In with the Old
★★★ 1/2 out of ★★★★
A Speaks Movie Review
I'm appalled at some of the lukewarm reviews of the newest James Bond film, the 24th overall, Daniel Craig's fourth, and director Sam Mendes' second, Spectre. I mean, what do you people want? Here is a Bond film of the most classic form, easily the most classic Bond film featuring Daniel Craig. What do these movies have to do? What do they have to be?
The film opens with one of the best action sequences of the year, "shot to look like one long take" (which just won a guy Best Picture last year). It features a mega-star of a villain in Christoph Waltz, a classic tough-guy henchman in Dave Bautista, and a beautiful, sensitive, yet hard-nosed Bond girl in Léa Seydoux. It keeps the villain perfectly in shadows until its time. It offers a conquest before revealing the real girl. It gives us a simple gadget and a car or two or three, plus a bit of humor, and its narrative is rooted in a timely topic--the use of surveillance under the guise of good.
Spectre is a good James Bond film, maybe even great. It is every bit as good as Skyfall, though maybe not quite as exhilarating in its reveals. It is a blast to watch. It is new, while finally catching us up to the old in every possible way.
I've heard people call it a "snoozefest," and Rotten Tomatoes is calling it "reliant on old formulas." Again, what gives? So what? What do you want? Answer: I don't think what these Negative Nancies want is even possible. In fact, I call shenanigans on the whole thing. They don't really know what they want.
James Bond IS a formula, and it's as classic as Coca-Cola.
What I wanted was given by Sam Mendes and company here in Spectre. All the throwbacks and in-jokes work, all the action is fun and exciting, the cinematography is superb (plus all the other stuff I mentioned in paragraph 2), and, damn, is this a sexy movie...from start to finish. It is polished up and shiny and new. It is not a retread. It is an homage. It works as both.
The opening brilliance finds Bond off the grid in Mexico City, where he is tracking an as-yet unnamed assassin for simple intel. Things go awry and a helicopter fight scene ensues. It is the Day of the Dead. The people are out in masses...and in costume. Our hero prevails but finds himself in trouble back in London. He caused a scene and the 00 program of MI-6 is already in jeopardy of being shutdown. The old ways are out. The new ways are in. But do we want the old ways? (I won't answer that.)
Put on lockdown by M (Ralph Fiennes) and Q (Ben Wishaw), Bond must continue this mission by any means necessary. He has a ring with a symbol on it, and he must find its origin, for reasons I won't disclose. The plot continues in Rome, where the widow of the man in Mexico City (a jaw-dropping Monica Bellucci) will lead him to a summit of villains led by a super villain, kept in shadows. Here is where we meet our henchman and get our second chase, which leads to Austria and our third chase, where more ties are made to Craig's previous Bond outings, which leads to her, the girl, Madeleine Swann (Léa Seydoux), who doesn't take too kindly to Bond, at first, but soon finds herself with no choice.
It continues...to Tangier then a train and a Rolls Royce and a crater in the desert, where a familiar villain awaits. This sequence represents everything Bond lovers love about Bond. Then, to another villain, perhaps scarier, then back to the first. And here I will stop summarizing and give no more away, unlike pretty much every other reviewer (like, to the point where I have not been able to even skim reviews).
The script by the same crew from Skyfall is, like the final product, teeming with old, yet matched by new. The dialogue is witty, never bland, never overly-expositive. I laughed. I got juiced up. I felt some emotion even. As for Bond himself, Daniel Craig continues to deliver. Some keep saying he seems bored. I don't find that at all.
Sam Mendes is a masterful choice for this material. Once a director on the London stage, he brings theatricality to the screen and has been for over fifteen years now. His work here on Bond is no exception. Both this and his previous, Skyfall, are great to look at. He doesn't have Roger Deakins behind the camera on this one, but Hoyte Van Hoytema is certainly no slouch, especially in the wide open aerial views this film so frequently offers. Then, again, there is plenty of good in the close-up action, smooth and exciting.
So, here it is: no James Bond film will ever be perfect. It's not in this franchise's nature. But, as a Bond movie (and, boy! is this a Bond movie!), it's about as perfect as they get.