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Spectre Movie Review

Spectre (2015) movie poster Spectre

Theatrical Release: November 6, 2015 / Running Time: 148 Minutes / Rating: PG-13

Director: Sam Mendes / Writers: John Logan, Neal Purvis, Robert Wade (story & screenplay); Jez Butterworth (screenplay); Ian Fleming (character)

Cast: Daniel Craig (James Bond - 007), Christoph Waltz (Franz Oberhauser), Léa Seydoux (Dr. Madeleine Swann), Ralph Fiennes (M - Gareth Mallory), Monica Bellucci (Lucia Sciarra), Ben Whishaw (Q), Naomie Harris (Eve Moneypenny), Dave Bautista (Mr. Hinx), Andrew Scott (C - Max Denbigh), Rory Kinnear (Bill Tanner), Jesper Christensen (Mr. White)


I have resisted the James Bond franchise for about as long as anyone who writes about film for a living can. A mix of ambivalence, overwhelmedness, and situation has kept me away from this over 50-year-old institution of cinema. I played GoldenEye on Nintendo 64 one Friday night in the late '90s.
I have enjoyed Alan Partridge's various Bond references and debates. I even once had DVD box sets of the first twenty movies in the series sent to me inadvertently. But I've never been particularly compelled to jump into this series of spies, gadgets, guns, and femme fatales. And when I have tried, like requesting the Skyfall Blu-ray for review as part of my annual quest to see as many Academy Award-nominated movies as possible, the universe -- through the not so savvy publicists representing 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment -- told me to find my thrills elsewhere.

Alas, Spectre, the 24th installment in Eon Productions' interminable saga based on Ian Fleming's MI6 agent, is the one that makes me address what is by far my biggest blindspot in the history of film. Rather than acquaint myself with the series in its various evolutions or even catch up on the immediate predecessors starring Daniel Craig in the lead role, I decided to enter cold. After all, you'll easily find hundreds of Spectre reviews written by people versed in Bond lore to varying degrees. A review by someone who has never seen more than the occasional brief clip surely presents a different perspective based on no real expectations.

Of course, only an alien or hermit could truly enter a Bond film blindly. Through pop culture's countless spoofs and homages, I knew quite a bit about what to expect from Spectre: a hardened hero narrowly cheating death, fast cars, an abundance of action, and sexy ladies with preposterous names. The tradition is well-defined by indirect sources and you'd have to be living under a rock not to know that the series has enjoyed a revival since Craig inherited the role from Pierce Brosnan beginning with 2006's Casino Royale. The box office numbers, which have consistently risen with ticket inflation, soared to new heights on Skyfall, the 2012 Bond film directed by Academy Award winner Sam Mendes (American Beauty). It grossed over $300 million domestically and $1.1 billion worldwide, nearly double the previous highs set by Craig's neck-and-neck two prior Bond movies. All three also garnered critical acclaim, with Casino and Skyfall even generating some major award chatter.

Mendes is back and so too is Craig on Spectre, though neither has any plans to return. To that end, the saga's future is unwritten, as MGM's distribution deal with Sony expires, likely to spark a bidding war among other potential partners.

The writing's on the wall for James Bond (Daniel Craig) in "Spectre."

My screening inexplicably opened with the music video for Sam Smith's "Writing's on the Wall", the latest in a long line of themes performed by trendy pop singers. Quite the introduction to the series.

Spectre itself opens in Mexico City on the Day of the Dead, our Halloween. There, about to put the umpteenth notch in his bedpost with a ready and willing woman, Bond sneaks off to go kill some people from a rooftop. That assassination has an explosive aftermath, which sees Bond taking chase among the costumed crowds in the street and leaping aboard a helicopter to off its riders and sort of pilot it in a way that doesn't end his life too. The big scene in Mexico City makes the newspapers and prompts a scolding from the new M (Ralph Fiennes), who grounds Bond and not in the way that an angry parent does.

Of course, you don't really ground James Bond. Although he has a microchip implanted in his bloodstream so the agency can track him, Bond still makes off with a fast car assigned to another agent. He visits the funeral of the assassin he killed, saving the widow's (Monica Bellucci) life for the moment. Then it's off to Austria, where he has to say goodbye to an old friend who has been poisoned. That friend's daughter, Madeleine Swann (Blue Is the Warmest Color's Léa Seydoux), emerges as the Bond girl of this movie. Though there's nary a spark between them that we can see, she and Bond team up against a common enemy, one that has been wreaking havoc on Bond's life for years.

It's a man called Oberhauser and he is, naturally, played by Christoph Waltz, further solidifying the connection between Best Supporting Actor Oscar winners and villains Bond or otherwise. True to form, Waltz doesn't seem to perfectly pull off whatever accent he's going for. Also true to form, it doesn't matter, as he is a charismatic performer who is easy to hate (or, in rare cases such as Django Unchained, love). There appears to be some retconning going on to make Spectre align with and build upon past installments, which are represented most explicitly in a series of black and white headshots attached to walls in a big climactic location. Oberhauser's evil plan hinges on an extensive surveillance program about to be adopted by MI6 and other intelligence agencies.

Christoph Waltz plays villain Franz Oberhauser, while France's Léa Seydoux is Madeleine Swann, the latest in a long line of Bond girls.

Spectre is not effective as a romance or even a tale of good and evil. Where the movie succeeds, predictably enough, is in action and spectacle. This is a Movie with a capital M. You couldn't debut this on Netflix or Video On Demand. It's a deeply-pocketed global event that will do outrageous business everywhere. (It's already started to do that,
grossing over $80 million from the UK and neighboring territories where it opened last week.) Reportedly, this MGM-Sony co-production had its costs soar up to $300 million and yet the film is assured to earn all that back and then some. This franchise is the closest the film world has to the Olympics and has been for the twenty years since Brosnan took over and revived the series after the Timothy Dalton years ran their course.

The action in Spectre is about as good as you'll find outside of sci-fi and superhero fare. This movie compares to Mission: Impossible with its high-tech contemporary take on old-fashioned spy thrills. It's no surprise that the two traditions can be traced back to the 1960s. Each has endured with a mix of repetition and reinvention. Spectre unfolds with a series of set pieces. Among the most notable of them is a fistfight on a moving train between Bond and a baddie who needs few words (Dave Bautista, Guardians of the Galaxy's Drax). It's as much a showcase for sound design as fight choreography. The film also uses its steep budget to wow with glorious location cinematography all over the world, large scale production design, and a wealth of practical visual effects (which are the new digital).

Spectre met but did not exceed my expectations. I liked the movie, but didn't love it and have no strong impulse to see the others anytime soon. It is a movie best appreciated by those who crave action and appreciate seeing how the series' hallmarks (martinis shaken not stirred, "Bond...James Bond") get invoked again and again. I prefer movies with story and characters than plot and stunts. But then story and characters rarely get you a billion dollars worldwide.

Related Reviews:
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James Bond Blu-ray Collection, Volumes 1 and 2The Man from U.N.C.L.E.Mission: Impossible - Rogue Nation
Daniel Craig: RenaissanceThe Adventures of Tintin | Christoph Waltz: The Green HornetBig EyesHorrible Bosses 2
Léa Seydoux: Midnight in ParisMission: Impossible - Ghost ProtocolThe Grand Budapest Hotel

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Reviewed November 6, 2015.

Text copyright 2015 DVDizzy.com. Images copyright 2015 MGM, Columbia Pictures, Albert R. Broccoli's Eon Productions Ltd.
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