“Spectre” Movie Review


     As more than five decades have now past, the incredibly resilient Bond franchise has made it to an astounding 24 feature films.  Beginning with the 1962 film “Dr. No”, and now with the latest entry, “Spectre”, the series has seemingly never strayed from the qualities that have allowed for such impressive staying power.  All that has changed is who is given the honor of uttering lines made famous throughout the series, such as the manner in which James Bond orders his favorite drink, but the general narrative structure and familiar plot devices have all stayed intact.  I have to figure it must be a nightmare signing on as the next screenwriter, while being told to both honor each and every Bond tradition and still make the story seem fresh.  There are many ways to this, and yet the Bond series remains one of the most stubborn franchises in modern film history.  Sure, the last film, “Skyfall”, killed off a major character and shifted the overall tone from the instantly spoofed antics of both the Sean Connery and Roger Moore films to that of a more serious and brooding James Bond in the current Daniel Craig films.  And that was a welcome change in a franchise that desperately needed a makeover after it became clear Pierce Brosnan could no longer continue to duplicate the efforts of his predecessors when the “Austin Powers” films actually did it better.

     “Skyfall” screenwriter John Logan returns along with “Skyfall” director Sam Mendes for “Spectre” and the duo seems to feel they got it right with their previous effort since the new film feels eerily familiar.  Perhaps this is because “Spectre”, rather than seeing Bond endeavoring in a new adventure, has our hero following up on the events of “Skyfall”, leading him deeper into a notorious criminal organization that may have been responsible for nearly all of the evildoings he has investigated throughout his entire career.  But the proceedings still contain all of the same attributes “Dr. No” and every Bond film since has had, that being an opening action sequence featuring high end stunt work, as Bond chases a yet to be named bad guy in some glorious locale, followed by an artistic animated title sequence featuring the official theme, this time performed by Sam Smith.  The plot always features some level of detective work, as the actual bad guy typically remains in the shadows for more than half the picture.  In this case, the would be villain, Oberhauser (Christoph Waltz), goes out of his way to remain a shadowy, poorly lit figure even when he finds himself in the same room as Bond.  Of course, Bond’s investigation seems to always lead him to the presence of beautiful women who can’t keep their hands of him and get into bed instantly.  Must be the “Double O” issued cologne or something.

     I have to figure the filmmakers may have been banging their collective heads against the wall when they viewed this past July’s “Mission:Impossible” entry, “Rogue Nation”, a spy thriller with near equal history and credibility which also happened to employ a very similar plot to “Spectre” as both films feature a storyline in which the respective agencies that our heroes work for are being dissolved by a higher government power, a situation in this film relegated mainly to the new M (Ralph Fiennes).  That aside, “Spectre” still feels repetitive, as the story goes through what seems like a series of checkboxes made necessary throughout the franchise’s history.  We have the aforementioned Bond girls, and we also have a tricked out spy car that has a needless chase sequence all to itself, just like every other Bond film does.  We also have one of the main villain’s henchman lurking about the early stages of the film.  This one, played by David Bautista, is a nearly silent character who is introduced when he is seen gouging out some poor soul’s eyeballs with his metallic thumb nails, a clear reference to the Jaws character in “Moonraker”.  If you’ve watched a good number of the other films, you’ll half way expect all of this, since many of these repeated characteristics are what many consider crucial ingredients that make a Bond film more of a brand, rather than just a run of the mill spy story.

     With a reported budget north of $250 million, it quickly becomes clear on screen the filmmakers have spared no expense.  That’s a good thing since the character clearly deserves to occupy a film setting worthy of his stature.  “Spectre”, like all of those before it, travels the globe everywhere from Mexico City to Rome as Bond embarks on a mission resulting from a message left for him by M (Judi Dench) which she recorded prior to her death.  In the message, she gives him a lead that may direct him to the location of a criminal mastermind who runs a worldwide nefarious organization called S.P.E.C.T.R.E., which is said to mean Special Executive for Counter-Intelligence, Terrorism, Revenge, and Extortion.  The information leads Bond to the hideout of “Quantum of Solace” bad guy Mr. White (Jesper Christensen), who in similar fashion to his role in “Solace”, confirms the existence of an organization with such widespread influence in every notable industry that stopping them seems an impossibility.  White’s daughter, Madeleine (Lea Seydoux) is said to hold the secret to finding Spectre’s leader, which has Bond racing to find her before Spectre’s lead goon, Hinx (Bautista), finds her first.  All of this sets up the obligatory action set pieces one would expect from a Bond film, and there’s no doubt the money was well spent as each of these scenes seamlessly blends the breathtaking locations with several creative ways to have one person chase another.  One such scene, featuring Bond flying a small plane as he chases a convoy through snowy mountains is probably the film’s best.

     Ultimately, what “Spectre” all comes down to is the inevitable confrontation between our favorite spy and the main villain.  And though the filmmakers manage to create an interesting stage for the main dialogue between Bond and Oberhauser, there simply isn’t enough of a conflict between the two to justify the lengths Bond goes through to get to him.  Plus the situation Bond finds himself in is as Dr. Evil’s son, Scott, would say is “easily escapable” and the way the scene plays out, despite the twist cooked up especially for Bond fans, proves hard to satisfy those in need of a realistic conclusion.  Even the film’s ending is overly cinematic as the uniformed police in London seem to arrive conveniently just as a crashed helicopter on a London bridge is engulfed in flames. But instead of going to the wreckage to see if there are any survivors, they instead keep their distance and put up crime scene tape.  After all, they know better than to steal the thunder from Bond and get in the way of one final showdown, since doing so would mean one of those boxes would be left unchecked.  GRADE: C+