Spectre (***1/2) is unfinished business, all the time

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Spectre – 2015

Director Sam Mendes
Starring Daniel Craig, Christoph Waltz, Léa Seydoux, Ben Whishaw, Naomie Harris, Dave Bautista, Andrew Scott, Monica Bellucci, Ralph Fiennes, Rory Kinnear
Screenplay John Logan, Neal Purvis, Robert Wade, Jez Butterworth

The Daniel Craig era of James Bond films have been marked with a higher personal stake, more viciousness and aside from Dame Judy Dench’s M, an entirely different cast of supporting players. That we never see Moneypenny and Q until the third film bespoke of a confidence in the star power of Craig and the idea that they had more going on than the same old gimmicks and gadgets that killed Brosnan’s momentum a decade ago.

So now, after one of the most highly celebrated and profitable entrants in the series, we get a Bond with all of the earmarks of comfort and familiarity, and damn if it doesn’t amount to less. There is always the danger in a Bond film where the advertisements overwhelm the substance. If the story is anything less than stellar, if the consequences are anything but insurmountable, it just boils down to how good Bond looks driving a car, wearing a suit, drinking high end booze, etc…

The first entry of the Craig films managed to embrace and subvert the genre, and this continued with the subsequent entries. This time there just isn’t enough to bring us out of that malaise of product moving through the pictures with this most objectified male.

That story starts with Bond in Mexico for the Day of the Dead. He is on the trail of Marco Sciarra at the behest of Dench’s M, who left him a posthumous message to find and kill the target. His doing so prevents a major catastrophe by causing a minor one, and of course this good deed leads to his suspension back home. Back at headquarters, he is apprised of his and M’s (Fiennes) new Boss, C (Scott). This turn of events is courtesy of a new Joint Intelligence Service. This privately backed surveillance movement is brought on with a recent confluence of tragedies that have happened around the world. Of course the fact that Bond prevented one of these in Mexico City will eventually be revealed, but only after Bond ignores his suspension and heads off to Rome.

What happens there I will leave for the viewer to experience. It’s not the deepest of plots, especially the way they try to pull together the bad acts from all of the previous Craig Bond films and make it one concentrated effort. Even though, you know, it wasn’t at the time we were seeing it.

So how is Waltz as a bad guy?  Underwhelming would be a good first impression. Competent seems more appropriate after giving it some thought. Who he is and what he’s got going on is something close to the plot of Captain America: Winter Soldier.  Bond is not nearly as horrified by the concepts as Steve Rogers. For Bond, it’s really about protecting the girl (Seydoux).

The girl is Dr. Madeleine Swann, a psychologist who is the daughter of Mr. White from the earlier entries. How they tie into the plot is not quite as important as that she looks good in an evening gown, can handle a gun and become a captive for Bond to save before the big explosion. Seydoux is one of the prettiest Bond girls thus far witnessed, and they do give her some resonance.  The inexplicable spot they place her in the third act makes her as much a spare part as any of the others.

Dave Bautista is excellent as Waltz’ heavy, if your qualification for excellent be something akin to Richard Kiel’s Jaws. He gives a good fight and exits stage left somewhat painfully, if ambiguously. We may see him again.

Wishaw, Harris, Fiennes and Kinnear all do their best as bit players. They are more cheeky looking than Cruise’s M:I gang, but they have fewer comic lines. They do have as many crucial moments, even if we are sure they are not going to bite it this time since we lost a big player last time. This surety hurts any thoughts of surprise, no matter how good it looks.

The last act plays almost like a video game sequence, which is a bummer, because the setting is kind of cool. The overall effect, much like the film, is cool to look at, but not as epic as the film’s many scribes probably intended.

Mendes does a wonderful job framing each shot with the delicacy of an ad campaign, while still giving way to menace when necessary. If he had more to work with, I am sure it would have been a better product.

If this is Craig’s last film, it is a shame. The series did not reach the status it could have if we had found some connection to the previous Bonds, as was hinted in the making of Skyfall. If Sean Connery could have been there instead of Albert Finney, then we have a brand new ballgame. As it stands, the talk about which finely sculpted form will fill the suit is all of the rage now, and soon this film will be as well remembered as Die Another Day.

(***1/2 out of *****)

 

 

 

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