(editor’s note: This review comes to us from AC contributor and EXTREMELY talented voice actor, Jason Marnocha.)
SPECTRE’s back. Back again. SPECTRE’s back. Tell a friend.
Overall I’d say I certainly wasn’t disappointed with Spectre…to a point, but I’ll get to that. This will be a SPOILER FREE review, so no worries there.
I’m incredibly grateful to have been granted the go ahead to write the site’s review of Spectre. Not only am I a long time James Bond fan, but also was absolutely ecstatic to see this film once it was announced. “They finally have the film rights to the SPECTRE organization back?! And no more discount SPECTRE aka Quantum?! Brilliant!” my brain fruits told me, loudly and emphatically.
No doubt every other reviewer has made mention of the Kevin McClory Thunderball deal, that Eon Productions and subsequently MGM did not have the rights to either SPECTRE or the character of Ernst Stavro Blofeld until settling it at last only just recently, but there it is in a nutshell for you again anyway.
To put it into perspective, the last officially named appearance of the organization in the film line was in 1971 with Diamonds Are Forever. I feel there’s a sort of difference in the handling of SPECTRE as an organization in this newer series of films, as I’m not sure that the mouthful acronym (SPecial Executive for Counterintelligence, Terrorism, Revenge, and Extortion) is in place in this film. It is never acknowledged, and the organization seems to be simply called Spectre. Which is fine, but for the purposes of review and my being so used to it, the acronym caps lock form is going to stick around. Just fair warning.
To dive right in, the opening sequence in Mexico City during the Day Of The Dead was just what a prologue Bond film scene should be: a lull of mystery followed steadily by rising intensity and epic stunts. A fistfight in a barrel-rolling helicopter with the right score behind it makes for a solid pre-title sequence and sets up yet another stunt-filled Daniel Craig Bond extravaganza.
When it comes to the title song combined with the visuals, it made Sam Smith’s “Writing’s On The Wall” much more palatable than it is “dry,” as it were. While I’m perhaps not the one to ask about a lot of mainstream musicians, I can say that the theme definitely didn’t make me want to check out more of Sam Smith’s work. It’s some sort of strange love song, hardly a fitting tune to follow up the retaking and incorporation of the villainous SPECTRE organization into the new line of films. Give me something driving; something that really celebrates that SPECTRE is in on the action at last. As I said, the visuals for the theme sequence did make the song much easier to digest, but still I think a theme with less wishy-washy falsetto and certainly a toned-down forgettable factor would do.
A common issue a lot of Bond fans take with the current run of Bond films is that they are all connected; sequential narrative instead of standalone films. While I do understand that that isn’t the typical Bond formula we’re used to, I find it kind of refreshing. There are certainly many references even from the title sequence get-go to previous films and characters therein, and I think that’s just fine. It gives a sense of continuation to this run of the franchise. The tone of the film is definitely different from the previously far more gritty films in the series, particularly Casino Royale.
One of the things I really enjoyed about Spectre is that it had a more classic quality of fun and humor to it, which fit together nicely with the more serious moments but kept the film from being an exhaustive exercise and a whirlwind otherwise. The supporting cast helped in this effort, Ben Whishaw as MI6’s quartermaster and gadget hander-outer Q, Naomie Harris as M’s assistant Miss Moneypenny particularly stood out as being much more present help to Bond in the film than their usually more cameo-styled roles call for. Even Ralph Fiennes as M really took more to the field, which the Craig films tend to have M do quite a lot overall. No desk work for Judi Dench during her tenure either so you go get it, Mr. Fiennes. One of the performances I enjoyed most was Dave Bautista as Mr. Hinx, an assassin working for SPECTRE. He had such a classic Bond villain henchman way about him, very much a mix of Oddjob and Jaws in that classic vein. His performance is impactful, especially his introduction; understated but perfectly stated at the same time. Andrew Scott steps into the Bond franchise as Max Denbigh, to a rather underwhelming effect to the film as a whole. Anyone could have played that role, I didn’t find that he brought anything particular to it. Speaking of not bringing anything particular to the table: Monica Bellucci, a fine actress by all accounts, was hardly given a role of much substance, which was disappointing. In the same turn, the “Bond girl” in Spectre is in the form of Dr. Madeleine Swann, played by Lea Seydoux. While she does a very believable job with the role she is given, there isn’t much to the role itself. In stark contrast to Eva Green’s Vesper Lynd character in Casino Royale, which left such a distinct impression, Seydoux’s Dr. Swann is much more a pretty face as a character than much else, apart from assisting in a pretty fantastic fight scene at one point.
Of course one can’t overlook Christoph Waltz as Franz Oberhauser, the chief Bond villain in the film. Waltz is not and has never been in the business of making a false step in any role he does, even managing to give at least some element of polish to a bumbling film like Green Hornet. Boo hiss indeed. Given that the juiciest roles for a lot of actors to sink their teeth into are generally the villains, what better baddie to be able to bring to the screen than a Bond villain? Waltz is excellent in the film, managing to keep the character distinctly different from other roles he has done, like Hans Landa in Inglourious Basterds. Waltz’s usual combination of frightening seriousness and wry humor work together to form a different and unique sculpture in this role; he’s absolutely a highlight. Some reviews complain that he isn’t in the film enough throughout, but I found that to be a positive aspect. Not that there is anything wrong with more Christoph Waltz, we could all stand to have more, but the subtlety of SPECTRE as an organization does call for a certain amount of both anonymity and secrecy.
SPECTRE is hardly a big-name face company, so people who complain that Waltz as a character isn’t in it enough are missing that that’s rather the point. Daniel Craig does some of his best work as Bond in this film, I think. There has been a bit of an inconsistency to how his Bond is handled in each of the films, but this one feels like it’s been an evolutionary process the whole time. He brings the right amount of humor, style and badassery to the role this time that keeps the character enduring throughout so many films and directors. Craig’s work in this film opposite Waltz really plays well, and some of their scenes together especially near the end are absolutely glorious.
On the subject of the end of the film, and to wrap up in general, I will say that for me the film did lose itself at the climax. Given the almost exactly 2 1/2 hour runtime, Spectre does end up with a somewhat clunky conclusion I think. While everything in the film is wrapped in a nice little bow by the credits run, it didn’t feel particularly satisfying to me, especially given that I pretty thoroughly enjoyed almost everything else going on during the first and second acts. The climax was rather rushed and felt a bit clumsy, but I look forward to what it might set up in the future. As we know (well, canonically anyway) SPECTRE is hardly an organization to vanish with any kind of hurry so I have faith that we’ll be seeing them again in future films. The tidbits and subtle, and sometimes not so subtle, nods to the SPECTRE of old were fun to have sprinkled throughout the film, but I think that it does end on a weak note. No amount of nostalgia can make up for tripping at the finish line, but it can still make for a really stunning visual piece of Bondfoolery, which Spectre certainly is.