REVIEW: “Spectre”

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In a way I owe Daniel Craig a debt of gratitude. His tenure as James Bond is what lured me into the hugely popular franchise. Purists will likely scoff, but Craig’s iteration of the British super spy has featured less cheese and more humanity and vulnerability. An argument could be made that the high-energy cheese is what made those earlier films great. I believe that to a degree. But ultimately it has been Craig’s Bond run than has drawn me and given me an greater appreciation for the franchise as a whole.

This is Craig’s fourth turn as the dapper 007 and his second Bond film with director Sam Mendes. Their previous installment “Skyfall” was a global juggernaut at the box office becoming the 14th film to earn over $1 billion dollars. It was also well received by critics many of whom called it Craig’s best Bond picture. So now comes the next film and the unenviable task of matching the success of its predecessor. To do that the film was given a budget that has made it one of the most expensive movies ever created. But throwing money at a project doesn’t automatically equal good results.

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“Spectre” starts off firing with Bond in Mexico City during the Day of the Dead. He’s on a deeply personal mission which leads him to a terrorist named Marco Sciarra (Alessandro Cremona). Sciarra is connected to a sinister secret criminal organization called Spectre which is led by the shadowy Ernst Stavro Blofeld (Christoph Waltz). At the same time M (Ralph Fiennes) is battling to protect MI6 from the aggressive head of the Joint Intelligence Service who wants to do away with the 00 program.

Bond tracks Spectre to Rome, the first leg of his globetrotting search for answers. He discovers that he may have a deeper connection to Ernst and his organization. As 007 hunts to unearth the truth, Spectre is out to stop him at all costs. They go head-to-head in a number of exotic locales including Rome, Morocco, Austria, and London. One of the film’s strong points is how well it captures all of the fun and varied locations.

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In fact all of “Spectre” looks good. Hoyte van Hoytema’s cinematography lives up to the franchise expectations and at times it absolutely shines. The Mexico City opening is exciting and energetic featuring several visual highlights. The same goes for a fun car chase through the streets of Rome and a thrilling plane vs. Land Rover chase down a snowy Austrian mountain. The film definitely has its moments.

Unfortunately “Spectre” also has its flaws and no amount of visual splendor can cover them up. While I liked “Spectre” as a whole, I was expecting more action, more energy, more drama, more character development, and more signature Bond moments. Compared to Craig’s three previous Bond movies “Spectre” feels hollow, inert, and terribly inconsistent. After the phenomenal Mexico City start, the movie is constantly fluctuating between excitement and slow stretches of vapidity.

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You simply don’t expect this considering how well these movies have worked in the past. But as I sat in the theater I kept waiting for the film to gain its footing. I kept waiting for it to kick into gear. But there is a frustrating sluggishness to the screenplay – the collaborative work of four different writers. It wastes so much time that could’ve been better spent developing some of the characters namely the story’s villain.

Christoph Waltz is a superb actor but the amount of screen time he is given never allows him to flesh out a compelling villain. His villainy is mainly referred to more than shown and we never see that big Bond vs. Villain moment. The closest we get is an absurd torture scene that features one head scratching moment after another. I was so excited to see him as a Bond villain but this was a tremendous waste. As was Dave Bautista as Spectre’s hitman. He’s a stereotypical henchman who shows as much emotion as a house plant.

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Craig gives another good performance but he isn’t offered any material to stretch his character. All of the supporting Bond cast members are here including Q (Ben Whishaw) who gets more screen time than before. He’s a lot of fun. Moneypenny (Naomie Harris) has a few good lines and Fiennes is good when wrangling back and forth for the 00 program’s survival. Unfortunately both feel underused. Lea Seydoux is the main ‘Bond girl’ this time around and her performance is solid. But her character is a bit flimsy and uneven.

That could be the best way to describe “Spectre” – uneven. It’s a film undoubtedly approached with mile-high expectations from many. Perhaps too high. But truthfully expectations aren’t the problem. This is a film that features some fine action sequences. It has a good story at its core and there are moments where it comes together in really interesting ways. But there are also moments where it makes practically no sense and other moments where it sputters and spins its wheels. Still I liked the movie and I’m anxious to give it another look, but with this cast and this pedigree I can’t help but be disappointed with what we get.

VERDICT – 3 STARS

3 Stars

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32 thoughts on “REVIEW: “Spectre”

  1. So, true that Spectre’s got trouble with consistency, especially during the middle act. But, my concern is how it depicts its antagonist. Christophe Waltz could be better than that. The secret revelation of his character, however, is ridiculous. Who doesn’t know Blofeld though?

    • Thanks for reading and commenting!

      You exactly right. The woeful mishandling and underplaying of the villain was a big, big problem. Waltz is given practically nothing to do. Its a real shame.

  2. I had a lot of fun with Spectre, it had a really exciting vibe to it. I loved the cinematography of it too. Stellar review as always Keith. If you haven’t checked my review out, please do.

  3. I too was disappointed with it and didn’t like the addition of “cheese” to this, which is something I didn’t miss in the previous Craig films. Script was weak indeed.

    • I really didn’t expect this. This one felt so much weaker than the others. I’ve loved all of Craig’s Bond pictures, even Quantum more than others. This one falls behind each of them.

  4. Expectations are 100% at fault here. I have watched this movie getting cut down by critic after critic. What did they want, the Gone With the Wind of 00 movies? Come on now.

    That said, I was underwhelmed by it all. I couldn’t help but be a part of the high-expectation crowd. But I did like a few things that were going on. Namely the visuals, Léa Seydoux’s tougher, gruffer Bond girl and Christoph Waltz. That man can do no wrong in my book. Despite the background for his character, I felt he fit the bill of a really unhinged, psychotic super-villain.

    I’ll put the Craig era in this order: Casino Royale; Skyfall; Spectre; Quantum of Solace. My review is also out if you’d care to take a gander. On the whole we’re pretty much on the same page, I wanted this to be a lot better.

    • Now that I’ve seen it I will definitely head your way. I was really disappointed in how they use (or don’t use Waltz). The guy is amazing yet he has none of the big signature Bond villain scenes. That torture sequence I mentioned was probably supposed to be it, but it had several problems with it. And I liked Seydoux but I really didn’t get much from her.

      Yep, I liked this one but ultimately it had too many long, flat stretches that would kill the momentum. This is my least favorite of Craig’s Bond films but I also liked Quantum more than anyone else I know! 🙂

  5. Hey Keith, glad we’re in the same camp on this one. I was swaying between 2.5 and 3 and ended up w/ a lower score the more I think about it. Let’s compare notes when you have a minute to check out my take on it.

    • Absolutely Ruth. I’m heading that way now. For me it did enough good things to warrant a recommendation, but didn’t you find it to be surprisingly flat at times? I have to admit, it really surprised me. All of the pieces are here for a great Bond film. Unfortunately…

  6. All fair points Keith; I shared a lot of your misgivings although I came down on the side of it being a good, multiplex-pleasing experience overall, as opposed to a disappointment. I think it’s overly long and sags in the middle, and Monica Bellucci is wasted; the scene where she is seduced by Bond is every bit as terrible as the opening tracking shot/helicopter sequence is excellent. Seems to be getting some very negative reviews from the US…do you think the expectation levels were higher in your (vast!) neck of the woods?

    • I do indeed think expectations were through the roof. Skyfall was VERY popular over here so that probably intensified the hype.

      Good point about Bellucci. It was a very odd scene – a complete throwaway. Bellucci’s character was so inconsequential she could have been played by any unknown actress. But it would still be a bad scene as you mention.

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  8. I waited until I had a chance to write my own thoughts down to respond to yours. This is an excellent review and many of the issues you ID are in fact flaws that I noticed as well. I understand the reservations about flat spots but I think it is more about getting used to the rhythm of the film than something that is an inherent problem. I went a second time and had far fewer reservations about the pacing. Waltz is not used enough and the torture scene is odd and there needed to be more by play before it happened. I did like his set up and first introduction quite a bit. I think it was Ruth who had the Theme Song formula, weak theme equals weak Bond. I think this film is better than the song but not able to match the heights of the two great 007 films that Craig made. It easily tops the short in length but long in dullness of Quantum.

    • I will definitely be interested in seeing this again. Of the problems I had I think Waltz is my greatest disappointment, not because of his performance but because of how poorly utilized he is. I totally agree with you about his introduction. That was a very cool way of doing it. But they never filled on it. That torture scene is simply a bad scene. From the odd back-and-forth to the unearned “I love you” to Bond’s amazing instant recovery. He feels so mishandled.

  9. Truth be told, I really liked this one. While it’s definitely not the strongest entry in Daniel Craig’s films, I feel it is a hell of a lot better than Quantum Of Solace. Solace suffered greatly from Michael Bay-style editing, so you couldn’t see what was going on. I thought Spectre was fantastic. It had a crazy opening sequence, and great action. I did notice that it started to bring back that kind of old-fashioned cheese that was prevalent in the pre-Daniel Craig films. I will certainly agree with Christoph Waltz not being used enough. I knew going in that we had to deal with Ernst Stavro Blofeld, but I was expecting somebody more…..sinister. Waltz did great with what he had, but he had wasn’t enough. As a result, this version of Blofeld is nowhere near as compelling as say, Silva or Le Chiffre. Spectre has its issues, but it’s still a solid Bond movie. Even at their worst, Bond movies are still ridiculously entertaining. Also, Spectre has the largest stunt explosion in cinematic history, according to Guiness World Records. So….there’s that.

    • I loved that opening sequence and I really liked that nutty scene where the plane is chasing the Land Rover down a snowy mountain. That was crazy fun.

      As for Waltz, he could have brought so much to the movie if they would have just let him. I loved how he was introduced but that’s all the meat he is given. Missed opportunity.

      All of that said I am still really anxious to see it again. I hope to before it leaves theaters.

      Thanks for the great comments.

  10. 😦 I have been looking forward to Spectre for WAY too long (and we still only get it next week – will still be there to see it), but so many reviews are coming back calling it uneven, disappointing.

    However, Craig’s Bond? Best Bond, in my opinion. Followed by Dalton. Craig’s Bond has been the more realistic, gritty, darker Bond with less eye-rolling cheese and silliness, so I am a big fan.

    • 100% agree. To be honest Craig’s Bond is what got me to appreciate the franchise as a whole. He has been fantastic. Really anxious to give this one another look.

  11. Yup. I’m with you on this one. Uneven is an apt description, and the latter half gets pretty ridiculous imo, but yes, the action sequences are very good, and the story certainly had potential if it was structured properly.

    • And did you get the sense that Christoph Waltz was basically wasted? He has a wonderful introduction sequence but after that I thought he deserved more screen time.

      • Oh yes. Completely. He had a great introduction but his motivations were quite idiotic tbh and he didnt exactly do villainous thing that you would have expected him to do either.

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