“Where are we going?”
Whenever a heavily promoted film receives four or five stars in most of the national newspapers, I am always suspicious. When that film is a James Bond film, my suspicions are aroused even further. After being hammered by Bond adverts (both in the form of trailers and adverts for watches, beers and cars), when I reached SPECTRE at the cinema I was already at the point of exhaustion from seeing Daniel Craig. Maybe that dampened my cinema experience; maybe the over-enthusiastic media dampened my cinema experience; but maybe SPECTRE wasn’t worthy of all the praise it has received. What I experienced was an incredible opening that segued into an over-long, dull film that had moments of brilliance that were few and far between…
Truly, the opening tracking shot rivalled the one out of ‘Touch of Evil’ for pure cinema gold. Occuring at the Day of the Dead festival in Mexico, the camera glided and floated above proceedings with majesty worthy of few directors. I could easily watch that tracking scene over and over again. The beginning was the end, in terms of excitement, intrigue and applause-worthy cinema. In its majesty lay its downfall, and the downfall of SPECTRE in general. Once we saw a visible cut, as Bond found his target, the sequence faltered. It descended into an extended, hard-to-see, and interminable fight in a helicopter. Unfortunately, that was to be the fate of much of the film: chases that lacked any sense of tension, scenes that tested patience for no reason, and lingering shots that would be perfect in a museum but not in a film.
“What a lovely view!”
I appreciate a beautiful scene or shot in a film as much as anybody. I’m an admirer of ‘arthouse’ films. But SPECTRE tried to be an action thriller and an arthouse film at the same time, and failed at both. Bond has always been a ‘Traveller’s Guide To Espionage,’ but the film drifted slowly from location to location, without using the particular location to its fullest extent. Take the car chase in the streets of Rome. It’s so boring that even Bond gets out his mobile ‘phone and rings someone up! The scenery is stunning, the cinematography is flawless, yet the actual chase is an afterthought; just two beautiful cars driving around empty streets. Monica Bellucci, much like the cars and the streets of Rome, is used only for her beauty, filling up screen time with something to admire rather than be amazed at.
The same approach almost worked with Skyfall (even though that film lost the plot about halfway through), and admittedly some of SPECTRE does look sumptuous. However, oddly, at times the screen is so murky and grimy that it’s hard to decipher what is going on. That particular method works wonders for another highlight of the film, when Bond enters a SPECTRE meeting in Rome (before said dull car scene). It’s menacing, haunting and mesmerising, as Bond walks into a room full of shadows and people. We get our first (and best) glimpse of Oberhauser and his henchman Mr. Hinx, who murders someone in a memorable way. However, all of the tension is relieved in the following car chase. It’s symptomatic of a film that doesn’t really know where it’s going, or what message it wants to get across (if any).
“You’re a kite dancing in a hurricane”
There’s an overarching plot about global surveillance or something, but it’s never presented as a true threat to humanity (or anyone in particular). The writers have obviously reflected on Edward Snowdon, Wikileaks etc and thought “oh, let’s do something on global surveillance. That’s bad, isn’t it?” They use M to talk about democracy and lack of accountability, but it’s all empty rhetoric. We can’t just rely on M’s word, can we? And what does SPECTRE want to do with this power to see and hear everything? We never find out. It’s as ill-thought out as the scene involving Bond in a plane chasing cars (one of which has the ‘Bond girl’ held captive). The hollow plot reeks of writers trying to put their finger on the societal pulse and failing miserably.
Of course, a hollow plot is forgivable if the action and the characters are up to scratch. As I’ve mentioned, the action, apart from a great train fight scene involving Bond and Mr. Hinx, is mediocre. That leaves us with the characters. Daniel Craig is a great Bond, but even he struggles with the material here. He raises more than a few laughs, but looks bored during some of the drawn-out scenes. Ralph Fiennes as M does an admirable job, but as I mentioned above, he’s little more than a mouthpiece for democracy. He also lives in the shadow of Judi Dench, which isn’t his fault. The Bond girls…Monica Bellucci is something of a dream Bond girl; a beauty without equal, and the acting chops to do the part justice. However, she is little more than a quick legover and information-giver for Bond. Léa Seydoux fares better, but still shies away from the action. However, how can anyone measure up to Vesper Lynd?!?! As Bellucci is a dream Bond girl, Christoph Waltz was a dream Bond villain. However, he’s short-changed here. His ‘origin’ story borders on parody, and he presents as little threat as the global surveillance plot. Simply, he’s wasted.
“I don’t stop to think about it”
By the halfway point of SPECTRE, I was bored. Visually, it’s beautiful for most of its duration, but we need more than beauty in a Bond film. For example, how many lingering shots do we need of a train to establish a location? More than a few, according to SPECTRE. We know they spent millions on each location, but to what end? Merely as a tour guide? Cash is splashed, but it’s difficult to see where it went in terms of making the film exciting and entertaining. Has there ever been a more lethargic car chase than the one SPECTRE gives us in Rome? The tracking shot boded very well for the rest of the film, but it seems as if the filmmakers gave up after that. It’s no Quantum of Solace, and for that we can be thankful. However, it’s nowhere near the quality of Casino Royale, or even Skyfall…
VERDICT: 5/10. It’s dull, interminable and falls apart after a brilliant opening. A few spots of that promising brilliance pop up throughout, but nowhere near enough to keep an audience entertained. Watchable, yes, but I wonder where all that money went…