Ranking the Films of the James Bond Series: #21 – Spectre

SPECTRE (2015)

Directed by: Sam Mendes

Written by: Robert Wade, Neal Purvis, John Logan and Jez Butterworth

 

The downside to having a massive success is everyone expects more the next time out.

During the heyday of the Bond franchise they would drop a new film every two years and each one had to top the last. It was insane, but it kept the series in the public’s eye at a time when there wasn’t a home video market. They were the only franchise in town, and they were pushing the boundaries of action/adventure and espionage films.  

The Blockbuster franchise market has gotten crowded over the years and to no ones surprise, the demand for an old character with 1950’s morals in the modern day waned as CGI and 3-D became the rage. Even with Casino Royale and the praise given to Daniel Craig for bringing a different dynamic to the character, Quantum of Solace underperformed, and people pretty much forgot about James Bond for a bit there.

skyfall estate
Skyfall

Then something happened. The folks at EON scored Sam Mendes for the 50th Anniversary installment that would be Skyfall, and as critics raved, the franchise found itself joining the billion dollar box office club.

Not wanting to give the public a chance to forget about it again, EON went right back to work with Bond 24 and the release of a teaser image of a bullet hole in a windshield that formed an octopus in the cracks.

Spectre - Poster
Spectre Teaser Image

By the time they reached the press conference to introduce the cast and officially unveil the title Spectre, I was way in. That teaser image called back to On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, which was very intriguing, and since the franchise had won back the rights to use the old baddie group – first introduced in the novel Thunderball – from the Kevin McClory estate a few years back, they had unlimited options for a story.

When we saw all the cast and Mendes was back and they’re bringing in Christoph Waltz to play the most thinly veiled mystery role…this had the potential of being the best Bond film ever!

M
M

Then they went into production and things just went wrong. Craig got hurt. Locations didn’t really work out. The script didn’t seem to be locked down and they were operating on a schedule they couldn’t meet as the budget ballooned.

I don’t think Spectre is a bad movie, but that doesn’t make it good. I think it was the victim of its own ambition. They aimed for bigger, but also wanted it done faster, and I don’t think Mendes could work at that pace.

train fight
Train Fight

The main problem with the film is the third act. It’s a total mess. From the moment the train fight with Mr. Hinx ends, the rest of the film is just one uninspired scene after another. Unfortunately, that includes all the Blofeld stuff.

People will forgive just about anything if you give them a good ending, and Bond shooting down a helicopter with a handgun after discovering Blofeld is responsible for everything doesn’t really work.

 

The Cold Open:

day of the dead
Day of the Dead

The Cold Open in Spectre is the perfect example of the shortcomings of this film. It started strong with a very stylish shot through the Day of the Dead parade and then ended with a lackluster fight on a helicopter.

I know they had to change things around because Daniel Craig shredded his knee during production, but this is one of the many examples of things that got close enough to tickle greatness only to settle in somewhere between decent and not bad.

 

The Credit Sequence:

tentacle porn opening
Tentacle porn?

Tentacle porn and Sam Smith’s high voice make for a very bizarre credit sequence. I wish they wouldn’t have tried to work the interconnected movie thread into this film, so I don’t like seeing it here either.

 

Plot:

crater layer
It’s not a Volcano this time…

Bond receives a cryptic posthumous message from M which sends him on an unauthorized mission to Mexico City to disrupt a bombing plot. From there he follows a series of clues that lead him to discover a secret organization of psychopathic criminals, known as S.P.E.C.T.R.E., who have a leader that is someone from Bond’s past.

While Bond is piecing together just how vast and dangerous this organization is, Mallory, the new M, is engaged in an inter-agency power struggle with C, who is pushing for a multinational intelligence program that would make the ‘00’ section obsolete.

spectre meeting
S.P.E.C.T.R.E.

The plot for the most part is not the problem, it’s the execution. Forcing everything in the Craig era to be connected is a bad idea, but it’s something I could get past if they did it well.

I generally don’t enjoy using the criticism that actors were ‘sleepwalking’ through a film, but I feel like everyone involved in this was just going through the motions, and because they had such a thin margin of error to pull off the DCU (Daniel Craig Universe), they weren’t sharp enough to nail it.

 

The Gadgets:

db10
Aston Martin DB10

The Aston Martin DB10 was specially designed for Spectre and there’s a part of me that likes the fact that it was out of ammo during the chase scene. Unfortunately, the rest of the scene was pretty lame.

I do like the bit where he flips the atmosphere button and it plays New York, New York. Do you think that was a nod to the short story oo7 in New York? They used a lot of short story references here, Hildebrand Rarity (the safe house name) and Octopussy (see villains), so it feels right.

smart blood
Smart Blood

Smart Blood felt like a retread of the tracking chip they put in Bond in Casino Royale, but it didn’t really matter much to the story, so I guess I don’t really care.

omega spectre watch
Omega Watch 

The whole torture scene sucks. I don’t know how else to put it. It’s just dumb, so having an Exploding Omega Watch is wasted. Knowing they’re trying to explain Blofeld’s wonky eye as being a result of an injury here just makes it worse.

 

The Villains:

Blofeld
Blofeld 7.0

(Spoiler for the short story Octopussy)

In the Ian Fleming short story Octopussy, Bond is on a mission to track down the murderer of a mountain guide whose body had been frozen in ice and was discovered years later. The investigation leads him to a guy named Dexter Smythe who admits to killing the guide because he was using him to find a cache of stolen Nazi gold. Smythe is a broken man at this point, but he is a WWII vet, so Bond gives him the option of ending this with honor or being arrested and court martialed.

That dead mountain guide was named Oberhauser, and he was a father figure to Bond when he was a kid.

I thought it was a nice touch referencing another of the Fleming stories. I also like having this mysterious part of Bond’s past come back to haunt him. I don’t like having the past turn out to be Blofeld.

Connecting the Craig era together and having Blofeld be behind everything opens up a bag of plot-holes. I liked what they were doing with Quantum being this secret organization behind the events of the first two Craig films, and they could have made Quantum be a part of a larger organization known as S.P.E.C.T.R.E., but they had to overreach.  

oberhauser
Oberhauser

Also, having Oberhauser say his name is now Ernst Stavro Blofeld makes no sense. That was just for the audience and had nothing to do with the story. He could have said his name was Peter Rabbit and it would have meant the same nothing to Bond, cause Bond doesn’t know anything about Blofeld at this point. It was dumb.

Christoph Waltz was terrible in this movie, too. He could have actually saved this film by pretending he wanted to be there, but he sucked so bad it sank the ship.

mr hinx
Mr. Hinx

On the other hand, I liked Dave Bautista’s Mr. Hinx. He was a callback to guys like Oddjob and Jaws, but he wasn’t as cartoony. He’s such a bruiser, it was like watching a planet move across the screen with all these little orbs circling him.

C
C

If the ruse of Oberhauser being Blofeld wasn’t enough to get you excited, Andrew Scott’s C probably didn’t move the needle much either. He’s the prickly company man that can’t be trusted, and I don’t think anyone believed he wasn’t anything but a weasel.

 

The Bond Girl:

monica bellucci
Lucia Sciarra

At the age of 50 Monica Bellucci is the oldest woman to play to a Bond girl. She’s also one of the most beautiful. Her character, Lucia Sciarra, has an air of dread about her that is hypnotic. I really wish she played a bigger role in the film. She had chemistry with Craig, and I don’t think you can set up a better Femme Fatale than this.

madelline swann
Madeleine Swann

On the other side of the spectrum is Lea Seydoux’s Madeleine Swann. There’s really no chemistry between her and Bond, intentionally at first, but when the time comes to flip the switch and sell us on a Vesper Lynn level love affair, it’s not there.

I think Seydoux is a good actress and not having her play a bimbo is refreshing, but they might have made her so cold there wasn’t any way to bring it back.

 

Overall Score: 2.25/5

 

Tune in next month for #20 on the list as we countdown the James Bond films leading up to the release of EON Productions JAMES BOND 25.

 

 

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