Review: Spectre

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Interconnectivity in cinematic storytelling has its limits. Long form storytelling has been a constant even before the birth of cinema, but it’s certainly found itself as a mainstay in the medium. As studios gear up for generating dozens of “cinematic universes,” one series has mostly remained independent of the obligatory never ending stories. The James Bond franchise has had nearly twenty-five entries, but the series has had tenuous connections between episodes at best, each designed to be easily viewed in isolation. The Daniel Craig era has mostly stayed true to this formula, but the latest story aims to be a culmination of the three films that preceded it. Spectre has all of the surface thrills one can expect, but it efforts to tie up a larger narrative in vain and underutilizes its chief villain.

Spectre opens with Bond (Daniel Craig) on a personal hunt in Mexico City on one of the biggest days of the year, The Day of the Dead. As he and his woman snake through the parade laden streets, the camera winds with them in an unbroken take. They go up to their hotel and Bond jumps back outside to find his target, setting off a chain of events that carry heavy consequences. M (Ralph Fiennes) reprimands Bond for his liberal actions, especially as MI-5 and MI-6 are on the verge of merging together, and the Double-O program may be wiped out in favor of drones. However, Bond has other plans as the remnants of his childhood home Skyfall point to a mysterious organization known as Spectre. As he begins another globe trotting mission, Bond discovers that the leader of this nefarious group, Oberhauser (Christoph Waltz), may be behind all of the torment he has endured over the years.

This narrative element is what hampers Spectre from the start. There were some minor through lines from Casino Royale, to Quantum of Solace to Skyfall, but each could essentially work on its own accord. Spectre is one of the few films in the series that demands prior knowledge, but even then the narrative rarely captivates. The story somehow feels indifferent and forced, trying to increase the personal stakes for Bond. Had Oberhauser been subtly implemented in the previous installments, then perhaps his involvement here would work better, but it ends up feeling contrived. Craig is dependable as ever, and his interpretation of Bond’s stoicism continues to be a great alternative to the iconically suave Connery. Lea Seydoux is the primary feminine interest here, and she ably acquits herself, but even her character carries an unnecessary connection to Bond’s past. Oozing charisma in his every scene, Christoph Waltz was born to be a Bond villain, if only he had more screen time to work with.

After the massive success of Skyfall, it made sense to bring back director Sam Mendes for Spectre, and it’s an aesthetically handsome effort. Hoyeta van Hoytema’s photography is well composed with a golden color scheme, and Lee Smith’s editing of the action beats keeps everything comprehensible. Aside from the Day of the Dead sequence, the other action sequences are well constructed and feature some nifty gadgetry, but are short on genuine surprises. The film is also the longest Bond outing to date, and the macro pacing doesn’t help. Instead of mounting progression and tension, parts of the story just stop dead in their tracks for the purposes of more exposition. Further, the third act is heavily protracted, seemingly featuring several endings and a needless subplot, but the climax somehow manages to wrap things up nicely. As the films have made the stakes increasingly personal rather than global for Bond, maybe it’s worth asking whether such an approach has any real long term merit. As he raucously crashes yet another luxury car, perhaps Bond himself knows there is no need to reinvent the wheel.

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~ by romancinema on November 8, 2015.

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