Thursday, November 5, 2015

Review: "Spectre"

Just a few thoughts today on the new James Bond film. Evan Dossey is handling the main review over at The Film Yap, so head there to read his more complete thoughts.

The Daniel Craig Bond flicks have been defined by their dourness, and while that was a welcome change from the breeziness of the Pierce Brosnan and Timothy Dalton movies -- not to mention the nearly pure comedy of the Roger Moore era -- it's starting to wear down the franchise, like a repetitive stress injury.

Director Sam Mendes is back at the helm again, a rarity in the Bond tradition, but "Skyfall" was the highest-grossing 007 film ever, so if he was game there really wasn't anyone to tell him different. Craig is loudly and publicly musing over whether he wants to play the British agent again, and there's a lot of chatter about Idris Elba or Tom Hiddleston or (insert latest rumor here) sliding into the role.

Without giving anything away, I will say that the ending of "Spectre" is such that it could either neatly wrap up Craig's tenure in the black tuxedo, or set up one final go-round.

It's very much a story of beginnings and endings, with most of the familiar Bond solar system -- M, Q, Moneypenny -- now replaced with fresher faces. James Bond is widely viewed as an anachronism by the British intelligence services, who are more keen on data and satellite imagery and drones than guys wandering around with a license to kill.

The movie for me is more of a Greatest Hits version of James Bond than anything else I've seen. Names and faces of villains and allies from the recent past are recalled and, forcibly, linked to one another. We're told that a sinister organization named Spectre has been behind nearly all the troubles Bond has encountered in recent years, with one shadowy figure at the head of the table.

I'm not giving anything away in saying that Christoph Waltz plays the chief villain, or surprising anyone by stating that he's the best thing about the movie. (You could say that about most films with Waltz.) He plays Franz Oberhauser, a supposedly dead guy with an intimate connection to Bond that I wouldn't divulge.

Suffice to say that rather than pursuing some overarching goal of world domination, Oberhauser -- who also has adopted another, familiar, moniker -- seems to delight in creating chaos and pain for its own sake. Particularly when that pain is Bond's own.

Waltz has surprisingly little screen time, but makes the most of it.

The main "Bond girl" is a bit of a disappointment, the sloe-eyed Léa Seydoux as the daughter of an infamous villain. (Why are so many female characters in spy movies the daughter of somebody important, instead of just being important themselves?) The script, a thinly written affair by a committee of four, doesn't give her much to do but react to Bond's carnivore magnetism. 

Better is Monica Bellucci in an all-too-brief appearance as a recently widowed Italian who gets intimate with the man who made her a widow. Bellucci, still a stunner at 50 -- rendering her the oldest Bond conquest of all -- shows more steel and fire in her few minutes of screen time than Seydoux does in the rest of the movie.

Craig is still a terrific Bond, the best I think aside from Sean Connery, a skilled enough actor to let slip the pain that lies just behind the eyes of the icy killer. And there are a few good action scenes and chases, particularly when Bond mixes it up with Dave Bautista, a Herculean tentacle of Spectre.

"Spectre" is entirely watchable, and parts of it are even thrilling. But there's something missing here, a vital essence that seems to have drained away. This iteration of the Bond legend feels tired, grumpy, chippy. It senses the anticipation for the next thing, even shares it, but isn't quite ready to let go of the Walther PPK and Aston Martin. 

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