Friday 30 October 2015

Is Spectre a Bond film that completely misunderstands Bond?

Unfortunately, what has set me back to the keyboard is a movie that has disappointed me. Well, not just disappointed me. Perhaps saying that it angered me would be closer to the truth. You see, many have decided to come out again in favour of James Bond, and many are heaping some great praise upon Spectre. And I, for the life of me, can't see how this is possible. From the perspective of a Bond fan, Spectre is a bad movie. It is, in my eyes, the worst instalment in the entire official series. And I've endured The Man With The Golden Gun.

For anyone interested, I have previously written about Bond movies here (Connery, with a hint of Lazenby), here (Moore), here (Dalton), here (Brosnan), here (Craig), and here (a couple of interesting movies that are never really considered "canon"). And I reviewed Skyfall here. I'm not linking to those reviews and articles to claim to be any kind of expert. I simply think that if you browse through those and share any of my taste then the following may be a bit easier to stomach. Otherwise, feel free to think of me as someone talking out of his posterior.

Now, although this won't be a full, standard movie review, I'd like to try to pinpoint a few aspects of Spectre that make it such a bad Bond movie. Let me try to highlight everything in, hmmmmmmm, 7 main points.

1) That opening. The opening sequence of Spectre has some great moments. In fact, up until a building collapses and Bond (Daniel Craig, once again totally at ease in the role) has to get to ground level, I was very happy. But then it simply reprises the opening minutes of Casino Royale. We've seen Bond do this before, keeping pace with a target through a busy, exotic locale. We've seen him do many things before, of course, but the familiarity of his drinking, his seduction of women and his one-liners are part of the appeal. Watching repetitive scenes, as opposed to repeated character traits, isn't the same thing. Then we have some great helicopter stunt work. Seriously . . . kudos to all involved. But was I the only person noticing one or two moments of green screen that were all-too-obvious? The 21st century equivalent of Roger Moore's stunt double taking up most of the screentime in his latter outings? The visuals were decidedly so-so, and a bit irritating in their incessant reminder of the events from the previous movies that have SHAPED our hero (don't you know), but I could have accepted them if they'd been accompanied by a decent song. Oh no. The worst Bond movie in the Bond-verse also has the worst Bond song. I don't think Sam Smith should ever be allowed to write jingles for breakfast cereals after his godawful slice of drabness put forward here.

2) The ladies. Bond has always been about the Bond girls as well as the man himself. And there was much talk about Monica Bellucci being a leading Bond girl. She is *gasp* 50. I love Monica Bellucci, and was looking forward to seeing her role in the movie. If anyone had told me that she was in it for about all of five minutes then the poor treatment she receives at the hands of the scriptwriters might have been easier to stomach. The other main Bond girl here is played by Lea Seydoux, who easily fares better than Bellucci. Sadly, the makers of the movie use her as a way to show a Bond developing a heart and feelings. You know, like he did in Casino Royale . . . . . . . . before events changed him into the figure we knew he had to become.

3) This is not a Mission: Impossible movie, but nobody told the writers that. Okay, Q (Ben Whishaw) is a younger man here than he ever was in the older movies, but we don't need an unnecessary scene putting him in some danger out in the field. We can watch Simon Pegg try to keep up with Tom Cruise for that kind of fish-out-of-water fun in an action spy franchise. And I know that the new M (Ralph Fiennes, who looks more and more like Leonard Rossiter with every performance he gives) has seen action in the field, but that doesn't make me want to watch him join in the battle either.

4) Stunt set-pieces are for the stunts and the gadgets. This is pretty much why every Bond movie exists. So it's weird to see a car chase occur in which Bond spends a large amount of the time speaking on the phone to Moneypenny (Naomie Harris). Or a fight sequence in which Bond faces off against a physically superior opponent (Dave Bautista) for no reason whatsoever. Seriously, you're supposed to think that there's always a reason for Bond and co. to be in physical danger, but the last 30-40 minutes contradict that, as it contradicts so many things.

5) Bond, as he is displayed onscreen, isn't the introspective type (bar occasional moments of brilliance, such as THAT final scene in On Her Majesty's Secret Service). Whether by choice or necessity, he acts and he moves on. Sometimes the consequences aren't as good as expected, but the alternatives are often a hell of a lot worse. Not here, however. Oh no. This is a thoughtful Bond. A Bond who looks as if he wants a bit of a holiday. Which isn't what you really want from your number one international secret agent.

6) The villain(s). A good Bond movie can be made or broken by the villain. Christoph Waltz is on hand here, another reason to rejoice. Until you realise that he's given a character who is completely mishandled. The big speeches never feel powerful enough, the threat only gets specific in a strange, and ill-fitting, torture sequence, and his development from the start of the movie to the end is as laughable as it is predictable.

7) Can I fit my problems into only seven main points? Oh, oh, I think I can. The biggest problem with Spectre is one that almost occured in Skyfall. Director Sam Mendes and co. seem unable to decide on just what to do with their lead character. One minute they're tearing down his established world, allowing him to rise again from the ashes like some kind of 00-phoenix. The next they're trying to shoehorn in familiar elements that they either want to reinvent for the modern era or they're adding unwanted touches from other movies that were themselves influenced by Bond (the shadow of Christopher Nolan seems to be a problem here, yet again).

Bond CAN be serious (Licence To Kill remains one of the best in the series, and it's also one of the darkest). He CAN be silly (look at most of those Moore outings). He can be an entertaining mixture of the two (as has been the case with most of the Brosnan and Craig films). But he always has to ultimately be Bond, and everything else should stem from that. Don't try to make a movie that you then use to shape James Bond. Let James Bond shape the movie that you're making.

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