Rant and Rave: Spectre

“Name’s Bond. James Bond.”

Arguably the single most iconic line in cinematic history was once again uttered by its equally iconic protagonist with the release of Spectre, the 24th installment to the over half-a-century-old Bond franchise.

Image courtesy of Sony Pictures Entertainment Motion Picture Group 

Like every other film in the franchise, Spectre seeks to one up its predecessors—a tough task to accomplish given the success of the breathtakingly beautiful Skyfall, directed by the same director, Sam Mendes.

It all begins in Mexico City during the annual Day of the Dead festival with a five-minute tracking shot that follows Bond (Daniel Craig) as he slithers through the congested Mexican streets to track down and neutralize his target, Don Sciarra (Alessandro Cremona). It’s the usual Bond that people have come to love: sly, nonchalant, and dandy—in fact, not once in the entire scene does he unbutton his Tom Ford suit. After the botched assassination attempt that ends in the escape of his prey, Bond then goes on a wild goose chase through the ecstatic street parade; an endeavor that eventually ends with the sight of bodies flying out of a helicopter. It’s a stunning cinematic effort, and on par with some of the greatest opening sequences in the franchise.

Whereas the opening sequence might have a place in the pantheon of all-time iconic Bond scenes, the musical transition that followed quickly falls short of the expectations set by Adele’s Skyfall. Sam Smith’s Writing’s on the Wall, while a good song per se, is a tad too melodramatic to fully capture the magnitude of the situation at hand. It lacks the same bravado that propelled Shirley Bassey’s Goldfinger to pop culture immortality. It doesn’t have that swagger that is often identified with the series, and falsely paints the film as a modern Greek tragedy. After all, even with the grim undertones that recent Bond films have fashioned, Bond is Bond — Rebellious. Charismatic. Charming. My fear is that in using Smith’s tune, the crew overestimated the gravity of 007’s problems. If it serves as any consolation, Thomas Newman’s orchestral score remains topnotch, pushing the right buttons at the right times.

After the subpar intermission, it is revealed that Bond’s herculean Mexican escapade was not sanctioned by his current superior, Ralph Fiennes’ M. Rather, it was done out of allegiance to the former M (Judi Dench), who unfortunately met her demise in the previous film. This then serves as a jumping point for the dark, personal platform on which Spectre’s storyline heavily banks on.

But Spectre, like Skyfall, doesn’t merely revolve around Bond. There’s the subnarrative of MI6’ being taken over by a young bureaucrat, C (Andrew Scott). As a result, M, with the help of Q (Ben Wishaw) and Moneypenny (Naomi Harris), moves to reclaim the organization. It’s a great shift of scenery, magnified further by solid acting. Andrew Scott, for instance, maintains the same smug cockiness that brought him critical and public appraisal in his role as Jim Moriarty in Sherlock.

As the scriptwriting pool would have it, Spectre doesn’t fully succumb to the franchise’s now iconic Nolan-esque brand of storytelling. Neither does it solely rely on the cinematic masterwork of the technical crew, led by Hoyte van Hoytema (the film’s color palette shifts effortlessly from smoky hues of flesh to cosmopolitan shades of darkness).

Instead, Mendes and company hearken back to the days of the olden Bonds’ cheekiness, without going overboard as Moore often did. The battle-hardened facial structure of Craig’s Bond—stiff and unusually rough—provides an unlikely canvas for the film’s brand of deadpan humor and wit. Something as seemingly irrelevant as Bond’s disdain for enzyme shakes somehow translates to comedic gold. Along with this stroke of Chaplin, Bond is also more human than ever, as shown in several of his key decisions and interactions with the villainous Franz Oberhauser (Cristoph Waltz).

Speaking of Waltz, much hype was raised about the identity of his character months prior to the release. As the film reaches its conclusion, however, it becomes evident that he is vastly underused. The general construction of Waltz’ voyeuristic character is not bad to begin with: a tormentor with a secret past that ties him to 007. But it’s the execution that makes this Bond villain falter. His presence is vapid, with a clear deficiency in animation. He fails to elicit a sense of terror to rival Bond’s anti-heroism. Or perhaps I’m still hung-over from Javier Bardem’s terrifying performance three years ago that I see myself unfairly resorting to comparison.

Of course, where there is a Bond villain, there must also be a Bond girl. In this case, there are two in the form of Lucia Sciarra (Monica Belucci) and Madeleine Swann (Lea Seydoux). The former is very much a traditional Bond girl—a one-and-done sexual partner 007 seduces to gain information, not to mention to maintain his reputation as a gun-toting playboy. Ravishing yet bland. The latter, on the other hand, is more edgy, creating a character worthy of a second glance in spite of her damsel in distress archetype. The contrast between these two Bond girls is a good thing to take note of. The character of 51-year-old Belucci, the oldest Bond girl to date, is reminiscent of an era of voluptuousness and gender subordination, while Seydoux’s is a nod to today’s penchant for slimness and female individualism.

Eventually, what comes up must come down. Daniel Craig may be the greatest Bond of all time, and he has eclipsed even Connery himself, in my book. But now at 48, the coveted role requires him to exert double the effort to stay in shape, to remain relevant. A lot of the talk before the film’s showing centered around the question, “Will this be Craig’s last waltz?” Certainly some evidences point to that: the resorting to traditional formulas and the infamous “I’d rather slash my wrists” statement. But if the endearing public could have one thing to hold on to in the hopes of having one final dance with MI6’s resident blue-eyed agent, it’s that Craig’s Bond is too good to not slam the door as he makes his way out. Everything that comes up must come down, yes. But in the case of the blonde 007, what’s the difference?

Rating: 3.0 / 4.0
Paulo Yusi

By Paulo Yusi

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