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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


    Reel Deal: ‘Spectre,’ James Bond start strong, but can’t keep momentum


    Jonathan Olley / Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios Inc., Danjaq, LLC and Columbia Pictures Industries, Inc.

    James Bond (Daniel Craig) stares at an unseen adversary from across a chess table. Craig reprises his role as 007 for the fourth time in “Spectre.”

    The first shot of the latest James Bond film, “Spectre,” throws down a gauntlet. The 53-year-old film series, the first installment of which, “Dr. No,” came out six years before man landed on the moon, has had the validity of its existence questioned in the 21st century. It’s tough to think of a stronger opening statement than an ambitious, several-minute-long tracking shot through an uproarious Mexico City on Día de los Muertos—what fortuitous timing, with the holiday just having occurred Nov. 1 and the film opening Nov. 6. 

    Akin to another famous opening tracking shot, the one in 1974’s “The Conversation,” the “Spectre” camera hovers above the throngs and, at its own pace, works its way down, not clueing us in as to where we should direct our attention. We descend past a giant skeleton float, and, by the time we’re on ground level with the parade, our eyes are scurrying between vibrantly colored dresses and black-and-white skulls, looking for—Ah!

    Is that him, the masked man in the pristine white suit? No; Bond (Daniel Craig) is the masked man in the pristine black suit with skeleton bones painted on, stalking the man in white. Of course he is; if anyone else wore the same outfit, it’d look like they scavenged for it in the bargain bin at Party City, but Bond makes it look slick.

    Again, all in one fluid camera motion, we follow Bond through the procession, into a hotel, up a few stories via elevator, into a woman’s room and then out onto the rooftops. The film finally cuts, and it’s an exhale followed by explosions, a building collapse and action theatrics with a helicopter.

    This segues into the trademark opening credits scene, backed by Sam Smith’s “Writing’s on the Wall.” Having purposefully avoided listening to the song until the film, but not being able to avoid the complaints—“it’s weird and slow” was the most cutting criticism—my reaction to the ballad was, “That wasn’t that bad.”

    The song is only one half of the opening, albeit an important one, with the other being the visuals. In “Skyfall,” it was skulls and graveyards. In “Spectre,” it’s still skulls, but also a giant black octopus that wraps its inky tentacles around silhouetted feminine figures. The octopus is the symbol of evil organization Spectre, but it’s still disappointing that Bond doesn’t travel to Japan and dabble in some hentai.

    Bond’s unauthorized antics in Mexico City land him in trouble with M (Ralph Fiennes), who already has enough on his plate. As British intelligence steps into the era of drones and mass surveillance, the ‘00’ spy program, and the human element of espionage, face extinction. Likewise, the Impossible Missions Force was temporarily shut down for its “antiquated” methods in this summer’s “Mission: Impossible—Rogue Nation”; both of these franchises are all too self-aware of their perceived practicality in the present day and age.

    Bond’s working off the books on an assignment that the old M (Judi Dench) assigned to him from beyond the grave via video message. With some help from the droll Q (Ben Whishaw, who thankfully has an expanded role) in escaping the watchful eye of the current M, Bond jettisons to Rome.

    He briefly liaisons with a sultry Italian widow, Lucia (Monica Bellucci), and this is the first hiccup. While we should be up to our eyeballs in carnal chemistry with Bellucci—she oozes Bond girl—and Craig, their interactions feel awkward, if not an eye-rolling attempt at “being sexy.”

    Bond then crashes a meeting of the organization that he will come to know as Spectre. Here, we’re introduced to the two villains, both of whom have striking entrances—no good villain has ever entered a film blandly.

    The built-like-a-ton-of-bricks henchman Mr. Hinx (Dave Bautista) presents his credentials as an assassin by killing a man seated right at the table with nothing but brute force and his own two hands. He has the savage, solid physicality of Bane from “The Dark Knight Rises,” if not any of the quotable lines. In a hand-to-hand fight between him and Bond on a train, I recoiled at how hard the hits fell.

    Ernst Blofeld (Christoph Waltz) also need not say anything when he arrives. When the floor-to-vaulted-ceiling doors open, everyone falls silent for the silhouetted figure whose face drops off into shadow. Visually, it’s one of the richer scenes in a film chock-full of them, thanks to cinematographer Hoyte van Hoytema, who’s also responsible for “Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy” and “Interstellar.”

    Bond traverses the globe and makes a discovery shocking to both him and the series. Mr. White and Le Chiffre from “Casino Royale,” Mr. Greene from “Quantum of Solace” and Raoul Silva from “Skyfall” all were a part of Spectre. In one fell move, “Spectre” has attempted to unite itself and the previous three films into one quadrilogy.

    The only problem is, you can’t retroactively make connections that weren’t present in the first place. It feels hollow and tacked on; the effort needs to be holistic, like what Marvel has done with their cinematic universe. You can tell that this was never the intent back in 2006 with “Casino Royale.”

    Standing at the center of this afterthought of a wide-ranging conspiracy is Blofeld. I’m still not quite sure how it’s possible, because Christoph Waltz as a bond villain is a no-brainer, but his character doesn’t work.

    The film noticeably loses steam around when Bond and his companion/charge Madeleine Swann (Lea Seydoux) arrive at his evil lair in the middle of the desert. There are more twists and revelations about Bond and Blofeld’s relationship, which also don’t work because, again, they’ve scarcely been alluded to before.

    Everything about Blofeld is a throwback to the Bond villains of old: the lair, paper-thin motivation, stroking his lap cat, strapping Bond to a chair to torture him with some overly designed device. The series, which has forged new territory with Craig, is going backwards.

    Waltz doesn’t even do much with Blofeld, underplaying him to a fault. The most charismatic thing about the character is his wardrobe; he bizarrely wears slip-on shoes with no socks, his bare ankles exposed as he rolls around on a wheelie chair as he tortures Bond. The film has been hedging its bet on its finale, but it doesn’t pay off.

    “Spectre” has phenomenal entrances. The film opens with a bang, and the villains appear menacing. However, we think they’re going to be so much more than what they actually end up.

    Some reviews have called that “Spectre” may be the death knell for the series. That’s a gross exaggeration—especially considering how much money it will make. “Spectre” is not a bad film, and it’s certainly entertaining. I rank it firmly below “Casino Royale” and “Skyfall,” but, of course, above “Quantum of Solace.” I just hope I can rank the next one higher.


    Follow Alex Guyton on Twitter.

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