Director: Sam Mendes
Writer: John Logan, Neal Purvis, Robert Wade, and Jez Butterworth
Cinematographer: Hoyte van Hoytema
by Susan Bartley
I’m not sure I’ve heard one good thing about this film yet. Still, with Mendes back at the helm, and after Skyfall provided such a transformative moment in action cinema, riding off the Nolan tailwinds, in that maybe giving a film a great director and veteran photography could actually make a great movie. Spectre disproves this theory. The movie plays like a bad sequel to Skyfall, in that everything seems to be trying imitate the former film.
Hearing the film was budgeted at $250 million I was hoping to see things I’ve never seen before - the pinnacle of gorgeous photography and elaborate sets and action sequences. Instead, the movie is like all of the other James Bond movies out there, with a plot that is so formulaic it’s shocking. How does $250 million dollars with an A-list director produce a film that’s so generic? All I’m left with is the script as I’m fairly certain that if you took out all lines of dialogue that’re directly related to the plot, 99% of everything else has been said in one way or another in a previous Bond film. This isn’t an exaggerated joke. I’d love to have someone run a script and find out.
I had watched the film after failing to participate in a conversation during a job. I heard them talk about a shitty Bond woman, a shitty car chase, a cool opening shot, and a shitty reason for the story to exist. Although I appreciate their willingness to explore private data and the increasing centralization of it, the story was borderline absurd, with a brand new NCS building (National Center of Security) springing up out of nowhere, putting an end to the 007 program (this is point one of where I swear this has already been the plot at least a few times throughout the series). Of course, 007 was involved in the unbidden chase of some bad guy, set during the Day of Dead festival with an almost cool opening shot that doesn’t really go anywhere, which is further aggravated by a building collapse sequence that looks like shit and plays like a video game, to then get aboard a helicopter, all while thousands of people stand below, most of whom look like bad CGI creations, though it could have, I guess, been where they put in half the budget to get real actors.
Bond is then chewed out by the new “M”, with a brilliant casting of Ralph Fiennes in seat, who has decided to inject nanotechnology into Bond in order to prevent him from going on anymore renegade missions. Of course, he talks to Q and gets the nanotechnology shut off, eventually making his way to Rome, where he comes across the "Spectre" criminal organization, led by Franz Oberhauser (Christoph Waltz), who I’m not sure how, but is given hardly anything that meets his talent as an actor, instead exploiting his German accent and creepy smile, hoping that his mansion and drilling machine would handle the rest. Eventually this leads Bond to Mr. White, who abandoned Spectre and is dying from thallium poison, who admonishes Bond to protect his daughter and future Bond girl Dr. Madeleine Swann (Lea Seydoux), which of course he does, eventually ending up at Oberhauser mansion, facing the drill machine that was mildly uncomfortable to watch, except I’m still not sure how 1) when the drill went into the other side and he was suppose to forget anyone, nothing happened and 2) he was able to simply break away from the braces just to throw the bombs, but not to prevent a drill from going into his face.
Strange enough, even though I’m writing this a few weeks after it came out on video, I came across an article on Reddit discussing all the plot holes. Without going into all of them, I’ll highlight the hole of Bond’s assassin trying to kill them on the train, even though they were suppose to be delivered safely to the base, along with the entire final scene, where Bond somehow happens to hear Swann in the room, seemingly sacrificing any and all tension in order to get to the explosion as quick as possible. I’ll let you read the rest, as they’re not even worth listing, though I will note that seeing that this film was somehow supposed to connect the other three, which is interesting, and Oberhauser’s relationship to Bond was interesting, except that neither were adequately explored, leaving you to wonder how many studio heads got into the development meetings, telling them to move things along so they could spend more of that $250 million.
Also in the comments of Reddit is the idea that there are absurd moments in Bond films and it’s return to formula is almost a tradition at this point. Understandable, but at least Skyfall took those conventions and advanced them with beautiful and unprecedented photography. I even recall the cool room with the servers, and how it all verged on the surreal, yet never drawing you out of the picture. Spectre sacrificed all of what worked in Skyfall with redundant and uninspired set pieces. Hoytema's photography couldn’t shine because there was nothing to make it shine toward. Mendes couldn’t work any magic because the script was awful and there’s only so much you can do.
I recall the billboard that made the film look awesome, with Bond in the Day of the Dead mask, and I was thinking we were going to turn Latin American countries for this one, exploring all the great architecture and landscapes of that culture, creating beautiful set pieces for Mendes to work his magic. Instead, we were in London and Rome and some desert compound. Again. It makes you realize that without the phenomenal photography and set pieces, this series is going to die if it keeps repeating these formulas. It’s why Casino Royale worked so well - they tried to create a new Bond and succeeded. Spectre abandons all that. It abandons everything that works and gives us a highly forgetful addition.
BELOW: An almost cool long take with a terrible conclusion
Thoughts on films, old and new
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