Movie Review: James Bond 007: Spectre

James Bond Spectre

SPOILER ALERT: This is a full review with spoilers. Proceed at your own risk if you haven't seen the movie yet.

Over the weekend, I saw Spectre, the twenty-fourth film in Eon Production's James Bond series.

First, some background. In my opinion, Daniel Craig's tenure as Bond has been a mixed bag. Casino Royale was brilliant. Quantum of Solace was dull and convoluted. Skyfall had its moments, but it didn't hang together very well.

My main problem with Skyfall is that the writers/director didn't seem to know whether they wanted the film to be in continuity with the two prior Bond films, a soft reboot, or some kind of standalone alternate universe detour. (We just had Bond's origin story six years before, and now he's over the hill?)

Resolving this conundrum is now impossible, since Spectre clearly establishes that all of the Craig films do indeed take place in the same continuity. But that's Skyfall's problem. I won't hold it against Spectre.

Which is good, because Spectre has enough problems of its own.

Troubled Production
Spectre ran into problems before shooting even began. The film's production suffered multiple and costly setbacks, including uncertainty about the return of director Sam Mendes, assaults by hackers, controversies over filming permits and foreign tax breaks, and massive budget overruns. Due in part to these extra hassles, Spectre is now one of the most expensive films ever made.

Villainous Plot
Bear with me as I try to sum up the plot of Spectre based on one viewing.

Mexico City: Bond chases a terrorist through a Day of the Dead festival. The scumbag tries to flee via helicopter, but 007 boards the aircraft and kills everyone on board with his bare hands. Not a bad start! During the aerial struggle, Bond recovers a ring engraved with a sort-of ghost, sort-of octopus thing.

Back in London, Bond is called on the carpet by M (Ralph Fiennes), who reveals that the shenanigans in Mexico City weren't sanctioned by MI6. We also learn that M's division has merged with MI5, which is headed by a weasely surveillance state quisling called C.

There's a major conference coming up where the intelligence agencies of nine countries will vote on sharing all of their information, and Bond is suspended to keep him out of trouble. For good measure, M has Q (Ben Wishaw) implant 007 with a nanotech tracking device.

Bond skips town anyway, heading to Rome for the Mexico City terrorist's funeral. Because M (Dame Judi Dench) tells him to in a postmortem video message. Bond saves and seduces the terrorist's widow (Monica Belluci), who directs him to a meeting of the secret ghost octopus society her husband belonged to.

The meeting is totally chaired by Blofeld (Christoph Walz), and there's not even any point in pretending that it's not Blofeld, but the movie tries to anyway. There, Bond learns where Mr. White has been hiding since Quantum of Solace. After a car chase that's more like a drag race with one or two obstacles, Bond goes to Switzerland to meet up with White.

It turns out that White was a member of the ghost octopus society, which is really called Spectre (not S.P.E.C.T.R.E.). All of the villains from Craig's previous Bond films are also revealed to have been members. 007 asks where he can find Blofeld and gets a referral to White's estranged daughter, whom he swears to protect. Then White blows his own brains out.

White's daughter is working at a clinic in the Alps. She initially refuses to accompany Bond, but she's forced to accompany a gang of kidnappers from Spectre. Bond saves her in a thrilling plane/car chase, and she agrees to help. At a hotel where she went on family vacations as a kid, they find directions to Blofeld's secret base inside a crater in the desert.

There's an awesome fight aboard the desert train that pays homage to From Russia With Love. Then Bond and Bond Girl arrive at the crater base. A toady invites them to have drinks with Blofeld after freshening up in an homage to Dr. No.

Blofeld comes on screen and monologues. He's still using an assumed name, but the fact that he's using C and the intelligence vote to gain control of the world's top secret information should clue anybody who knows anything about the franchise into the fact that he's Blofeld.

Blofeld reveals that:
  • He's Bond's sort-of foster brother.
  • He killed his own dad because he was jealous of Bond.
  • He's responsible for the deaths of every Bond girl since Casino Royale, including M.
  • His name is Ernst Stavro Blofeld (duh).
Blofeld tortures Bond with some kind of dentist drill/brain surgery device. Bond Girl uses Bond's exploding watch to help them escape. Immediately after suffering brain damage that was stated to affect his balance, Bond mows down a whole platoon of Spectre agents like he's an FPS character on God mode.

Bond returns to London, where he helps M take down C in a weirdly complex sting. But it turns out that Blofeld survived the watch explosion, except now he's got a creepy dead eye scar. Blofeld puts 007 in a Saw-style dilemma where he's got three minutes to either escape a building that's rigged to blow or else look for Bond Girl, who's also trapped in the building.

Blofeld doesn't think that Bond has enough time to find Bond Girl and escape, but he's Bond and he proves Blofeld wrong. Bond shoots down Blofeld's helicopter but decides not to shoot Blofeld--all to fulfill something that M foreshadowed earlier about 00 agents also knowing when not to kill, even though this really seems like a good time to kill somebody.

In the aftermath, Bond quits MI6(?) and steals an Aston Martin DB5, possibly to begin a no doubt tumultuous relationship with Bond Girl.

Overall, Spectre is an OK Bond film. It's full of exciting action set pieces, except for the Rome car chase, which isn't the production's fault since a bunch of historical societies tied their hands out of fear that they'd mess up some old landmarks.

This time, Mendes and company did a much better job integrating classic Bond tropes with post-reboot Craig Bond. It felt like they found the sweet spot that eluded Skyfall. Spectre also manages the difficult feat of cobbling all four Craig films into something resembling a coherent continuity. Of the two films, I prefer Spectre.

Interesting side note: Mendes is the first man to direct back-to-back Bond films since John Glen directed The Living Daylights and License to Kill back in the 80s. Perhaps for this reason, Spectre reminds me greatly of the former of Glen's two films.

The main problem with Spectre is its script. It might be due to the difficult production, but the story is riddled with lazy shortcuts and unnecessary complexity, plot holes, and foreshadowing that's either insufficient or wasted.

Case in point: Blofeld. Having Walz's character use a red herring name until the last act serves no story purpose whatsoever. It would've been more effective just to withhold the character's name entirely until the end. The only reason he isn't called Blofeld from the start seems to be the same kind of metatextual gimmick that Star Trek: Into Darkness shoehorned in so annoyingly with Khan.

On the whole, Spectre is a decent movie that's one more draft short of great. It's too bad, since this might be Craig's last outing as Bond, and it would've been nice to see him go out on a high note.

Worth seeing in the theater if you're a moderate to hardcore Bond fan. Otherwise worth catching when it comes to Netflix.


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