Monday, November 9, 2015

SPECTRE ***1/2

The newest James Bond film SPECTRE hits all the right notes. It is respectful of the franchise history and expands the mythology of the character.  Purists may not like the newer more somber tone of the Bond movies, but I like the new tone - it adds a Shakespearean breadth to the long running series.

While the Connery/Moore films set the template for the franchise, the Bond character never developed from movie to movie.  In their later installments, Connery and Moore appeared bored with the role.  When the character did display some complexity in On Her Majesty's Secret Service fans turned up their nose.  

Daniel Craig plays Bond as stoic and melancholy and yet displays an empathy lacking in previous incarnations of the character.  The next actor to play Bond will have a hard act to follow.

As 21st century spy films like The Bourne Identity and Mission Impossible explored character in greater depth and moved from bombastic action sequences to gritty realistic ones, the Bond series rightly imitated them.

SPECTRE deals with an ultra secret organization responsible for several acts of terrorism, the ultimate bane to Bond's existence.  In the Ian Fleming novels and early films SPECTRE often tried to manipulate the United States and the Soviet Union into a war for their own benefit.  Due to litigation over the authorship of SPECTRE, the Bond series could not legally use the organization in the movies.  In 2013 the legal issues were resolved and director Sam Mendes immediately brought SPECTRE back into the story.

The return of SPECTRE also means a return of the most iconic Bond villain Ernst Stavro Blofeld, last officially seen in For Your Eyes Only. Christoph Waltz makes a convincing Blofeld, although I was hoping for a more flamboyant interpretation. The fact that Waltz already played a German villain in Tarantino's Inglorious Basterds draws unfortunate comparisons.

Although the script problems for SPECTRE are well documented, I like the way they reintegrated SPECTRE into the Bond universe with a clever 21st century twist.  The world feels more vulnerable to such an organization than during the Cold War.

The film jumps around from one exotic global locale to another in almost hypnotic fashion. The opening sequence in Mexico City gets things off to a thrilling start.  With the "double o" program about to be retired, Bond goes off to investigate SPECTRE.  He is helped along the way by M (Ralph Fiennes), Miss Moneypenny (Naomie Harris), and Q (Ben Whishaw). In previous films those characters were usually relegated to one scene - expanding their roles was another excellent idea.

So I highly recommend SPECTRE. Madeleine Swann as the "Bond Girl" brought intelligence and is a nice counterpoint to Craig.  And there are many references to previous Bond films including From Russia With Love, Live and Let Die, and On Her Majesty's Secret Service. All those allusions add a suave post-modern undercurrent.

The flaws are minor.  The first half flows nicely and while the second half felt flabby at times the narrative never went completely off the rails. 

Ignore the logical inconsistencies, SPECTRE is a supreme cinematic entertainment designed for the big screen.

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