spectre. At this point I was sitting in the theater, internally screaming: Best Bond ever!

002 The Story

© MGM | Source: 4 Your Excitement
Squuls: In any good Bond movie you’ve got a nice little trifecta of storylines going on: the case of the movie, the underlying mythology of all things Bond, and a little love story here and there. In Spectre the former is not as present as the main case is, well, the back story of all things Bond. Since Casino Royale we’ve been revisiting James’ origin story that comes to a climax (or end) in this installment. So far so good. But over all I can’t help but find the story lacking in a lot of parts. The villains’ main aim is very up to date and pressing, yet the whole threat of total surveillance comes along a little uninspired dramaturgically. As M said in the film: “George Orwell’s worst nightmare!” yet we’ve been there and done that… In its climax of James Bond’s origin story Spectre creates/ reveals an arch-enemy to Bond, whose personal vendetta is behind everything James ever had to face. As I enjoy all things logical and love learning how things came about, I found this the most interesting part of the storyline. The super obvious hint-dropping to prepare us viewers for the big revelation I did not enjoy on the other hand. What I did not only not enjoy, but could not stand was the love story in Spectre. Praised beforehand as a super innovative Bond with not only one but three Bond-girls it turned out to be a kitsch fest that’ll be hard to top: “James I am scared!” – well, so was I…

Rina: Right! Four people wrote on the screenplay for Spectre – and you can tell. The film simply does not come together as a solid whole. While it starts off brilliantly, with remarkable action and a fun re-introduction of the core supporting characters, Spectre loses steam somewhere in the middle. In the end, there’s a final act so atrocious and underwhelming that it made me want to cry out in despair. The premise of Bond investigating a criminal organisation that somehow seems to be connected to his orphan past certainly is highly intriguing. However, wrapping this story up in a schmaltzy kitsch fest of epic proportions isn’t. You get a sense, with this most probably being the last Bond movie starring Daniel Craig as the title character, that the writers wanted to give 007 an ending as happy as possible, completely neglecting Bond’s psychology or the lore established in the three previous films. So, what begins as an engaging espionage thriller ends as a third-rate spy romance, leaving no room for a thorough study of Bond’s past and the ties that haunt him. So much wasted potential. Seriously, shame on you, writing staff!

003 The Action

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Rina: If there’s one thing in which Spectre succeeds utterly and completely, it’s creating flawless, fast-paced, captivating, well-choreographed action moments, both computer-generated and stunt-based. There are explosions, shootouts, fist fights and car chases. There are violent face-offs inside helicopters and train wagons, and a scene in which Bond pursues three range rovers through a snowy forest – in an aeroplane. It’s these fun rides, paired with beautifully captured scenic views and the generally stunning photography, that prevent Spectre from falling into oblivion once the story goes downhill. The thrill of the chase never really fades away and, on a very base level, Spectre entertains until the very end with all its visual beauty, adrenaline-fuelled sequences and funny one-liners. Action-wise, my personal highlight is right at the beginning of the film. Bond is in Mexico City to prevent terrorists from blowing up a stadium filled with people. With the celebrations of the Day of the Dead as a wonderfully eerie backdrop, Bond embarks on a break-neck manoeuvre to stop the bad guys. Definitely one of the best cinematic opening sequences this year.

Squuls: I completely agree. Let’s go out with a bang, Sam Mendes and Daniel Craig apparently thought and packed Spectre chock-full with impressive action sequences. It seems they neither saved money on CGI nor choreography. Craig is so brilliant yet subtle in his physical acting, that he of course delivers, but paired with some challenging opponents and breathtaking landscapes or settings you’ll be crying with joy. For me too, the opening sequence involving a helicopter fight during a mass celebration of the Dia de Los Muertos deserves a special shout out for drama and visual grandeur.

004 The Gadgets

© MGM | Source: YouTube screenshot
Rina: The Bond era with Daniel Craig in the lead has always been popular for its more realistic approach towards technology. Ben Whishaw’s Q might not be likely to build an exploding pen, but in Spectre he’s as eager as ever to show off some traditional gadgets, with the injection which makes Bond’s blood traceable all around the world probably being the fanciest invention of the nerdy mastermind. Besides this, there’s a mean wristwatch and a new, modernised Aston Martin, built to shoot bullets and beams of fire. The car is so beautiful that it breaks my heart to know that Bond most probably will go and trash the thing as soon as he puts his “perfectly-formed arse” in the driver’s seat. Anyway, Spectre probably is the most playful Bond of the era when it comes to gadgets. Even Oberhauser, the main villain, has his own share of wicked machinery in store. While everything is still rather toned down in contrast to, let’s say, the Pierce Brosnan movies, I could have done without most of the new inventions – except for the car, of course.

Squuls: Admittedly, I am no tech gal, but even I can appreciate the elegance and power of that Aston Martin. Combined with the very retro inscription of its features as a nod to the old movies and Daniel Craig sitting in it … good times! Q as the quirky yet brilliant brain behind it all is once again portrayed by the extraordinary Ben Whishaw and gets a good bit of screen time. The genius is essential in solving the very tech-based case in Spectre.

005 The Bond-sy

© MGM | Source: Radio WPSU
Rina: I’m of the conviction that Daniel Craig’s performance as Bond has been nothing but utter perfection so far. He brings a certain physicality to the role that is vital in building the part. He oozes strength and aloofness, sex appeal, wit and coolness. He allows us to see tiny glimpses of emotion under the tough exterior: big enough to make us question whether Bond’s soul is not completely lost after all, but then also small enough to make us doubt that there’s really any hope for his psychological redemption. Craig’s Bond isn’t simply macho or misogynistic; he isn’t plainly cold-hearted, dull, arrogant or likeable. He’s a riddle played with beautiful enigmatic precision. So, in order to bring Craig’s era to a fitting end, Bond would have deserved a farewell suiting his complex nature, his tendency towards self-destruction and vindictiveness. Instead, Spectre lets him ride off into the sunshine with a girl by his side. I find this to be completely unbelievable and, in all honesty, it’s lazy writing. It even makes me angry because, in only a few minutes, Spectre manages to ruin the entire arc of a carefully established character I hold very dear. Shame on you, writing staff – again! 

Squuls: First of all, I love Craig as Bond. Second of all, I love Craig as Bond. As I said earlier his physical acting and subtlety are brilliant, but he can also bring the emotion, and charm any Bond girl’s pants off. Yet, a lot of times in Spectre he looks tired. The looks he casts at people or directs at the camera speak to that and it may be me interpreting things, but it felt as if the freshness was missing from his actions. Taking into account recent speculations, this might very well have been Daniel Craig's last time playing 007. It was all well choreographed, but the spring was missing from his step at times. Still, this might just have to do with the lack of chemistry he had with the female he had to share much of his screen time with…

006 The Bond Girls

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Squuls: Aaand there it is, the real problem of this Bond. Three Bond girls were apparently too much to handle for all the males involved in making the movie. First of all, Naomie Harris as Moneypenny makes a brilliant addition to Team Bond. She is confident and graceful in her portrayal and can hold her ground even against James Bond’s flirty attempts to get her to do something. She is still loyal to him and helps when needed. Moneypenny appears to truly understand 007, yet the writers of the movie appear to not have understood her value to the story. In the already not enough screen time she gets, Moneypenny is often just the run along company to the “Bond squad”. Then there’s Monica Bellucci, who plays Lucia, and was beforehand praised as finally being a leading lady that matches the leading man’s age. She truly is a great fit for a leading lady. Lucia is vulnerable, yet insightful and has the strength to cope with difficult situations. When Bond comes to her rescue sparks ignite and there is that Bond dynamic we know and love. But as quick as that spark ignites it goes out again, when Lucia is shipped off to America and out of the movie. The main Bond girl of Spectre, it pains me to say, is Madeleine Swann, portrayed by Léa Seydoux. On paper her character looks kick-ass, being the daughter of a major villain and a renowned psychologist herself. Yet her character turns out to be anything but kick-ass. To me there is zero chemistry between her and Bond and her independence is little more than a façade. Even the writers’ attempt to make Swann seem educated and mysterious by making her mumble stuff in French when she’s drunk is in vain. She is a spoiled little Daddy’s girl used to getting her way and  if not acting bratty. While, boo hoo, she attempts to help James fight off some bad guys, in the end all that stayed with me were her “I am scared James!” and “I love you James!” whines. And finally, she royally screwed up the ending for me, which left a bitter taste in my mouth for all of Spectre.

Rina: Spectre is indeed in huge trouble when it comes to Bond girls. The franchise has found a wonderful Moneypenny in Naomie Harris. However, she’s hardly in the film. Then there’s been a lot of buzz about how Monica Bellucci is the oldest Bond girl to date. However, the gloriously charismatic and breathtakingly beautiful Bellucci is hardly in the film. We are left with Léa Seydoux, who appears in the second half of the film, initiating the moment when things start to go downhill. I’m still baffled as to why the palest Bond girl of the last nine years is set up to be the one which will make Bond forget his beloved Vesper Lynd and abandon his job at the MI6. This is really the most outraging aspect of the entire film for me because – as a huge Vesper fan – I refuse to believe that Bond’s loyalty towards her, his deep love for her and his pain over her betrayal and death are all forgotten in light of a fling that comes out of nowhere and is absolutely incomprehensible. Furthermore, Craig and Seydoux really have no chemistry with each other, which makes it even harder to believe their amorous tendencies. If you ask me, there is no other woman for Bond than Vesper. No way out of his misery, no spiritual release, no happy ever after – and the end of Spectre is a trivial, sugar-coated disgrace.

007 The Villains

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Rina: Spectre is all about presenting the über-villain of this Bond cycle. Here we are to meet the person responsible for Vesper’s death, for Mathis’ death, for the destruction of the MI6 headquarters and the loss of M. Every bit of pain felt by Bond during the last years can be traced back to Spectre and its main player. Since both Casino Royale (2006) and Skyfall (2012) featured perfectly evil antagonists, I was prepared to be absolutely blown away by Christoph Waltz as the criminal master mind Oberhauser, but, well... I wasn’t. When we first meet him, he hardly speaks. His menacing presence stems from effective camera work, which has him remain in the shadows. As soon as he starts to talk, all menace is gone, though. Waltz half-heartedly channels his former performances in Inglourious Basterds (2009) and Django Unchained (2012), mixes them with a bit of uninspiring attitude and comes up with a villain that is a sad, ridiculous snoozefest. His motivations to harm Bond are explained in two sentences – thanks again for the thorough writing, guys! The rest of the time he spends giggling childishly and throwing evil looks into Bond’s direction. How... yawn... very... yawn... exciting. To spruce things up, actor Andrew Scott is cast as C, the man who tries to abolish the 00 program and to put MI5 and MI6 under one single command. The obsoleteness of MI6 was already at the centre of Skyfall, a plot that worked very well within the context of that film. In Spectre it seems like they really didn’t know what else to do with M, Moneypenny and company, so they cooked up the same plot and hope that no-one would notice. It’s quite sad, really.

Squuls: Ohh yes, Andrew Scott and Christoph Waltz! Nice plan typecasting them to their very best abilities. Scott basically played the MI5 version of his Sherlock character Moriaty and of course could pull it off, yet his role as C was much less faceted and much more cliché-laden. Waltz as Oberhauser was as well put in a role he can pull of any day. It never ceased to amaze me, how someone with such a gentle face can play such a masochist. The revelation of his character’s true importance to James Bond was a nice touch and idea, though I find the motivation behind it all slightly over dramatic and lacking. In the end both actors playing villains were simply going through the motions – solid performances, but the roles they got hardly allowed the creation of excitement.

How about a final verdict? Well, here you go:

© MGM | Source: CVR Magazine
Rina: Spectre looks as spectacular as its predecessor and manages to convey action and thrill with ease. There’s coolness, decadence, wit and sexiness exactly where it’s supposed to be. Story-wise, if I had to judge by the first half of the film alone, I’d be happy to admit that Sam Mendes crafted another perfect Bond adventure, with an engaging spy mystery and an exciting chase after a master criminal. However, things slowly but certainly began to fall apart as soon as I realised, that the master criminal really is a boring joke, the main Bond girl an uncharismatic mess, and the plot is really doing everything to deconstruct the Bond lore I’ve come to love over the last nine years. Spectre certainly isn’t a bad film if you come with no expectations attached and are just in it for the action, the strong visuals and the one-liners. If you’re looking for more, it certainly isn’t as great as it could’ve been.


Squuls: After letting it sink in for a day and a half, I have to say my verdict on Spectre is slightly bipolar. On the one hand I saw a brilliant movie with great shots, witty one-liners and brilliant action – but on the other hand there were the cheap hints to forward the story and that horrid, horrid romantic plot. The first half of the movie saw some impressive stunt work and well choreographed crowd scenes, as well as the continuation of Bond's personal vendetta that's been his driving force ever since his one true love, Vesper Lynd, died in Casino Royale. Bond in trouble over this with the higher-ups, yet roping in some of his loyal helpers within the MI6 – classic James Bond and that equals good times. At this point I was thoroughly enjoying myself. But somewhere along the way things went downhill. A lot of plot devices were super obvious or even an insult to the viewers abilities to understand and follow the story. And then that horrible woman appeared and for some reason the whole staff involved in Spectre insisted on basically rebooting the whole Casino Royale storyline of James finding his soulmate and finally getting that happy ending. Only this time they set him up with a pale potato instead of stunning and clever Vesper. That the whole thing doesn't make any context in the wider story arch they'd been telling for four movies, I won't even mention here. After the credits rolled I was therefore extremely disappointed and more than a little pissed, especially if this is to be the final Bond movie of the amazing Daniel Craig! And I am sorry to say, but, for me, if the ending sucks the whole movie was basically pointless and sucked as well...


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