Monday, November 9, 2015


Bond is back. In the capstone to Daniel Craig's run, we see him confront his most classic enemy, Ernst Stavro Blofeld, the head of the shadowy Spectre. And, in a detail that I missed in the trailers, the political machinations of Max Denbigh, aka "C", better know to us Sherlock fans as James Moriarty. (I may have squeed a bit when he first came on screen, but you can't prove it.)

Short version: This is an excellent finish to the Craig Bond. It takes the style and plots built up over the last few movies and ties them up into a nice bow. While I still prefer Skyfall, Spectre is a solid film that I would be happy to watch several times (unlike, say, Quantum of Solace). The fact that Bond actually had a strong supporting cast helps tremendously.

From the moment he appeared in Casino Royale, it was clear that Daniel Craig was going to be a different sort of Bond. He was hard, cold, and ruthless. The gadgets and one-liners were minimized. The plots were complex and the villains intelligent. And he worked against M more often than with her (or, now, him).

Spectre continues that trend in spades. Bond is no longer even billed as a spy. He is an assassin, pure and simple. He opens the movie with an unsanctioned (or is it?) kill, a move for which he is benched. Obviously, that command lasts barely as long as it takes Bond to leave M's office. But, as Bond uncovers more and more of an international plot (combining the classic Illuminati-style organization with the recurring British fear of the surveillance state) and M loses more and more political ground to C, his off-books activities gain a great deal of unofficial approval.

(Though one thing I did wonder about was his bank account. As per normal, he travels a LOT. And he leaves a tremendous wake of damage, particularly in Tangier and on the train. If he's off-book, how is he covering these bills? I suppose we aren't supposed to ask about these details in a Bond movie.)

There were many things about this movie that I loved. The easiest place to start is with the actors. Everyone from Craig to Fiennes to Scott to Waltz was on their A-game. Bellucci, Bautista, Ben Whishaw, Naomie Harris, and Lea Seydoux were each fabulous as well. (Even if I did keep wanting Lea Seydoux to be Natalie Dormer. But I suppose two Moriartys was too much.) Even in a world where everyone had been taught to maintain a grim control of their expressions, there was a lot of emotion spilling across the screen.

The action was also well up to Bond's standards. The car chase was a great combination of tense and funny. The plane vs Land Rovers was filled with the kind of crazy stunts we crave. The fighting, shooting, and explosions were exciting and visceral.

Unfortunately, that starts to lead into some of the things I didn't love. Bond movies have a very definite formula. Usually, that works to the movie's advantage, as the director doesn't have to think about the grand structure, and can focus on the details. Here, though, the director (or possibly the writer) seemed determined to fight the formula, without the freedom to actually deviate from it. So the action sequences appeared exactly when you expect, and resolve exactly how you expect, but the beats get shaken up just enough that the ride doesn't feel familiar. And this isn't in a fun, novel way like a new roller coaster. It's more like an old roller coaster you've ridden dozens of times, but that is now missing a wheel. It bumps and slides at odd times, making you nervous and uncertain as to when you should scream.

Similarly, there were a great many weird subplots that arrived, wandered about on set for a bit, and then just casually drifted into the background. Monica Bellucci had criminally little screen time, and was waved off with a token Felix Leiter reference. We know literally nothing about Hinx (Dave Bautista's assassin character, that I'm not sure is ever even named in the dialogue) except that he has the moxie to crash a Spectre meeting and the skills to go toe-to-toe with Bond. The SmartBlood had absolute oodles of potential, but in the end was nothing special. And even the revealed connection between Bond and Blofeld felt rushed and poorly explained (and had zero emotional impact for Bond beyond, "Huh, I know that guy").

I also want to go on at great length about my problems with the ending. From the way C loses to the way the trap is set for Bond to the crazy way he takes down Blofeld, so many things didn't feel right. But, of course, all of that is super spoiler-y. If you want to discuss it, leave a comment, and I'll reply in a while when I feel the spoiler horizon has been crossed.

As for my normal feminism commentary, I'll skip it. It's Bond. It's better than usual, but it still plays to the old schtick of "dominant misogynist makes women swoon". And, no, it does not pass either Bechdel or Mako Mori. Quelle surprise.

Ultimately, I still give this movie a thumbs-up. If you like Bond, go see it. As one friend put it, "I could watch Ralph Fiennes and Andrew Scott debate the future of global intelligence for hours." Whatever flaws the script may have had, the acting more than makes up for.

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