Features Film

REVIEW: Spectre

Written by Fred McNamara

My mum delights in telling me stories of how, in her youth, you only ever had one cinema per town, with only one, maybe two, screens per cinema, with only two showings of the same film a day. If you missed either the afternoon screening, or the evening screening, you had to try another day. Nowadays, we’re a world away from those antiquated methods of going to the pictures. Today, you have cinemas with at least ten screens with at least six or seven screenings of the same film per day, leaving ample room for everyone in town to go and watch whatever film they wished to see. No matter how many people would visit the pictures, there’s always a free screen with an empty showing. You can’t even say you’re “going to the pictures anymore”, today’s cinemas are so accommodating to the masses that the idea of “going to the pictures”, with its snug overtones, is beyond ancient.

Imagine our frustration then, when last night, my mum and I must have spent half an hour hunting out a parking space in our local cinema’s car park. We crawled through every nook and cranny we could, glaring at all those metallic monsters who’d eaten up every possible space. Even when we did find one, another beast sprang out of nowhere and claimed the space before we could get there! Nevertheless, we did find ourself a space in the end. At last we could get readily excited for the evening’s entertainment!

“Hello, two tickets for Spectre please.”

“The 7:30 showing?”

“Yep!”

“Sorry mate, that one’s sold out. You’ll have to wait an hour for the next one.”

Had we gone back to my mum’s youth? How could the film be sold out at this time? Avengers: Age of Ultron didn’t sell out. Mad Max: Fury Road didn’t sell out. The Martian didn’t sell out. What the hell was going on?

James Bond was going on, that’s what. It’s a testament to the never-ending popularity of the franchise that, in the vast, ten-screen cinema we were at last night, we almost couldn’t see Spectre because of how full the place was. Surely, in that respect, this review is redundant. People will always go and see James Bond, whatever the quality of the film in question. But was Spectre worth our faffing about worrying we’d miss the screening we had in mind because of car-parking, only to find we’d have to wait an extra hour anyway?

I’d answer a cautious yes. Spectre, the twenty-fourth entry in the James Bond franchise, is a mysterious and exotic take on contemporary Bond. Out of the gloom-ridden Skyfall comes an adventure that’s in many ways the James Bond film we’ve been promised since Daniel Craig suited up for the role, but it isn’t without its faults.

Spectre opens with an alarmingly deceptive opening sequence. Almost made up of a single tracking shot following Bond in the depths of a Day of the Dead-celebrating Mexico, it includes Bond demolishing an entire street, helicopter fights and the odd bit of canoodling with some unnamed Bond girl. It ticks all the boxes of stellar Bond openings, and sets the tone of the film immediately. That tone is one that’s almost a world away from the previous three entries in the Daniel Craig era. Plot-wise, Spectre can’t be here without Casino Royale, Quantum of Solace and Skyfall, but it’s a Bond film that burns slowly, treads rather than runs and offers something for just about every fan of the James Bond films.

Spectre, obviously, pits James against Blofeld, the devious mastermind who has secretly been orchestrating Bond’s life over the past three films. Teased by a cryptic message from the original M before her passing, Bond goes under the radar on the hunt following her orders to assassinate two men, but the mission doesn’t stop there. His killing of the men takes him deep into a frighteningly dangerous world of organised crime, one who’s leader is all too keen to bring Bond to his knees and wrench his inner demons out from his soul to play merry hell with.

SPECTRE

This is perhaps where Spectre falls a little flat. Spectre strongly suggests that Bond’s tangling with the enemies of Casino Royale, Quantum of Solace, and Skyfall were all the doing of Blofeld, removing those enemy’s individuality somewhat, especially in the case of Silva. That, coupled with what feels like a forced romance between Bond and Dr. Madeline Swan, daughter of Mr. White, suggests that Spectre does its utmost to offer something every Bond fan can enjoy – action, adventure, drama and romance, but in doing do the romance can’t quite feel genuine, and has trouble grounding itself between everything else going on.

Nevertheless, Spectre has man, MANY things to enjoy about it. Director Sam Mendes and writers John Logan, Neal Purvis, Robert Wade and Jez Butterworth craft a story that’s full of exotic oddness. Whilst Blofeld’s involvement in Bond’s life over the past three films may be asking too much of the audience, there’s still a stirring sense of trepidation to Spectre, one of Bond facing an evil that’s beyond his control. It builds and builds with each scene, moulding genuine uncertainty as to what Bond may tackle. For the most part, Spectre keeps you guessing, and keeps you engrossed.

Craig is backed with a fine ensemble cast, although anyone expecting to see Monica Belluci tango with Bond shouldn’t get their hopes up, as her role is curiously and frustratingly small, given how hyped she was for being cast in the film. However, Ralph Fiennes, Ben Whishaw and Naomie Harris are given plenty to do in the film, lending their characters some substance beyond being Bond’s various sidekicks. Léa Seydoux presents a subtle and playful take on the Bond girl, one who’s relationship with Bond does feel like an anticlimax. But the centrepiece here is Christoph Waltz‘s Blofeld. Waltz exudes a delicate menace that we may thankfully see in future films, as, without spoiling things too much, Blofeld remains alive by the film’s end.

Spectre is a curious James Bond film. It’s a film not that really concerned with how tight its story might or might not be, but neither is it overly reliant on its gleefully mysterious mood. Spectre is a perfectly fine Bond film for sure, but it still stands rather unique in the Daniel Craig era. It closes the book on James Bond’s story from Casino Royale onwards, and does so in a warm, deft manner that plays wonderfully against the gritty, straight-faced Skyfall.

Coming off after the 50th anniversary celebrations of Skyfall, Spectre feels like James Bond breaking free from expectation. It’s the most exotic and atmospheric Bond film of the Daniel Craig era and delights in throwing amusing one-liners, gadget-ridden car chases, spellbinding action sequences and stellar performances from its cast all over its two-and-a-half-hours running time. The romance may be the only poorly-executed element here, but everything else flows with graceful ease. Only time can really tell if this will go down as one of the better James Bond films, but all that faffing about in the car park was certainly worth seeing Spectre, as it’s the most extravagant and alien modern Bond has ever been.

Have you seen Spectre yet? What did you make of this oddly exotic Bond? Let us know in the comments section or send us a Tweet!

About the author

Fred McNamara