Spectre, a Review

For the past few months, there is yet another headline about “Who should be the next James Bond?” Tom Hiddleston or Idris Elba, the occasional actor I never heard of before. At this rate of speed, I’d take Tom Ellis from Lucifer.
With all this hubbub going around, I thought someone should look at the most recent Bond film, Spectre.

I’ll say this: It’s NOT the worst Bond film I’ve ever seen. That particular honor goes to Quantum of Solace, where the plot made even less sense than the title.

I can also say that it’s not even the worst Daniel Craig Bond film I’ve ever seen.

However, this is the one that pissed me off the most. Quantum may have been bad (and it was), and their editing gave me vertigo, but this? This! Gah!

Let’s start with the good elements, it’s a short list.

  1. The bit players were great. M, Moneypenny, and Q were quite enjoyable.  Even “C” was entertaining, played by Sherlock‘s Moriarty, Andrew Scott, who is for once, UNDERacting — and you know he was hired by the Bond people because they particularly wanted to have him fall from a great height, to his death … because they didn’t kill him like that in The Reichenbach Fall, and the Bond people rectified that.

…. There is no good point number two. No. Really. Avoid this. Run away. If you want to read the rest of the review, I hope it’s to see my head explode all over the blog post.

As for the rest of the film, it sucks. It’s dreadful. It’s confusing. And worst of all, it’s BORING.

The plot is mindnumbing: Judi Dench’s M (via DVD) has one last mission for Bond, from beyond the grave. She wants Bond to kill someone, then show up at the funeral to see what happens. Bond goes, seduces the widow (Monica Bellucci) of the man he just assassinated (because Bond), and is pointed to a secret meeting of Spectre. This will lead to the Bond girl of the day to find out more. She is of course kidnapped.At this point, I start having major problems.

When the Bond girl du jour is kidnapped from a clinic that looked like it should be owned by Telly Savalas in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, Bond chases the bad guys’ three car caravan with a plane. Yes. he’s using a plane to chase cars. Now, I’ve seen Bond films where Bond is using only one ski while racing down a snowy mountain, or where Bond is chasing someone through the streets of Moscow on a tank, or even James Bond chasing after an airplane with a motorcycle as it flies off of a cliff, and Bond has to catch the plane in free fall…

And yet, somehow, those chases feel far less absurd than this chase with the plane.

Also, those chases were at least entertaining.

The editing is terrible. At least, I presume it’s editing, and not just a terrible script. One moment, we see Bond standing in front of a clinic in the Alps as the villains drive away, and the next, he’s in an airplane flying after them.

Where was the plane? No idea.

Did we see it at all in the film before it appeared chasing after the bad guys? Nope. We didn’t see it anywhere on the screen before Bond materializes in the air, chasing after the bad guys.

Does anyone explain where this plane comes from? Not at all.

It gets worse later on. James Bond escapes from an empty, abandoned, gutted building set for demolition …. by riding out on a perfectly good and usable speed boat that’s apparently just left under the building. Yup. Apparently, speed boats are so disposable, it was just left there.

This problem, of course, doesn’t stop there. I’m assuming that there had been a complete story here, but you couldn’t tell from the film. Spectre should be about … SPECTRE. Again, I merely presume it’s the same one from the original Bond films. But we don’t know.

What does this Spectre do? They’re … bad guys. I think. Professional bad guys.

Do they have a purpose? No idea.

Any goals? Not really.

In this movie, Spectre is going to link in and control every intelligence network across the planet … what are they going to do with it? No idea. If they’re terrorists, what are they going to do with it?

Now, I know that the original Spectre name stood for the SPecial Executive for Counter-intelligence, Terrorism, Revenge and Extortion … but not here. No one explains.

In the words of the Nostalgia Critic: EXPLAIN, MOVIE! JUST EXPLAIN!

Oh, wait, I forgot. there is actually a goal for Spectre … to make James Bond’s life miserable.

Yes, really.

In this version of reality, when Bond’s parents died, young Bond went to live with a friend of his father’s. The family he was adopted by had another child. This kid didn’t like how Bond had taken all of the attention from him. So, this kid faked his death, formed Spectre, and adopted the new name, Ernst Stavro Blofeld.

Yes, you read that right. Blofeld’s sole purpose in life, and in this series, was to make James Bond’s life miserable. He became a supervillain and terrorist mastermind because he had daddy issues

That was about the point I called bullcrap.

It, of course, gets better. Sam Mendes (the director) and company made an attempt to link all of the Danial Craig films together by having Spectre tie in to all of the previous bad guys. This Blofeld even claims credit for every dead Bond girl.  EVERY. SINGLE. LAST. ONE … though the how of all of this is decidedly unexplained.

How did he kill these women or know they were important to Bond? No idea.

How did he make the first girl kill herself? Must be magic.

How were the previous bad guys connected to Spectre? They just were, now shut up.

How did we know this? Because Q scanned a ring and a fingerprint into a laptop, and he knew it.

How did tie them all together, given that Spectre hadn’t been known, hinted at, or even discussed before this film? Who cares, we’re about to blow something else up!

Yes, but–

Shut up, it’s a Bond film, “It’s not supposed to make sense.”

BS.

No, seriously, did Blofeld decide to become a supervillain before, or after Bond became a spy. Because otherwise, what would have happened if Bond had become an accountant? Would Blofeld have joined the IRS? Or would he had created Spectre, and dedicated his life to screwing up the accounts of Bond’s clients?

Every halfway decent Bond film has had the villain explain, in perfect detail, exactly what his intentions are, with a fairly good description of the how and why of it. Sure, the plots were insane, but they usually at least tried to spell out what they were doing, why they were doing it, and what their goal was. Whether or not it was starting a nuclear war, creating a Utopia on a Bioshock-like underwater city (or a space station), or holding the world hostage in exchange for amnesty.

The scriptwriters at least tried.

This? Spectre will take over MI-6 and their intelligence network. Why? No idea. For what purpose? Because Bond is a spy, and therefore Blofeld will be his boss? I don’t know. I honestly don’t know. And why? Blofeld has daddy issues.

Hans Gruber is a better super villain than this.

 

But, it’s a Bond film. Who cares that it doesn’t make sense? Surely, the action must have been good, right?

No. Not at all.

The opening takes place in Mexico City during the day of the dead. The colors are so muted, they might as well have filmed in Sepia (which they may have). I’ve seen Mexico more colorful in Once Upon a Time in Mexico  (a better and more coherent movie than this). During this sequence, a building blows up during an exchange of gunfire. What blew up? Great question. Ask the writer.

We then had a fist fight in an out-of-control helicopter. They rolled it, had it do a loop over a crowd of people, and it was all boring.

Now, Mexico’s isn’t the only mysterious explosion. Bond blows up the main headquarters for Spectre by shooting a single pipe.  Yes, whoever built the gas mains for Spectre was the same contractor who designed the Death Star. How did Bond know how to do this? Must have been his magical engineering degree we never heard about.

This film ends by Bond driving off into the sunset, presumably to stay with the lead actress of the film, Léa Seydoux. Lea declares that she loves Bond … perhaps because their personalities can be summed up as “blonde.” I would say that Daniel Craig did a great impersonation of wood, but you can at least believe that a block of wood was alive at one point. The chemistry between our leads boiled down to the fact that they were equally bland.

Dave Bautista played an assassin for Blofeld, and he had more personality than Bond did, though he only had ONE WORD OF DIALOGUE IN THE WHOLE FILM. Andrew Scott would have made a better Blofeld (his character was certainly more interesting). Again, additional congratulations to Ralph Fiennes, Ben Whishaw, and Naomie Harris on managing to lend their characters personalities in a film decidedly lacking in any.

Also, they spent a quarter of the film just showing us scenery? “Oh look, desert. And more desert. Maybe some snow.  And more snow.  Isn’t it so very white and snowy?” Or perhaps, “See Bond. See Bond drive. Drive, Bond. Drive!” (or walk, or stand there)

Hi, Mister Mendes, you could have used those minutes and used it to, I don’t know, explain what was going on!

By the time I was done with Spectre, I immediately put in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, and saw just how glaring the differences were. For one, the movie had COLOROn Her Majesty’s Secret Service had character, good banter, and could intercut dialogue, plot, and scenery ALL AT THE SAME TIME. This is something Sam Mendes should probably learn how to do. I watched Telly Savalas deliver a clear, concise summary of what he had in mind, with panache and style. I then realized just how badly Spectre had cast Blofeld. Heck, I would have taken Ian McShane, but that would have cut out all the daddy issues they felt was so imperative to the plot.

All-in-all, Spectre burned all of the credit that Skyfall had earned with me. Mendes created an overly-complicated mess out of a franchise that deals in simple and straightforward. They took a colorful character and filmed it in sepia. They had a good actress in Monica Bellucci, and not only did she disappear from the film, never to even be mentioned again, they focused on Léa Seydoux, who delivered a performance so lifeless, she made Denise Richards in The World is Not Enough look believable as a nuclear scientist.

In short, I’d rather watch Woody Allen’s Casino Royale than Spectre.

About Declan Finn

Declan Finn is the author of Honor at Stake, an urban fantasy novel, nominated for Best Horror in the first annual Dragon Awards. He has also written The Pius Trilogy, an attempt to take Dan Brown to the woodshed in his own medium -- soon to be republished by Silver Empire Press. Finn has also written "Codename: Winterborn," an SF espionage thriller, and it's follow-up, "Codename: Winterborn." And "It was Only on Stun!" and "Set To Kill" are murder mysteries at a science fiction convention.
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