Monday, January 18, 2016

Spectre


  Nothing can get me to stop a 'kick' (in this case, a cyberpunk/sci-fi kick) faster than the prospect of watching a James Bond movie. I'm always in the mood for a bit of fashionable spy business, and fashionable spy business is exactly what Spectre is. The latest installment in the immortal 007 franchise is quite good. I mean, that's what matters at the end of the day. It's not perfect, and it's no Skyfall or Casino Royale, but I let out a long sigh of relief at the end because it's also definitely not a Quantum of Solace. Spectre has it's fair share of missteps, and a few unsavory plot elements, but for every time it stumbles... it picks itself back up, dusts itself off, and proceeds to kick ass- just like Bond himself.

  As a die-hard 007 fan, I'm very familiar with SPECTRE itself, the secret criminal organization that became a staple of Bond movies throughout the Sean Connery era of movies; the head of the organization Ernst Stavro Blofeld is quite possibly the most iconic Bond villain ever, if not one of the most recognizable movie villains of all time, period. Thus, titling the latest Bond movie "Spectre" promised those two things from the outset. There was some mucky pre-release press saying that Christoph Waltz wasn't playing Blofeld. Right. Right, right, right. Of course not. And, Benedict Cumberbatch wasn't playing Khan. Right. Any Bond fan with half a brain saw this coming from a mile away. Even the movie tries to play it like a big reveal, though thankfully not with the show stopping awkwardness of the "I am... Khan." line from Star Trek Into Darkness.

  There's no real explanation to it though, no more than it being a nod to the fans- like the inclusion of the Aston Martin DB5 in Skyfall. The story of Spectre, intertwines Blofeld's past with Bond's and it's... okay. I mean, I've seen worse. But, it's a bit shoehorned. The movie would have you believe some very preposterous stuff. Yet none of that is worse than this movie's cardinal sin. It retreads some not-so-old ground. One big theme of Skyfall was that some 'old' things can still be useful. This was a very literal theme, and it was played on a broader level as well. Skyfall brought back some classic elements to James Bond, and made a solid case why he's still relevant- why spy movies and assassins are still relevant. As Skyfall made this case to audiences, characters in the movie were also tasked with making the same case to the powers that be.

  Skyfall succeeded with gusto. It was yet another jump start to the franchise and promised us the clean slate that Quantum of Solace was supposed to leave us with. Yet... here we are, four years later, and there's an antagonistic element in the movie, beating on that same drum- that the double-O section is antiquated and irrelevant. Didn't we just go over this? I don't want the section to be in jeopardy of being mothballed every time a new Bond movie comes out. It's tedious and worse yet, it's redundant. In fact, it's borderline insulting. Such a huge chunk of the plot of Spectre rehashes a huge chunk of the plot from Skyfall- and that's not okay.

  It's also not a crippling issue either. It very well might be tedious, redundant and insulting, but the movie is so much fun otherwise that while you're watching it- it's never more than a minor nuisance. At least the story makes sense, and the plot doesn't trip over itself from scene to scene. Moreover, Christoph Waltz is a fantastic Blofeld, complete with ├╝bervillain lairs, and a larger than life plot. Some could very easily make the case that we didn't need SPECTRE or Blofeld in this current iteration of James Bond, and those people are entitled to their completely valid opinion... but I loved it.  Quantum, even at best, only ever felt like a stand-in for SPECTRE, and now SPECTRE is here. Hopefully, here to stay even. I felt that Waltz's performance as Blofeld was fantastic and a true highlight of the movie.

  Another highlight was Spectre henchman Hinx, played by the ever-intimidating Dave Bautista. Complete with a deadly and unique one-off gimmick, Hinx earns his place in the pantheon of great Bond movie henchmen. Never saying a single word (far as I can remember) he was an absolute juggernaut of a villain, and one that could've probably killed Bond for keeps. His scenes with Bond crackle with energy and hit hard with the kind of violence I fell in love with in Casino Royale. It really does feel like Bond's life is on the line here. Given that the character is arguably immortal, that's no small feat. All the action scenes in Spectre are great. They make the movie fun and exciting, alongside it's razor sharp wit, and genuine humor.

  It also helps that Spectre looks gorgeous. The cinematography is beautiful and there's so many stunning locales and settings to look at- like there should be.  On top of this, the movie manages to capture an old school spy flick feel. The feel of the Connery movies is alive and well, pulsing through the movie, lending a golden era style and retro aesthetic that makes it all that much more fun. This is a throwback in all the way that count, not just to old Bond movies, but to old spy movies in general. Spectre is a globe-trotting adventure full of class and style. I wouldn't want it any other way.

   I'd also be remiss if I didn't talk about Lea Seydoux's character, Dr. Madeleine Swann. I like her, a lot. Yet, I don't like how she's angled as the new Vesper Lynd. I enjoyed her scenes with Bond and it's obvious they have all the right chemistry- but I think her position in the story is less dictated by her character, and more dictated by the movies that came before Spectre. This iteration of Bond is walking a tightrope; breaking outdated conventions, but embracing the old style of things. The obligatory 'Bond girl' is an outdated convention. They fixed that in Casino Royale by making Vesper Lynd intrinsically essential to the story and Bond himself. She felt like a real character, and not just eye candy that was there by an unspoken contract with the audience.

  Quantum of Solace failed to maintain that. The 'Bond girl' in that movie was a waste of space, completely irrelevant to the plot after a certain point. Skyfall was hardly better, although some made the case that Moneypenny herself was the Bond girl, or even M. In that case, Skyfall gets a hall pass. But, it seems that Spectre didn't quite know what to do. The idea that every woman Bond encounters ends up dead sooner or later seems horribly mysoginistic and ugly in this day and age; so the filmmakers could have swept it under the rug, or faced it head on. They chose the latter. This is tricky because they're also not giving up the institution of having 'Bond girls' in their movies. So, Swann is left with either being a tough no-nonsense woman who will have no romantic ties to Bond whatsoever, or being a new genuine love interest.

  The movie goes with the latter, and amazingly sticks with it. Not that I'm fond of that, but I'm at a loss for words honestly. The problem for me is that Swann feels like a character created by committee. She feels less like a real person that Bond would run into, and more like an accumulation of votes- dictating what she needs to be for Bond. I'm not speaking ill of Lea Seydoux's acting though, she breathes life into Swann in a way that few other actresses could, given the restraints of the role. In the end, Swann is a pale imitation of Lynd because she's not given the room or time to be anything else. She's a plot device, albeit a well acted and beautiful one.

  I could go on and on about this movie, but I think I've covered the essentials. Ralph Fiennes is great as the new M, Ben Whishaw is still great as Q, and of course... Daniel Craig is still fantastic as Bond... James Bond. Spectre isn't a perfect movie, but it's a fun one. It seems to have a good sense of rewatchability to it, which is good. I have no mixed feelings about it. It's not a great movie, just a good one. An exceptionally fun time, even if it's not a perfect one.

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