Sunday, July 17, 2016

"SPECTRE" (2015) Review



"SPECTRE" (2015) Review

Following the release of the 2012 movie, "SKYFALL", my interest in the James Bond movie franchise had somewhat dropped. This was due to my negative reaction to the movie. In other words, I disliked it. When I learned that Sam Mendes, who had directed"SKYFALL", would return to direct the franchise's 24th movie, I did not receive the news very well and paid as little attention to the production of this new movie as possible. But . . . my family has never been able to resist the release of a new James Bond movie. So, we did not hesitate to rush to the theaters when "SPECTRE" hit the movie screens. 

Written by John Logan, Neal Purvis, Robert Wade and Jez Butterworth; "SPECTRE" involved James Bond's investigation of the global organization that had ties to the financial terrorist group Quantum, which Bond was pitted against in "CASINO ROYALE" and"QUANTUM OF SOLACE". Before the movie began, Bond had received a posthumous message from the previous "M" (Judi Dench) to The movie began with Bond shadowing a mysterious figure in Mexico City, during the city's Day of the Dead celebration. He is there to kill an assassin named Marco Sciarra, who is plotting a terrorist attack with two other men. Although Bond manages to kill Sciarra and his two colleagues, he is suspended by the new "M" (Gareth Mallory) for conducting an unauthorized mission. Bond disobeys the latter's order and continues his mission set by his former boss, by attending Sciarra's funeral in Rome. There, he not only meets Sciarra's widow, but also stumbles across a new organization called Spectre with ties to his former nemesis, Quantum; but also one Ernst Stravo Blofeld. While "M" finds himself engaged in a struggle against "C", the head of the privately financed Joint Intelligence Service, which consists of the recently merged MI5 and MI6, who wants Britain join a global surveillance and intelligence co-operation initiative between nine countries called "Nine Eyes". However, Bond discovers during his unauthorized investigation of Spectre that the latter might be the instigator of the "Nine Eyes" organization.

I read somewhere that "SPECTRE" was not as well received by filmgoers and some critics as "SKYFALL". Especially in the United States. I had a few problems with "SPECTRE". One, director Sam Mendes continued to shoot actor Daniel Craig as if the latter was a male model. I found this annoying in "SKYFALL" and continued to find it annoying in this film. The character Eve Moneypenny was criminally underused in the movie's final action sequence set in London . . . especially since she was a former field agent. I was not that impressed by the Morocco locations chosen by the movie's producers. I have seen desert locations in previous Bond movies that looked more attractive . . . including "THE LIVING DAYLIGHTS", which was also filmed in that country. I had earlier pointed out Spectre's ties to Quantum, the organization that Bond had battled against in both "CASINO ROYALE" and "QUANTUM OF SOLACE". However, the movie's plot also suggested that the Raoul Silva character from "SKYFALL" also had connections to Spectre. Frankly, I found this somewhat of a stretch, considering that the 2012 movie never hinted any such connection to either Spectre or Quantum. In my review of "SKYFALL", I had pointed out that I found its theme song unmemorable for me. I have to say the same about "Writing's On the Wall", this movie's theme song, which was written and performed by Sam Smith. I would not be able to remember a tune from either movie . . . even if I tried. I have nothing against Léa Seydoux as an actress. But she and star Daniel Craig had very little screen chemistry. Worse, I found their romance rather contrived. There was no real hint of attraction between the two, until the last third of the film, when the pair arrived in Morocco.

Despite these flaws, I still managed to enjoy "SPECTRE" very much. First of all, this movie had a strong narrative with very little plot holes. I also enjoyed how the screenwriters tied the Quantum organization with Spectre. Quantum always seemed to focus more upon financing for warlords like Steven Obanno or military-political figures like General Medrano who needed cash to regain power in a country like Bolivia. It seemed very probable that it would serve as a branch for a terrorist organization like Spectre. In fact, the theme of this entire movie seemed to be about death and ghosts from the past - especially ghosts from Bond's past interactions with Quantum/Spectre since "CASINO ROYALE" (in other words, Craig's tenure). The movie's pre-credit sequence opened with Bond in Mexico City, during the latter's Day of the Dead celebration. The movie's opening credits featured images from past villains, along with the late Vesper Lynd and former "M". I may not have found it memorable, but I am glad to say that the movie's theme song resonated strongly with the plot. Speaking of which, the screenplay also hinted a past connection between Bond and Spectre's leader, Blofeld; which adheres rather well to Bond's orphan past. But what I really enjoyed about "SPECTRE" was that Bond's search for Marco Sciarra and discovery of the Spectre organization was due to a posthumous message from the former "M". Apparently, the lady had decided to use Bond to finish what they had started back in "CASINO ROYALE". How effective of her.

Another aspect of "SPECTRE" that impressed me was the movie's style . . . especially its cinematography. I may have found the Morocco locations lacking in color, but I must admit that Hoyte Van Hoytema's photography did most of them justice. Well, there were two sequences in which the Morocco locations impressed me. One of them featured the arrival of Bond and leading lady Dr. Madeleine Swann's arrival in the city of Tangier. I was also impressed by Van Hoytema's sleek photography of Rome, which was mainly filmed at night. But the one sequence that truly blew my mind was the pre-titled one in Mexico City. Despite being shot with a slight Sepia, the Mexico City sequence was filled with color and real atmosphere. I must admit that Lee Smith's editing, Thomas Newman's exciting score and the mind-boggling action greatly added to Van Hoytem's work. Frankly, I thought it was one of the best shot sequences in the entire Bond franchise.

"SPECTRE" proved to be Daniel Craig's fourth turn in the role of James Bond. And as usual, he knocked it out of the ballpark. A relative of mine once hinted the suggestion that Craig might be the best actor of all those who have portrayed Bond for EON Productions. I will have to give her comment some thought. But I must admit that he has been consistently spot on in his portrayal of Bond. But in this movie, his penchant (or should I say Craig's penchant) for dark humor seemed particularly sharp. I stand by my opinion that the chemistry between Craig and his leading lady, Léa Seydoux, did not strike me as particularly warm. But Seydoux was not the first actress in the franchise who lacked any real chemistry with the Bond actor in question. Her penchant for sullen expressions and pouting did not mesh well with Craig's screen presence. However, I cannot deny that the actress gave a first-rate performance as the guarded Dr. Swann, who turned out to be the daughter of one of Bond's former enemies - Mr. White from"CASINO ROYALE" and "QUANTUM OF SOLACE". It was nice that the screenwriters explored her character's own personal demons regarding her father - especially in one scene in which she viewed a video clip of his death.

Of the four (or possibly five) actors who have portrayed Ernst Stravos Blofeld, Christoph Waltz's interpretation struck me as the most subtle. He did an excellent job of conveying his character's malice, intelligence and penchant for sadism; while projecting a mask of mild amusement. Ralph Fiennes had a most unusual task as the new "M" and I thought he handled it quite well. His character had already been introduced in "SKYFALL" as Gareth Mallory, head of the Intelligence and Security Committee. But in "SPECTRE", he had to portray "M" as someone who is new at his job, which has become under threat by "C" of the Joint Intelligence Service and Bond's penchant for disobeying orders. 

Naomie Harris returned as Eve Moneypenny and I found her performance just as entertaining and first-rate as ever. More importantly, her chemistry with Daniel Craig was as strong as it was in the 2012 movie. Another returnee from "SKYFALL" was Ben Whishaw, who continued his entertaining and sardonic performance as MI-6's Quartermaster, "Q". Whishaw also had a chance to act out a mild adventure in the Austrian Alps in which "Q" is pursued by SPECTRE agents. Jesper Christensen returned for his third appearance in the movie franchise as Quantum agent, Mr. White. As much as I found his appearances in "CASINO ROYALE" and"QUANTUM OF SOLACE" rather interesting, I was very impressed by his more complex portrayal as the dying former operative, who was willing to cooperate with Bond for the safety of his daughter. It was a treat to see Dave Bautista again, who portrayed SPECTRE assassin, Mr. Hinx. I found his performance effectively menacing and really added a great deal to the movie's fight scenes. But a part of me felt slightly disappointed that he had only a few lines in the movie, especially since I found his performance in 2014's "GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY" so impressive. The movie also featured solid performances from the likes of Rory Kinnear, Monica Bellucci, Alessandro Cremona and Andrew Scott, who struck me as particularly creepy as the head of the Joint Intelligence Service, "C".

What else can I say about "SPECTRE"? The movie restored my faith in the Bond movie franchise. Despite some flaws, I enjoyed it so much that I would probably rank it among my top ten Bond movies, thanks to director Sam Mendes, the movie's screenwriters and a cast led by the always talented Daniel Craig.




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