- Movie Rating -

Spectre (2015)

| November 9, 2015

Even with its impressive longevity, the James Bond series has always seemed to be teetering just on the edge of becoming outdated, at least in the years since Sean Connery stepped aside. The culture, the world situation, the political climate, the technological advancements and, of course, the state of cinema itself are always threatening to push Bond out of the way. Yet, he keeps one step ahead, even as the movies continue to water down his formula elements. The most durable movie series in history has maintained its longevity by sticking pretty close to its most familiar elements but changing just enough to remain not only relevant but just ahead of its dozens of imitators.

The producers of this series are very well aware that Bond is in danger of becoming a relic, going back 20 years to GoldenEye when M coldly evaluated 007: “I think you’re a sexist, misogynist dinosaur. A relic of the Cold War.” That assessment was correct and over the past 10 years, with Daniel Craig in the lead, the series has done a good job of keeping Bond current. By winding the clock back to Bond’s origins (though still keeping the timeline current) we’ve been introduced to a younger Bond who is less polished, and who hones his survival instincts by learning from his mistakes. The producers also did something unheard of and yet crucial – they gave Bond a tight story arc.

Spectre completes the four-movie arc begun nine years ago with the brilliant Casino Royale as Bond finds himself on the trail of a shadowy organization that seems to be quietly ruling the world. Where it leads is a place that – if you know this series’ history – is not all that surprising. It requires a lot of emotional energy from Bond whose mission is a downward spiral of clues and dead ends, and dead bodies that make The Illuminati look as threatening as your local dime store.  His infiltration into this organization reveals a ghost-like figure called Oberhauser (played by the invaluable Christophe Waltz) whose motivations have more to do with Bond than even he comes to expect.  The less I say  about him, the better.

The journey getting there requires a great deal of investigation from 007 who also knows he’s racing against the clock. Back home his new boss M (Ralph Fiennes) informs him that his job may be on the line due to the merger of MI5 and MI6 to form a sort-of intelligence version of U.N., which will mean shutting down the ’00 program. Following the clues against orders from above he finds himself trotting across the globe from Mexico to Austria to Morocco to uncover the secrets of an agency called Spectre. Along the way he picks up – what else? – a female companion, the lovely Madeline Swann, played by French actress Léa Seydoux, who is 30 but looks 19. Seydoux is a good actress but her role here seems oddly muted.  That’s especially disappointing after her brilliant performance as the blue-haired lesbian paramour in the French drama Blue is the Warmest Colour.  Yeah, she looks great, but this performance doesn’t do much to display the best parts of her infectious personality.

As for Bond himself, I’m sensing that Craig may be near the end of his tenure as questions about his future with the series abound – he’s contracted for one more.  In the previous three films I felt that Craig was embodying the character full-force.  That’s what the best actors in this series (Connery, Moore and Craig) have done.  They transcend the formula and try to play Bond as a character rather than an icon.  I think Craig is a valuable asset.  Out of all of the actors who have played James Bond (he’s the sixth), he is the first to give Bond what he sorely needs, an upfront vulnerability.  Being that he’s playing a younger Bond, we get to see that he’s dealing with a dangerous learning curve.  Craig has done a brilliant job redefining the character but here I sensed a weariness in his performance, as if he fears that he’s beginning to go through the motions.

As far as the plot goes, there’s not much more than I can reveal. Actually, I’ve only scratched the surface because Spectre has a LOT of plot to get through. That’s kind of the movie’s weak point. While I liked the movie a good deal, after a while I began to wish there was a little less of it to like. Director Sam Mendes does a good job of keeping things on track, but he also spends a lot of time with Bond just going places and looking at things which causes the mid-section of the movie to drag.  At 148 minutes, it could easily have been half an hour shorter.

Spectre is a good Bond movie, but not a great one.  It’s chief problem may be timing.  It resides in a very tricky place in that it follows Skyfall, which many (including yours truly) had deemed one of the best Bond films since Connery’s tenure. That luster casts a damning shadow over this film probably for the wrong reasons.  There was likely nothing that director Sam Mendes could have done to one-up that great film and I give him points for not trying to recapture it.  He wants to move forward and get back to a more traditional Bond adventure.  For that, I give him a lot of credit.  Where Skyfall was meaty and fully-packed, Spectre is a very spare nuts-and-bolts kind of thriller.  It’s not great but in looking at the Bond series in comparison with it’s many imitators, I’ll take this film over any of those any day of the week.

About the Author:

Jerry Roberts is a film critic and operator of two websites, Armchair Cinema and Armchair Oscars.
(2015) View IMDB Filed in: Action, Thriller