Review by Paul Stathakis | November 15, 2015

Spectre-cular

-So what’s going on, James? They say you’re finished.
-And what do you think?
-I think you’re just getting started.

Indeed, something wonderful has happened here in “Spectre.” It feels as if the series is just getting started. Daniel Craig has found a director that understands the Bond formula well enough to bend it, reshape it, and make it his own. That director is Sam Mendes and he continues here what he started with “Skyfall” (2012). Bond is once again fun and unpredictable but this time, he’s given a little more room to breathe and be playful. Gone is the darker tone. In its place is an enlightened one. Consider a scene early on in the film where Bond narrowly escapes a collapsing building only to land on a couch. He smirks at the situation and indirectly winks at the audience. In fact, “Spectre” is a concoction of moments that rely on nostalgia – the magic that made classic Bond films thrilling but also inadvertently innocent. This may be Craig’s last outing as Bond but it’s also the film that truly makes him an endearing version of the celebrated British spy.

Bond films are never complete without certain signature elements: the gun barrel sequence, the one-liners, the vodka martinis, the gadgets, the exotic locations, dazzling action, a strange villain, and a Bond girl. It’s worth noting that “Spectre” is the only of the Craig Bond films to open with the gun barrel sequence. Mendes had intended to place it at the start of “Skyfall” as well but couldn’t because of the film’s opening sequence. He offered this explanation at the time: “If you see the film, the film starts with Bond walking down a corridor towards the camera and lifting a gun. And of course the gun barrel is him walking, stopping and lifting a gun. When I put the two together, it looked ridiculous.” This time, however, Mendes gets his wish of beginning the film with the iconic opening. In this manner, “Spectre” announces early on a return to the traditional Bond film. This is an instance of familiar being very necessary. Then we have Léa Seydoux, an actress that beams on the screen with innocence and vulnerability. She’s an attractive Bond girl but not in a provocative way. Her naiveté gives her an edge. In one scene where she joins Bond for dinner on a train, she says to him: “You shouldn’t stare.” Bond quickly quips, “Well, you shouldn’t look like that.” Their romance is intense and believable. Seydoux isn’t just another of Bond’s many female conquests. She knows the road to his elusive heart and he sees something more in her than just a pretty face and a gorgeous silhouette. It’s hard to put your finger on it when the casting is done this well but this is the role that will launch Seydoux into stardom and cement her status as one of the sexiest Bond girls to come along in a great while.

I will not disclose any details pertaining to the story but I will say that the writers of “Spectre” have achieved what no other Bond film has ever done. It is the one film that not only references other Bond films but cleverly draws a connection between “Spectre” and other titles in the franchise. There is also a twist involving the film’s villain, Franz Oberhauser (Christoph Waltz), that may work for some but not sit well with others all the while paying tribute to the universe of James Bond. Waltz is a fantastic actor. But his role in “Spectre” is somewhat problematic. Rarely are we treated to any moments of menace from him with exception the scene that introduces him at a private meeting in a mansion. The cinematography is stunning, casting Waltz in a shadow for just the right amount of time. But from that point on, he quickly loses steam. He never rises above his words and lacks the devilry of a Bond villain (think Javier Bardem in “Skyfall”).  Oberhauser’s greatest strength rests in the way he speaks and the things he says. He knows how to provoke Bond and he is more manipulative through his words than he is through his actions — which seem to come more from Hinx (Dave Bautista), his brawny wordless henchman. Hinx seems like a bigger challenge for 007, first in an exciting car chase and then in a fight on a train where he utters his first and only word in the film.

More than 50 years since his inception, audiences still flock to the theaters to watch James Bond defy the odds and save the world. It’s a repetitive exercise, yes, but it remains consistently invigorating. In his 2002 review of “Die Another Day”, critic Roger Ebert stated: “I realized with a smile, 15 minutes into the new James Bond movie, that I had unconsciously accepted Pierce Brosnan as Bond without thinking about Sean Connery, Roger Moore or anyone else.” The same could be said of Daniel Craig. We’ve grown accustomed to seeing him on the big screen as 007.  He remains the right actor for the demanding job. Since taking over the role, Craig has portrayed the spy with a more serious demeanor, never attempting to imitate those who have preceded him. Despite the darkness that envelops him, there is a certain charm to him. “Spectre” represents his gentlest hour as James Bond right down to the closing minutes of the film where, for the first time in a long time, he isn’t concerned with leaving a few bullets still loaded in his gun. Certain thrills may be gone and, in this case, that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

 

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