Spectre

I was thinking…

…hype almost always turns out to be a negative thing. At best, a film is built up in people’s minds and the initial box office returns reflect their excitement. In this way the film studio is recouping at least a healthy portion of its production costs. That can be positive…

…unless the film is really so awful the returns encourage the studio to produce a sequel.

At worst, hype establishes a false image–a facade–of perfection in the public’s collective consciousness. This perfection is impossible to actually achieve; ergo the final product is always, and I mean always a letdown. Need I remind anyone of Star Wars: Episode I?

Even the best film, if over-hyped for months before its release, will fall flat compared to the far more spectacular production developed in the imagination.

Where am I going with this?

Well, 007’s latest journey to the screen, Spectre, has been built up over the last year plus–hyped I dare say. With a predecessor as good as Skyfall, we were expecting something to match it or somehow surpass it. And since Aryan star Daniel Craig is the biggest fan-favorite Bond since Sean Connery first womanized his way around the world, how could we not expect big things?

To add to that, we get the charming-as-Lucifer Christoph Waltz (Inglorious Basterds) as the head of Bond’s bane, SPECTRE.

The hype persisted when singer Sam Smith’s title song for the picture hit record-high download numbers. Then Daniel Craig announced it would be his last Bond film. Then the film broke box office records in the United Kingdom upon its release.

Hype, hype, hype.

And that much hype can’t be good.

Returning from an unauthorized assassination mission to Mexico City, our hero finds his double-O section is on the cusp of extinction; the head of a joint intelligence service wishes to phase it out after the merger of MI-5 and MI-6. The service’s head, a man Bond nicknames ‘C’ (Andrew ScottSherlock), has an over-arcing goal of uniting nine nations’ intelligence agencies into one global Orwellian spy network.

Grounded by M (Ralph FiennesHarry Potter series), Bond, naturally, finds a way to violate his orders, coercing both Moneypenny and Q to aid him. Following the trail he found in Mexico, Bond travels to Rome where he is led to a secret meeting of a shadowy organization known only as SPECTRE.

From Rome to Austria to Morocco, Bond seeks out one connection after another, but in so doing, he uncovers not only SPECTRE’s plans for the future, but horrifying connections to his own past.

Even though the 24th installment in the Bond franchise does not exactly live up to some expectations (I was particularly disappointed in the dreary, falsetto-soaked Sam Smith crapfest of a theme song), it not only still felt as a Bond movie should, it payed homage to several of the earlier–specifically Connery–Bond movies.

A hand-to-hand fight on a train hearkened back to the fight with Grant (Robert Shaw–Jaws) From Russia with Love. An Aston Martin ejection seat more than nods to Bond’s DB-5 in Goldfinger. Then there’s the evil lair in a meteorite crater, not far removed from Blofeld’s volcano from You Only Live Twice. And then there’s the blatant connection to the sanitarium on a mountain peak, a la On Her Majesty’s Secret Service.

These “thefts” are nothing new in Bond lore, of course. In Die Another Day, there was Halle Berry’s ridiculous attempt to recreate Honey Ryder’s emergence from the water in Dr. No. Spectre‘s attempts at fraternal plagiarism are, at least, in better taste and done with far more subtlety.

The pacing of Spectre also comes closer to that of an older era Bond film, when the 007 pictures were more spy movies than action flicks. Long periods of talking, traveling and, of course, love-making are interspersed with moments of action, multiple chases and a rather thrilling fight inside a barrel-rolling helicopter.

Unfortunately, the film suffers from a slightly disconnected, patchwork quality, and worse still, it is terribly predictable. Perhaps this can be blamed on the reboot status the Daniel Craig movies hold–we have essentially seen this story before, after all. But even though the screenwriters were given the opportunity to re-spin the yarn in a new way the resultant tapestry is nevertheless of a design we have already anticipated.

And for some reason, with all the advances in technology, a fight in front of a green screen still looks like a fight in front of a green screen. I speak specifically of the battle on board the aforementioned helicopter. The long shots are done with gut-dropping, sphincter-clenching authenticity. But whenever the image cuts to the close-ups of the principal actors, there are the telltale signs they are really in an enclosed studio with artificial lighting meant to mimic that of the Mexican sun. Perhaps I am being far too picky, but such transparency has a tendency to yank me from my suspended perch in the land of belief with the commensurate gut-dropping and sphincter-clenching efficacy of the much more impressive long shots.

By the time the words ‘James Bond will return’ scrolled up the screen, however, there was no doubt the film was worth the two-and-a-half hour viewing. In fact, I plan on actually paying to see it next time. With all its flaws, fans of the first 007 incarnations as well as the most recent should admit it deserves a spot within the annals of MI-6 fiction. Furthermore, it proves to be more entertaining than many of the films that came before in the canon…especially anything with Roger Moore.

Ammo Dump rating: 7 out of 10 bullets from a Walther PPK

I’ll talk more about this film and others during my (every once in a while) radio show. Listen in on WJBC-AM1230 in Central Illinois. For the rest of the world, listen on WJBC.com or the “Rdio” app on your smart phone. And don’t forget to follow me on Twitter: @ALphaEXray to find out when I’ll be on the air.

Spectre
Rated PG-13
Run time: 148 minutes

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