Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Goofy James Bond Is Back in the Uneven, but Still Very Enjoyable, "Spectre."


Daniel Craig's tenure as James Bond has been a series of extremes. His initial casting angered many fans while others approved. His four films as Bond have been varied, as well. The critical response to Casino Royale and Skyfall was incredibly high (95% and 93%, respectively, on Rotten Tomatoes) while Quantum of Solace and Spectre saw huge drop-offs (65% and 63%). Fan reactions generally followed the critics, but Spectre is different. The people who dislike Quantum of Solace (I am among this group as I found the story a bit random and the action subpar) hated it for typical reasons regarding plot and action. To be fair, there are plenty of people who dislike Spectre for those very same reasons, but Spectre is different because it marks the first time Craig has portrayed a more traditional Bond; traditional in that he makes more jokes, experiences some physical comedy, drives a car with gadgets, has a special watch, and jokes around with Q. 

A more traditional Bond is probably what a lot of Bond fans have wanted for a while. If so, they will love Spectre above all others. For others (like myself) who don't mind if Bond is more like Jason Bourne than, well, James Bond, then Spectre will be viewed as a lesser entry. While the goofier aspects of Spectre do feel out of place in what has been a super serious franchise as of late (not to mention that this film begins with the ominous, not funny at all, line, "The dead are alive"), it doesn't ruin the film. It just makes it more like a James Bond film, for better or worse. This is actually what Bond should have been the whole time anyway. There are enough Bourne movies to go around, why can't Bond stay on the goofy side? We'll see if the franchise keeps up the goofiness in the next film. Here's hoping they keep it to a Spectre-type minimum and don't go all Moonraker on us just because Star Wars is popular again...

Spectre, judged by itself, is certainly inconsistent tonally, and it is a bit too long (it is the longest entry in the franchise), but it still contains all the stuff that made Casino Royale and Skyfall great. The action, while bordering on the nonsensical, looks great, and certain sequences, like the opening camerawork in Mexico, the shadowy meeting in the middle, and a brutal fight on a train, work great. The problem with Spectre is that the series has asked you to take it so seriously in the last few films, and now it seems to say, "Nevermind! We're going to have helicopters do barrel rolls! Bond is going to chase SUVs with a plane for some reason! There will be physical comedy now too! Like Bond falling off a building...onto a couch!" Once again, all of this is perfectly fine in previous Bond films. It was just jarring to see it in a Craig-Bond film. 

Aside from the inconsistency in general, Spectre is definitely worth watching. Director Sam Mendes has made another great-looking Bond movie, and he knows how to film action. And if Spectre is as silly as Bond gets now that the series is back in traditional Bond mode, then fine. There is something to be said for Bond movies being different by being themselves. Bond trying to be like other modern action stars might make for a better movie in general, but it does not necessarily make for a better Bond movie.

Spectre receives a:

Random Thoughts - Spoilers

My personal ranking of the last four goes like this: 1. Casino Royale 2. Skyfall 3. Spectre (and at a distant)4. Quantum of Solace.

The fight with Bautista on the train was great. I love how it came out of nowhere and ended up being the most brutal action scene in the film.

The opening was easily my favorite part of the movie, and not just because of the one-shot gimmick. Bond in the Day of the Dead getup made for a cool visual.

Waltz being Blofeld is a mistake for the franchise, in my opinion. After Dr. Evil, the character simply does not work. Not to mention, it was way too much like the Harrison=Kahn reveal from Star Trek into Darkness. I like Waltz, but I wish they would have made him a unique villain. And did they really need to give him a cat, too?

Speaking of Blofeld, I don't really buy that he was behind everything in the last few movies. I don't need all the Bond movies to connect like that. I prefer them to be one-offs each time. 

All spy movie franchises need to ditch the plot line about spies being irrelevant in the modern world. We get it, surveillance is everywhere now, but we still need individuals to make it all work. Message received, screenwriters! Just have the spies do stuff without having to battle bureaucracy. I've seen this play out in Mission Impossible and the Bourne movies enough already. 

That said, I did like every scene with Ralph Fiennes, but I think they can find something for him to do without turning the plot into old vs. new.

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