Film Review: Spectre

This review contains spoilers for “Spectre”.

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After Skyfall, I couldn’t help but think: “How can they top this?”

Before Spectre came out, I had it pinned as one of my most-anticipated films of the year. Sam Mendes proved himself as a quality action director, and I was sure that even with the absence of master cinematographer Roger Deakins (Skyfall, most Coen Bros. movies, Sicario, Prisoners, etc.) that we’d get a fantastic outing.

I mean, Christoph Waltz as the villain? That’s perfect. That’s one of the very few actors who might’ve been able to top Havier Bardem’s role in Skyfall. Making Waltz the leader of the eponymous organization was a great idea.

Then the first trailer hit, and I began to hear some things. It looked good, but at some point during the film’s development, there was a script leak. People started to talk of a very poor third act and a very contrived twist, and a few shots in the trailer seemed to synch up with that leaked script.

I think about an hour and a half into Spectre I slowly started to realize that this film wasn’t going to top Skyfall. It wouldn’t top Casino Royale. It might even just be the worst of the Daniel Craig-era Bond films.

By the end, I don’t know if it was worse than Quantum of Solace. I don’t think that matters, though: What’s important is that this film was a waste. A waste of several good actors, a waste of good cinematography, a waste of a good opening scene, a waste of a good director, and worst of all, a waste of time.

Let’s talk about the good parts, though.

I’m a big fan of tracking shots, and I definitely found the “Day of the Dead” opening sequence to be impressive and intense. It sucked me in. The film handles itself with good action scenes, but the tracking shot followed by a sequence in which Bond fights a guy in a tumbling helicopter over a crowded Mexico City? That’s just phenomenal. It’s worthy of Skyfall and Casino Royale’s openings.

It’s impressive when the scene draws you in with little dialogue. There’s even suspense implied by the costumes. There’s a period of a couple of minutes where you’re not even sure if they guy in the skeleton suit is Bond, so you don’t know what’s going to happen. You just know this is an intense action series opening with allusions to the dead.

Even when Bond takes off the suit, you’re quickly made aware that the guy he’s after is somebody you saw in that opening tracking shot.

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Bond in the skeleton suit.

The film soon after involves itself with Bond tracking down a man from a mysterious organization, all based on a ring he found in Mexico City. Even when it lacks the action, the film is still handled very well o a technical level. The shots look beautiful, and they convey so much without a need for exposition. Franz Oberhauser’s introduction is suspenseful, intense, and promises an intimidating villain.

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Franz Oberhauser.

Franz is introduced in shadows. You can’t see his face until he finally begins speaking, directly to Bond. As he does, the light slowly creeps onto his grinning face. In fact, the entire room is cast in this sinister and dim lighting, drawing a lot of attention to the great size of the room.

The opening emphasizes the tentacles of the Spectre symbol, but this scene illustrates it perfectly. This is a man who controls a lot of people, and most of them are afraid of him.

That makes the introduction of Dave Bautista’s “Mr. Hinx” character even more jarring. He comes out and “replaces” another henchman by savagely murdering him.

After Franz makes mention of Bond’s presence, Bond flees and is pursued by Hinx. The resulting car chase is pretty great.

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C, the leader of an intelligence agency comprised of MI5 and MI6.

But… there was a warning sign early in the movie. A scene that starts a very, very boring subplot to the film. It involves Adam Scott (of Sherlock fame, where he played Jim Moriarty) and his plan to shut down the 00 program and do NSA things. Because mass-surveillance is the hot topic now.

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I mean, this guy was basically The Joker. Not the first time the Craig-era Bond movies took something.

I think the flaw with this is that the idea isn’t examined with any depth, yet it takes up a significant amount of screentime. We don’t even get scenes where Adam Scott acts insane like he did in Sherlock, either.

Yet, it’s integral to Franz’s plan. It fits with the symbolism, but it lacked the amount of even basic depth it needed. It’s interesting because it shines a light on this film’s worst problem. It’s trying to be two different movies, but it can’t commit to either, so it’s just a mess.

Its attempts to have a plot where this mastermind attempts to control the whole world are interrupted by the film’s attempt to make this movie a personal journey for Bond by having said mastermind be linked to him.

It’s at this point that there’s little to say about the film that’d be positive. I’ve emphasized that the technical aspects of the movie are phenomenal, but that’s where the good ends because the film overthinks things.

See, that’s why I can’t give it a pass. It struggles with itself for reasons stated above, and it takes its sweet time to convey the convoluted plot.

But the twist. Oh God, the twist.

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Star Trek: Into Darkness is an example of a movie with a plot-twist that only existed so it could have one. That film’s revelation of the identity behind Benedict Cumberbatch’s character was only a nod to a fanbase. Cumberbatch’s character had nothing in common with the one he turns out to be.

This movie makes the exact same misstep.

It’s not an unexpected twist, mind you. I think most people caught on given “Spectre” is literally the film’s title. Even if they didn’t have a terrible excuse to give Franz the name “Blofeld”, he still would’ve been a new version of him.

The problem is that outside of aesthetics, he’s… not Blofeld. Not at all. He just exists as a reason to give the film a twist.

But that’s not even the worst part of it. Instead of ending it there, we learn that he’s also Bond’s adoptive brother, and we learn he’s behind everything in the previous movies.

This film retroactively decides that the entire series has led up to this point, even though the previous films had no indication of such and no mention of Spectre. It’s all inserted, and the buildup this film provides, as good as it is, can’t justify the convoluted twist.

Even with the knowledge of the prior films, none of it feels like it matters. It all feels fake or inserted at the last minute. Like I said: It feels like an excuse to have a twist, rather than building up to it naturally. If the other films weren’t written with that twist in mind, the ultimate reveal isn’t going to seem like a story’s natural conclusion.

Even when I consider that these are supposed to “just” be action movies, that doesn’t excuse poor decisions that impact the film’s quality. The scenes involving M slow the film to a crawl, and the film makes an active attempt to be personal and developed, but it can’t fully commit to it.

On the other hand, it tries to be topical with mass surveillance and tries to have an all-seeing villain with immense power. It ventures into self-parody when it tries to do both at once and make itself seem important to the whole franchise. It doesn’t synch up with Casino Royale or Skyfall’s genuine attempts at character building.

That’s why I call it wasted. This film is great on a technical level and has good action scenes, but it’s hard to get invested as a result of the story’s flaws. It ruins the suspense. Waltz doesn’t get the time he deserves, and what little time he gets has dialogue pertaining to the convoluted and absurd plot twist.

Verdict: 5/10. The outstanding technical effort and the awful third act cancel each other out, resulting in an average film with much to be desired.

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