Film Review: ‘Spectre’

Spectre James Bond
Courtesy of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Pictures/Columbia Pictures

After the more personal exertions of 'Skyfall,' this sleek Bond outing gets back to business without breaking a sweat.

“The dead are alive” are the very first words printed onscreen in “Spectre,” the 24th and far-from-last James Bond adventure. It’s a statement that could be viewed as a pre-emptive spoiler, a sly double-bluff or a swaggering boast from a death-defying franchise that, following the soaring success of “Skyfall,” couldn’t be in ruder health. Sam Mendes’ second consecutive Bond outing again passes its physical with flying colors: Ricocheting from London to Rome to Morocco across action sequences of deliriously daft extravagance, the pic accumulates a veritable Pompeii of mighty, crumbling structures. What’s missing is the unexpected emotional urgency of “Skyfall,” as the film sustains its predecessor’s nostalgia kick with a less sentimental bent. A wealth of iconography — both incidental and integral — from the series’ founding chapters is revived here, making “Spectre” a particular treat for 007 nerds, and a businesslike blast for everyone else. Spectre-cular B.O. awaits, though it remains to be seen whether the “Skyfall” is the limit.

The series-crowning crossover success of “Skyfall” three years ago — yielding not just $1 billion worldwide but breathless reviews, two Oscars and even a BAFTA for best British film — places “Spectre” in a tricky returning position. The franchise may have been a consistent performer over 53 years, but never before has it been saddled with the prestige-pic expectations that the new film is now notionally expected to meet. With Mendes’ tony cachet once more in place (minus the co-piloting of revered d.p. Roger Deakins), and a hefty (if not entirely justified) runtime of 148 minutes, “Spectre” outwardly appears to be shooting for equivalently grandiose status.

Yet even before the opening credits are cued up (accompanied by Sam Smith’s dreary, melody-averse theme song, thankfully the least propulsive thing here), one senses that Mendes and producers Michael G. Wilson and Barbara Broccoli have, somewhat paradoxically, set out to surprise by resetting the status quo — albeit with a few administrative complications. The death of Judi Dench’s M at the climax of “Skyfall” raised the personal stakes for the usually impermeable Bond in a fashion that can’t be automatically repeated one installment later.

The indefatigable agent’s solution, and in turn the film’s, is to get stoically back to work almost as if if nothing had happened, and let the baggage emerge where it may. And while Daniel Craig’s reputation as the series’ sternest Bond stands intact when the ride — rumored to be his last — is over, his half-smile count is higher than usual. A handful of wily quips, meanwhile, point to the addition of rough-and-tumble Brit playwright Jez Butterworth to the sturdy “Skyfall” writing team of John Logan, Neal Purvis and Robert Wade.

Consequently, there’s a little more room in “Spectre” for Bond’s customary hobbies — globe-trotting, red-blooded lady-killing and cold-blooded not-lady-killing — than in the comparatively contemplative “Skyfall.” The tone is set by an enthrallingly, expensively ludicrous opening sequence, set in Mexico City on the Day of the Dead, that ranks among the great 007 intros. Weaving through the jubilant masses, Hoyte van Hoytema’s dust-veiled camera alights on Bond in masked skeleton costume, luring a local bombshell (“Miss Bala’s” Stephanie Sigman) back to his hotel room before the quickest of quick changes finds him suited, booted and planting a hit on venal Italian mafioso Sciarra (Alessandro Cremona) from the rooftop. Cue explosions, architectural carnage and vertigo-inducing physical combat in a helicopter careering perilously over the city’s crowded Zocalo square.

The narrative takeaway from all this eye-popping activity turns out to be rather puny: In winning the fistfight, Bond secures his opponent’s ring, engraved with a telling insignia. It’s a typically circuitous outcome in a film that, certainly in its MacGuffin-stacked opening hour, feels somewhat underplotted: Large expanses of “Spectre” play as diverting but diversionary action travelogue, as one transitory character in an exotic locale leads our hero to another, in pursuit of opponents who don’t really get to bare their teeth until the halfway mark.

Back in London, Bond is grounded for his unauthorized Mexican hijinks by Ralph Fiennes’ exasperated replacement M. The new boss’s crankiness is forgivable, given other professional worries on his plate — most of them involving Brylcreem-slick new MI5 boss Max Denbigh (a splendid Andrew Scott), codenamed C, who is spearheading a reorganization of Britain’s intelligence departments that could see the entire 00 program shut down. Bond considerately stays out of his hair by flagrantly disregarding his orders, jetting off to Rome and, professional that he is, promptly seducing Sciarra’s not-so-grieving widow (an underused Monica Bellucci). While there, he also gains access to a secret meeting of a shady global cooperative, presided over with calmly lethal authority by the mysterious Franz Oberhauser (Christoph Waltz).

With the assistance of his authority-flouting MI6 underlings Moneypenny (Naomie Harris) and Q (Ben Whishaw), and via a brief catch-up with “Casino Royale” and “Quantum of Solace” antagonist White (Jesper Christensen), Bond ultimately makes contact in Austria with Madeleine Swann (Lea Seydoux), a young doctor with a dark past who identifies Oberhauser’s operation as the powerful, terrorism-inclined SPECTRE. That confirms the title’s promised resurrection of a collective enemy that has featured in six previous 007 romps, though none since 1971’s “Diamonds Are Forever.” (Bond buffs, meanwhile, will have been counting the visual nods of SPECTRE’s signature octopus logo up to this point, most of them in the tentacular credit sequence.)

Any further plot revelations would be hazardous. Suffice to say that the unveiling of SPECTRE cues a modern-day rewrite of classic Bond mythos, teasing the audience with wry winks to series-affiliated imagery and gimmickry dating back to the Sean Connery era, from white cats to ejector seats. (The 1960s revival isn’t even kept strictly inhouse: One of several breakneck car chases pays passing tribute to “The Italian Job.”) The film finally hits fifth gear when Waltz’s louche villain emerges from the shadows, though he’s not as eerily vivid or playful an opposing presence as Javier Bardem’s Silva in “Skyfall.” The Austrian actor brings his familiar streak of fruity menace to the role, though like much else in “Spectre,” he’s working to match comforting series archetypes rather than transcend them.

That goes equally for the pic’s unsurprisingly superb craft contributions, which admirably demonstrate how the franchise’s technical bar has been raised in the last decade, without sweating much blood on the innovation front. The honey-hued widescreen lensing doesn’t quite aim for the crystalline beauty of Deakins’ “Skyfall” images, but it’s immersive all the same — sometimes recalling the oily, deep-contrast shadows of van Hoytema’s work on last year’s “Interstellar.” Despite switching to 35mm from the previous film’s all-digital lensing, “Spectre” often looks the less refined, harder-textured work, in keeping with its protagonist’s restless, on-the-fly work ethic.

Dennis Gassner’s production design represents the pic’s rather old-fashioned good-versus-evil stance by contrasting oaky Olde English veneer with glassier, ’60s-leaning modernism; Jany Temime’s costume design is largely pragmatic, though an ivory Tom Ford tuxedo gives Craig what should be his most enduring Bond look across the four films, give or take a certain pair of snug swimming trunks. Robust sound design and effects work all keep the pic rattling along without drawing overt attention to themselves; Thomas Newman’s score, on the other hand, could probably stand a little more bombast. Lee Smith’s cutting, while taking some blame for the film’s initial narrative stalling, is crisp and fluid on a scene-to-scene basis.

As for the ensemble, relieved by the script of any impulse to reinvent, everyone on board appears to be having a good time — enjoyment infectious enough to make auds overlook the relative workaday nature of Bond’s final quest. (Bond’s working days are more exciting than most of ours, granted.) Given notably expanded duties this time is Whishaw’s Q (sadly not renamed In-Spectre Gadget for the purposes of this episode), who gets to venture beyond the equipment room with plucky good humor, while reminding the errant agent that not everyone can afford his recklessness: “I have a mortgage and two cats to feed,” he chides sensibly. With Harris and Fiennes also settling amiably into their new MI6 positions, the office seems in safe hands with or without Craig’s anchoring steel.

Film Review: 'Spectre'

Reviewed at Odeon Leicester Square, London, Oct. 21, 2015. MPAA Rating: PG-13. Running time: 148 MIN.

Production

(U.K.-U.S.) A Sony Pictures Entertainment release of an Albert R. Broccoli's Eon Prods. presentation of an MGM, Columbia Pictures production. Produced by Michael G. Wilson, Barbara Broccoli. Executive producers, Callum McDougall. Co-producers, Daniel Craig, Andrew Noakes, David Pope.

Crew

Directed by Sam Mendes. Screenplay, John Logan, Neal Purvis, Robert Wade, Jez Butterworth. Camera (color, widescreen, 35mm), Hoyte Van Hoytema; editor, Lee Smith; music, Thomas Newman; production designer, Dennis Gassner; supervising art director, Chris Lowe; set decorator, Anna Pinnock; costume designer, Jany Temime; sound (Dolby Digital), Stuart Wilson; supervising sound editors, Per Hallberg, Karen Baker Landers; re-recording mixers, Scott Millan, Gregg Rudloff; visual effects supervisor, Steve Begg; visual effects, Industrial Light & Magic, Double Negative, MPC, Cinesite, Peerless, Bluebolt; stunt coordinator, Gary Powell; line producers, Roberto Malerba, Wolfgang Ramml, Zak Alaoui; associate producers, Gregg Wilson, Jayne-Ann Tenggren; assistant director, Michael Lerman; second unit director, Alexander Witt; second unit camera, Jallo Faber, Witt; casting, Debbie McWilliams.

With

Daniel Craig, Christoph Waltz, Lea Seydoux, Ralph Fiennes, Monica Bellucci, Ben Whishaw, Naomie Harris, Dave Bautista, Andrew Scott, Rory Kinnear, Jesper Christensen, Alessandro Cremona, Stephanie Sigman.

Filed Under:

Want to read more articles like this one? SUBSCRIBE TO VARIETY TODAY.
Post A Comment 26

Leave a Reply

26 Comments

Comments are moderated. They may be edited for clarity and reprinting in whole or in part in Variety publications.

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

  1. Rollie says:

    Ok image quality of this one of the most expensive movies of all time. It want just me or a few here but a worldwide phenomenon – very poor image quality in theatres. It seems the multiplex houses dim the bulb on features to extend the life of the bulb! 10 minutes of feckin commercials and a dim bulb! Buh bye!

  2. Chinyere says:

    l’m hankering to see another black villain in James Bond movies. The last one appeared aeons ago in JB’s Live and Let Die. Why the fixation on white guys anyway? I’d like to see this usually powerful, menacing, larger than life character cast as Denzel Washington, Delroy Lindo, Samuel Jackson, Ving Thames or even 50 cent. JB crew, please could you spice things up a notch!

  3. Reggie says:

    I am a true JB fan! But I would have to say that this iteration was horrible. I had a sinking feeling about the film when the opening action scene left me dissatisfied. It was too slow to develop and I actually left the film out of sheer boredom. This should never happen when watching a 007 movie. Definite let down in the aftermath of Skyfall, Quantum, and Casino Royale.

  4. As much as I enjoyed ‘Spectre’, overall, it is a let-down if compared to the sublime ‘Skyfall’, and it seemed Craig was a bit bored maybe in this? Or distracted from various injuries on set?
    The big letdown is this: Why do you get an incredible actor who is a double-Oscar winner in Christoph Waltz to play the ‘villain’, and reduce his part to a near cameo?? Compared to ‘Skyfall’, where Bardem carried the plot all the way through! I think the leaked Sony emails about the issues with the script were more true than not as it is lacking clarity and depth of story. Stephanie Sigman and Monica Bellucci only in one-scene roles? Pity!

  5. lee954 says:

    It was okay, nothing special though, some terrible casting by the way.; far better than Craig’s previous three Bond films, which were awful, especially the dreadful and dreary Skyfall.

  6. rolloff says:

    It looked really low res in the theatre I saw it in. Umatic blown up to 35 – ghastly!

  7. jay says:

    This was a really wordy and “difficult read” review – I’d suggest you don’t quite the day job or actually, go look for one.

  8. nick says:

    i dont know if most are bond enthusiasts or not… i read comments about craigs bond movies being boring, but obviously bond had to come from somewhere, so it was important to develop the character… he was rough, dark, hurt and haunted…i suspect that moving forward (if they decide to make more) that it will hark back to the days of Connery.. stylish, slick, smooth.

  9. charlesbeale says:

    The ‘bond’ between reality and the Hollywood movie industry has never been more bizarre or thinner. This most up to date version of Bond is predictable and trite in its calculations and screen presence.The film industry is now bankrupt of ideas and the latest Bond is no exception.

  10. Regular Guy says:

    “…production design represents the pic’s rather old-fashioned good-versus-evil stance by contrasting oaky Olde English veneer with glassier, ’60s-leaning modernism; Jany Temime’s costume design is largely pragmatic, though an ivory Tom Ford tuxedo gives Craig what should be his most enduring Bond look across the four films, give or take a certain pair of snug swimming trunks…”

    Just pass the beer nuts, man. Seriously, who writes the this stuff? Oscar Wilde?

  11. M says:

    Interstellar was not shot all-digital.

  12. The Suze says:

    Please tell me you did not just say Javier Vardem brings “fruity menace”. Seriously. Please.

  13. JOE S HILL says:

    Just not into Daniel Craig,or MGM’s ideas about the Franchise,because they stink! the last Bond movie i saw,was 2008’s “QUANTUM OF SOLACE”,and it was damn boring,and that was enough for me! i sure
    wish MGM would reinstate United Artists back into the picture,and loose the Sony association,,but since this studio is a co-investor with MGM,that is still a disaster,which forever alters what Metro Goldwyn Mayer was once about,because in the present,they suck,and highly! i sure won’t waste my money on anymore Bond movies,especially since they’ve lost their value in this present century-i’ll just stick to the classic Bonds,,they’re WAY better then this shit,claiming to be a Bond movie!!

    • Steve T Mountain says:

      that’s simply because you saw the stinker of this franchise. Like not buying another GM product because your ’05 Chevy was a disappointment

  14. H.M. says:

    The last Mission Impossible film was so unexpectedly good to me and Sean Harris was so fabulous as the villain in it that I felt I had been in a pseudo Bond universe from it and was quite satisfied already. And honestly, the Spectre trailer nor Christopher Waltz’ exposed scenes in it thrilled me. I still enjoyed Craig’s first Bond the most. Skyfall 2nd and Quantum a boring mess made too quickly & haphazardly to reap the prior films bold launch.

  15. niki says:

    going to see this film…and filmed on kodak…great!

  16. Lara says:

    I would`ve gone to see this no matter what, but I`m happy to hear it`s so good nonetheless.

  17. stevenmillan says:

    Nice to know that SPECTRE will be yet another modern James Bond classic to look forward to.

  18. stevenkovacs says:

    Will I rush out to see ‘SPECTRE’? Hell, yes! 👍🏻💥

  19. neil the turd says:

    I’m so excited I can’t seem to hide it. My life now has meaning.

  20. GoldenBalls says:

    Skyfall was the peak, no need to reinvent. More of the same hopefully. Worries me the addition of more Moore-ish humour. Bond purists should try and celebrate the Bond of the books instead of the Octopussy Diamonds are Forever rubbish.

    • Daniel says:

      Diamonds Are Forever was Connery’s last. But I understand your remake about the need for groan-worthy quips. The one from the trailer when Bond quips about needing an ‘overdue holiday’ when asked by an infuriated M what he was doing in Mexico is hopefully the kind of humour kept to a minimum.

  21. Bill says:

    That would be “Spectre,” not “Scepter.”

  22. allyallcanfrakoff says:

    shut up no one cares what you think

More Film News from Variety

Loading