Sunday, November 29, 2015

Film Review: Spectre

"Spectre" *** 1\2 (out of ****)

Bond is Back!

Yes, secret agent 007 James Bond is back on another mission, in this, the 24th Bond adventure, "Spectre" (2015). But, James Bond is also back as the James Bond I remember from my childhood in the vastly superior Bond adventures starring Sean Connery and Roger Moore, such as "Dr. No" (1962) and "The Spy Who Loved Me" (1977).

I have not really warmed up to Daniel Craig as James Bond nor have I warmed up to the modern preoccupation Hollywood has taken to examine Bond and re-invent the character and the series and help audiences understand who James Bond is. What makes him tick? Why isn't he nicer to women? Did his mommy and daddy love him enough? It was and is all a lot of balderdash to me. I don't care to watch a psychological examination of Bond.

That is what makes "Spectre" so much fun for me to watch. "Spectre" is the best Bond movie Daniel Craig has starred in. I like it for all the reasons the American sheep (movie critics) won't. It is the first movie Craig has starred in which almost follows the classic Bond formula started in "From Russia With Love" (1963) and perfected in "Goldfinger" (1964). There is very little psycho analysis of who is James Bond? "Spectre" is about the mission. It is all action with James Bond thrown in the middle. It is the most fun I have had watching a James Bond movie since Pierce Brosnan starred in "The World Is Not Enough" (1999).

However for today's younger, more inexperienced, and desperately wanting to be "modern" audiences (and some critics), these are all the reasons to bash "Spectre". It is taking a step backwards they will say. It is following tradition. Audiences don't get to hear about "mommy issues". That's not right! We need further understanding of Bond! That's also why the sheep haven't celebrated "Spectre" the same way they did the previous Bond movie "Skyfall" (2012) or Craig's first movie as Bond, "Casino Royale" (2006).

Daniel Craig still lacks the charisma and sexual playfulness to play James Bond though. He is just too rough around the edges (another reason the sheep first said they liked Craig in the role). Mr. Craig is better suited to play a standard action hero. He simply doesn't have the posh to play James Bond. Of course, considering the direction the series has been taken in, the re-imaging of James Bond doesn't have charisma. This James Bond is brooding and moody. He is dealing with the lost of a woman he loved very much, giving Liberals what they always wanted, a more sensitive Bond. One which shows emotions and understands women are more than sex objects. If you are old enough you will remember James Bond represented everything feminist were against in the 1960s (the decade James Bond was introduced to the public) and 70s (when the "sensitive male" was briefly in fashion).

As I first began watching "Spectre" I was having a mixed reaction. "Spectre" is reportedly, the most expensive James Bond movie of all time. It shows. There is an opening sequences in which a building explodes and falls on top of another building. This kind of thing would never happen to Sean Connery. Yes, they lacked the computer graphics to do something like that in the 1960s, but it emphasizes what's wrong with Mr. Craig's Bond and movies in general. Everything is over done. Movies are just big, splashy, expensive spectacles to sit and watch. The Sean Connery and Roger Moore Bond movies are still enjoyable to watch today some 30 to 40 years later. They weren't made on a $300 million dollar budget, they just had good stories.

I was also worried when we hear the opening theme song of the movie, sung by Sam Smith, called "Writing's On the Wall", it seems to be another analysis of James Bond and unmasking him. More of the same, more of what I don't like about recent James Bond movies. The song is however nowhere near as good as "Skyfall" sung by Adele. That was the best Bond song since "The World Is Not Enough".

What is more interesting about the movie's credits is it shows images of previous Bond movies starring Mr. Craig. This is something I have not seen in a Bond movie since "On Her Majesty's Secret Service" (1969). On one hand it creates a sense of nostalgia but also feels like the final piece to a puzzle. The four Bond movies Mr. Craig has starred in follow a story arc. "Spectre" directly references "Skyfall" and throws in brief mention of "Quantum of Solace" (2008) and "Casino Royale". All four movies are connected. If viewers are to re-watch the Bond movies which star Mr. Craig, watching them all together in the order of their release would be the way to go and may have even been the original intention. There have been some rumors circulating "Spectre" will be the last movie Daniel Craig stars in as Bond. It would make a lot of sense. I don't know where else there is to go with the story arc that has been created. And, it would allow Mr. Craig to go out with a bang, in the best movie of his Bond series.

In "Spectre" we are still dealing with the same issues first presented in "Skyfall". The "00" division of the secret service is on the brink of collapsing. Having agents on the ground seems so out-of-date when governments are able to watch the actions of all citizens through e-mails, security cameras, browsing engines, cellphones..ect. Does the world need James Bond? If there is a threat to society, we can easily drop a drone. The era of James Bond and those like him have come to an end, right?

That is what Max Denbigh (Andrew Scott) believes, a British government official, who hopes nine countries will join together in a global surveillance program. This puts a lot of pressure on M (Ralph Fiennes), James Bond's superior. He needs Bond to keep a low profile, which will be difficult to do as Bond has his own agenda. Bond is in Mexico City, following an assassin the previous M (Judi Dench) instructed him to. It may all lead to a secret organization called Spectre, and the head of the group, a man named Blofeld (Christoph Waltz).

On his search Bond meets Dr. Swann (Lea Seydoux), what ever happened to Bond girl names like Pussy Galore? Did Liberals object because they deemed such names as degrading towards women? Dr. Swann knows all about Spectre, as her father was a member of the group. Bond made a promise to Dr. Swann's father that he would protect her if she would lead him to Spectre.

One of my favorite scenes in the entire movies involves Bond meeting Lucia Sciarra (Monica Bellucci). She is the wife of the assassin Bond was chasing in Mexico City. Bond needs information from her. He needs to know who the man reported to. She is supposed to be a grieving widow at this point but Bond starts caressing her, kissing her neck and the more he does it, the more she talks. Notice what is happening here. The two are engaged in foreplay but they aren't having dirty talk. Bond is arousing her, extracting information. Once he gets the information he cannot stop the foreplay, then it would be too obvious as to his intentions and what he was after. It was never about the woman or sex. It is always about the mission. It is always about information.

The in 1940s American films featured a femme fatale. Women that manipulated men, often into committing murder. Women were able to manipulate the men with sex. Bond is a homme fatale. He manipulates women with sex too. If Bond can distract women with sex, he catches them off guard and gets what he wants, information.

Pay attention to the opening sequence in Mexico City. Bond is in a hotel room with a beautiful woman but leaves the room through the window. Some in the audience laughed at this moment. But what is implied is, Bond needed to get to the roof of the building. The woman had a room on the top floor. The woman is ready to have sex with him but Bond is on a mission. So, he follows her to her room, he enters and leaves. No time for the lady.

As was the case with "Skyfall", these movies are playing catch-up with what the audience already knows, after watching all the previous Bond movies. In "Skyfall" a new M was presented (Mr. Fiennes), Q (Ben Whishaw) and Moneypenny (Naomie Harris). In "Spectre" these characters are now given the tradition roles audiences expect them to play. Audiences also already know what Spectre is and the man behind it. This makes "Spectre" feel like a prequel to all the Bond movies we have already seen, especially the first one starring Sean Connery, "Dr. No", which is exactly what I wrote after I saw "Skyfall".

This all creates a lot of nostalgia. The movie may have the intention of creating nostalgia for the previous movies starring Mr. Craig, but, my nostalgia was for the Bond movies of the 1960s and 70s. Those movies, by comparison, look better and better.

I understand why Hollywood originally had the asinine idea to re-invent James Bond. There had been 20 movies made by the time Mr. Craig played the role and some may have felt the formula was growing tired. Audiences could, admittedly, predict the series of events. The movie starts off with Bond on a mission in a cliffhanger, title sequence, Bond reports to M, learns of new assignment, Bond meets with Q to receive equipment, meets the villain in a social situation...ect. The problem for me personally is, I never had an issue with the formula. Some Bond movies are better than others. You know why? Some followed the formula better than others. Don't criticize the formula, learn it.

Will audiences like "Spectre"? I think so. I saw the movie with a pretty large crowd and one could sense the enthusiasm in the room. Some people even applauded at the end of the picture. Perhaps there are people out there that feel the way I do. Enough with the mental state of Bond and more of Bond being Bond.

If I do object to anything in "Spectre" it is the running time. The movie clocks in at just under 2 hours and 30 minutes, making it the longest James Bond movie to date. You really don't need a Bond movie to be that long. There have been Bond movies that were under two hours. "Spectre" doesn't have a two-and-a-half hour story. What makes the movie so long is special effects action scenes and some repetitive dialogue.

"Spectre" is a nice attempt to return to the Bond of old. The better Bond. Daniel Craig may have ended his reign as Bond with a bang.