Movie Review: SPECTRE

After the critically-acclaimed, highest grossing Bond movie ever, Spectre was destined to have a difficult time living up to Skyfall. Much in the same way Quantum of Solace had to follow the vastly superior Casino Royale. Despite problems during production (script leaks, Daniel Craig’s noticeable boredom, etc.), there’s still plenty to like about Spectre. Also quite a bit to feel like it underachieved.

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This most recent Bond flick starts out the way God intended. With the classic gunbarrel sequence finally at the very beginning of a Daniel Craig-James Bond movie. The pre-title sequence takes place in Mexico City during the “Day of the Dead.” From the opening one-shot track in the middle of the hectic parade, to a building being blown up, to Bond fighting inside an out-of-control helicopter… this is the best pre-title sequence in the Craig era and IMHO one of the best in the entire franchise. Bond is south of the border to carry out an unauthorised mission to stop a terrorist bombing plot. We later learn Bond’s orders came from his beloved, deceased “mum”/”ma’am”/M (Judi Dench). Bond confronts his prey, Marco Sciarra, grabs his fancy organization ring, and kills him by kicking him out of the helicopter. That leads us to Sam Smith’s dull “Writing’s On The Wall” theme, which won an Oscar for Best Song for some odd reason. The title credits had a little too much soft-core octopus-porn for my taste.

Returning to London, Bond is suspended from field duty by the new M (Ralph Fiennes) for the destruction he caused in Mexico City. M is about to lose his job to wormy Max “C” Denbigh (Andrew Scott), the head of a new privately backed spy agency, that intends to use drones and cameras instead of the pre-historic 00-section.  After a humorous meeting with Q (Ben Whishaw), Bond goes rogue (shocker, right?) and travels to Rome to attend Sciarra’s funeral. He seduces Sciarra’s widow, Lucia, played by the underused Monica Bellucci. She tells Bond all about the mysterious criminal organization that her husband belonged too. Bond uses the ring to infiltrate their meeting, where he witnesses a massive mountain of a man (Dave Bautista) crush a man’s skull and sees a familiar face as the group’s leader. What follows next is an underwhelming car chase through the streets of Rome and Vatican City at night, with Bond’s new Aston Martin vs a Jaguar.

This leader, Franz Oberhauser (Christoph Waltz), has an assassination order for the “Pale King”. Moneypenny (Naomie Harris) informs Bond that the Pale King is Mr. White, a former member of the organization’s subsidiary Quantum. Bond asks her to investigate Oberhauser, whom he presumed dead years earlier. Bond finds Mr. White in a snowy village in Austria, where he learns that White is dying. He tells Bond to find and protect his daughter, Dr. Madeline Swann (Léa Seydoux), who will take him to L’Américain. He commits suicide after wishing Bond good luck. Bond goes to the clinic where Swann works and has to rescue her from Oberhauser’s henchmen in a snow-plane vs jeeps battle. 007 and Swann meet Q who explains the links between this Oberhauser fellow and Bond’s previous missions. Yes, all four of Craig’s movies are tied together. Le Chiffre, Dominic Greene and Raoul Silva all worked for the same organization, which Swann identifies as SPECTRE. More later on this reversed engineered plot.

Swann takes Bond to L’Américain, which is not a person, but a hotel in Tangier. They find evidence directing them to SPECTRE’s crater base in the Sahara. Taking a train to a remote station, Bond and Swann encounter that gigantic henchmen. Craig and Bautista engage in a train fight almost as good as Sean Connery vs Robert Shaw in From Russia With Love. It’s one of Spectre’s best highlights. After Bond disposes of the hulking beast, he and Swann go to the base. Oberhauser reveals that he has been staging terrorist attacks around the world, and funding Max “C” Denbigh’s new spying agency in order to control world-wide surveillance. Bond is tortured as Oberhauser and tells Swann all about how when James was an orphan, Oberhauser’s father became his temporary guardian. Believing that young James supplanted his role as son, Franz later killed his father and staged his own death. This timeline gets fuzzy and the movie doesn’t do an adequate job of explaining it all. For some reason, he adopted the new name Ernst Stavro Blofeld based on his mother’s bloodline. He went on to form SPECTRE and make his longterm target James Bond. Or as he puts it… the author of all his pain. Bond uses his watch to blow up the room and escape with Madeleine, destroying the base in a huge explosion and assumes Oberhauser/Blofeld has died in the blast.

Bond and Swann return to London where they meet M, Q, and Moneypenny with the intention of arresting “C” and stopping his spying network from being activated. Swann and Bond are abducted separately, while the rest of the group proceed with the plan. After Q succeeds in preventing the program from going online, a struggle between M and C ends with C falling to his death. Bond is taken to the ruins of the old MI6 building, scheduled for demolition after Silva’s bombing in the film Skyfall. He encounters a disfigured Blofeld, who tells him that Bond must escape before explosives are detonated or die trying to save Swann. Bond goes on a mad search to find Madeleine and they escape by boat as the building collapses. Bond shoots down Blofeld’s helicopter with his Walther and it crashes onto the Westminster Bridge. As Blofeld crawls from the fiery wreckage, Bond confronts him but decides not to kill him because Madeleine has made James a changed man or something. Bond leaves Blofeld to be arrested by M, then walks away from the scene with Swann. After picking up his fixed Aston Martin DB5 from Q, Bond and Madeleine drive off together to start their new lives. An ending that seems to say “Daniel Craig will NOT be back as 007”, but we know better now.

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Bond’s coolest moment? Craig’s Bond is a bitchy, snarky Bond. So I like when he dismisses Tanner’s helping hand off the boat, and when he briskly walks and talks with Moneypenny and barely looks at her.

Bond’s most embarrassing moment? That car chase in Rome has one too many moments that seem out of place in the Craig era. A while back I wrote that Spectre might be Daniel Craig’s Roger Moore 007 movie. Perfect example.

Bond’s best line? Telling the bartender to throw his health drink down the toilet, to “cut out the middle man.”

Best acting performance? Even though he doesn’t rank up there with Bardem’s Silva or Mikkelsen’s Le Chiffre, I think Waltz does his best as the iconic Bond villain Blofeld.

Bond’s most “sexual predator” moment? Having his way with an Italian widow he barely knows. It’s a very Connery move.

Worst line in the movie? Not so much a bad line, but when M says he knows what “C” stands for…”careless”…let’s just say it’s a missed opportunity. Close second is Swann telling Bond she loves him. Not buying it.

What I noticed for the first time after watching this for the 12th time? It’s implied that Madeleine shot Oberhauser when she was a young girl. I believe so.

Best action sequence? It’s a tie between the helicopter fight and the train fight. Sam Mendes is an underrated action movie director.

Who or what is the title song about? I think it’s Sam Smith singing as Bond and expressing on what he has been missing out on in life. It’s kind of a downer.

Best looking cinematic moment? Pretty much everything in Austria, especially Bond on the lake. It looks like Daniel Craig in The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo sequel we never got.

How could the villain have succeeded? How about not letting a little kid named James Herbert Bond, who you barely knew, get so under your skin that as an adult you make it your life’s goal to ruin his?

Which other Bond actor could have starred in this movie? Really no one else besides Craig. But he is definitely sleepwalking through this. I’m kind of surprised he is coming back for a 5th movie.

Does Bond ever think he might die? He shows actual fear during the train fight. Bond is throwing kitchen items in a desperate attempt to survive.

What would have made the movie better? This might take a while… drop the foster brother stuff. Stick to the original leaked screenplay which had a Bond vs Blofeld deadly poker game rather than that silly torture room scene. Also, the last line of the script is “We have all the time in the world” which would have set up a reboot of On Her Majesty’s Secret Service!

What’s in a name? No alias in this one, unless you count Bond calling himself Mickey Mouse in Italian.

What’s in a title? Spectre falls in the line of naming the movie after a villain or person or organization. Goldfinger, The Man With The Golden Gun, Octopussy, etc.

Drinking game: Take a drink of this every time the word “assassin” is said. Oh and please add some vodka to it… https://youtu.be/U4V4DK_3-Bc

“WTF?!” moment: Did Moneypenny have sex with Max “C” Denbigh? Who was that dark-haired man in her bed when Bond calls her?

Fun fact: Dave Bautista is quite memorable as the henchman Hinx, yet his name is never said throughout the entire film.

Overall ranking: 11th out of 24

Review synopsis: Spectre feels like the “most Bond” type of flick Craig has done. They check off a lot of boxes and that keeps this from being a poor entry in the franchise. But screwing up plot lines and timelines, which now makes Craig’s final turn in 2019 harder to predict, keeps it from being as great as Casino Royale and Skyfall.

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