Tuesday, December 01, 2015

Spectre

The latest Bond movie has been out a few weeks now and it's doing pretty well. Word was that Spectre needed to cross $650M in its worldwide box-office in order to make a profit (taking into account its budget, advertising, distributor and exhibitor cuts, etc.) and it has easily cruised past that mark, despite very mixed reviews. Some outlets raved about it, while others absolutely hated it. On review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes, it has settled firmly into meh territory. I fall somewhere in between. It's pretty middle of the pack for me, with enough enjoyable classic Bond elements and callbacks to make it worthwhile to longtime Bond fans, but its legacy in the series depends on the next movie.

First the negatives. This movie was too long. For some inexplicable reason, it's the longest Bond movie ever made and it shows. Some parts drag, amortizing the goodwill generated by the fun parts over an extended runtime.

Let's not forget that awful, unlistenable theme song. Or rather let's. Just dreadful, a huge misfire.

Also, the romance was really half-baked. "I love you"? Come on now. Nobody sitting in that theatre bought that.

And then the colossal underuse of Christoph Waltz! More Waltz, guys. That guy just broadcasts personality every moment he's on screen in anything. He should have been more prominent than the coy way they unveiled him. Everyone knew going in that he was Blofeld. It was Star Trek Into Darkness's Khan situation all over again.

But then I feel that these last two negatives are actually setup for the next movie. I firmly believe Spectre is the first half of a two parter and judging it right now would do it a disservice without seeing its second half.

I can easily see the next movie taking inspiration from On Her Majesty's Secret Service and (possible spoiler alert for a 45+ year old movie) having Bond get married (to Swann here) only for Blofeld to have his wife killed, thus triggering a revenge mission. Bond kills Blofeld at the end, then it goes in one of either extreme: Bond quits MI6 or he doubles down and become an emotionless, killing robot of an agent. Cue the end of the Craig era, and the next movie reboots years later with a new actor and a fresh direction.

I'm beginning to think that Spectre is the mirror image of the much-maligned Quantum of Solace, a movie I didn't hate (placing me firmly in the minority), didn't love but had a couple of outstanding sequences, and benefited from being the shortest of all the Bond movies. QoS on its own is a bit lost and meaningless but when watched immediately after the excellent Casino Royale, it works much better as part two of that story. Don't forget that QoS takes place mere minutes after the closing of CR; watch them both back to back and you'll see a more complete story.

The previous Craig movies showed us a raw Bond as a new recruit, in training to become the character we all know, and he finally becomes it in Spectre. The Bond aficionado in me delighted in the familiar elements: M in the classic office with the padded door, Q providing gadgets, the cars, the maniacal bad guy who wants to control the world, the women who fall too quickly and comically in love with Bond, Spectre itself! And then other touches like the resort in the Alps (shades of OHMSS), the Spectre business meeting and octopus ring (Thunderball), an action setpiece during a large cultural event...even the fight on the train (was that supposed to be a callback to From Russia with Love?).

Spectre even had a new twist, hsaving M, Q and Moneypenny get in on the action, making it more like the recent Mission: Impossible movies: a team effort instead of a completely lone wolf scenario. The ending was especially strong, with action through the streets of London, ending with (again, spoilers) Bond on Westminster Bridge with a gun pointed at Blofeld's head. There's a telling line in Skyfall, when Bond tells Q, in the National Portrait Gallery, that sometimes you need to know when not to pull the trigger. That line is what I had in mind during that entire tense final sequence. I suspect Blofeld won't be so lucky if they meet again (especially if my fantasy scenario plays out in the next one).

Until we see the second half of this latest story, I'm not closing the book on where I fall on Spectre.  Right now, if I had to give it a score, I'm sitting at a ho-hum 7 on 10 but that will adjust up or down depending on how they conclude this one. If they go in the direction I think they will, I'll likely bump Spectre up a notch. If they completely drop the ball next time or, worse yet, ignore these events for a stand-alone adventure (is Craig even coming back?), then Spectre will have to be tallied up as a wasted effort.

For now, your mileage may vary but for me, time will tell.

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