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Tuesday, November 10, 2015

SPECTRE

I'd read some middling reviews of the new James Bond film, but was still looking forward to seeing the movie last night. I figured, the critics just don't get it, Sam Mendes and Daniel Craig did such a great job with Skyfall that they couldn't possibly have gone too far astray with SPECTRE.

They did. The writers must have been so happy with the praise they received for Bond's childhood backstory in Skyfall, and for having resurrected the original Aston Martin, that they decided to milk the nostalgia angle even more in the new movie. They tried way too hard.

They threw in -- spoiler alert -- the exact stretch of highway in the Alps where Sean Connery used his Aston Martin's tire-slashing hubcaps to good effect on Tania Mallet's (Tilly Masterson's) Mustang in Goldfinger.

Ernst Stavro Blofeld's white pussycat -- formerly highlighted in You Only Live Twice and Diamonds Are Forever -- reappears.

At one point Bond finds himself in an underground chamber next to a body of water, which looks like one of the scenes in Dr. No. The high tech desert encampment vaguely resembles Dr. No's island fortress, and the way it self-destructs at the end is similar as well.

The funeral scene with Monica Bellucci is evocative of the funeral scene in Thunderball, and the house she retreats to afterward is similarly elegant.

During one high speed escape, Bond's car goes almost on its side, just like in Diamonds are Forever.

The only thing that was missing was Roger Moore's car which turns into a submarine. But at least the moviemakers were smart enough to realize that audiences are only nostalgic for the real James Bond --


-- so there were absolutely no references to any of the Moore, Dalton, or Brosnan Bonds.

In any case, one or two references -- a la Skyfall -- would have been fine. But referencing the entire Connery oeuvre was overkill.

Much of the movie was so over the top that it verged on camp, which is always unwelcome in a Bond movie. At the beginning of the movie, in the much lauded Day of the Dead sequence, Craig surfs his way down a collapsing building, in a ridiculous sequence far beyond any parkour artist's wildest dreams, and then lands, finally, in a couch.

How cute. Only James Bond is not supposed to be cute.

In another scene, Craig, in an airplane, does battle with the bad guys in their cars (usually it's the other way around). When the wings of Craig's plane come off, he continues to use it as a sort of prop-propelled sled, and drives it through a barn. (Well, maybe that was a Roger Moore-ish touch.)

All of the action scenes in Casino Royale, if not completely grittily realistic, at least gave that illusion. (Think of the initial fight scene where Bond earns his double-0 status in that bathroom, or the scene where he kills the bomb maker at the African embassy, or the way he strangles the African leader in that basement stairwell.) Most of the action scenes in SPECTRE, like the initial fight on the helicopter, were silly, and didn't even try to appear realistic.

It was almost as if, by trying so hard to evoke the early Connery movies, they turned it into Never Say Never Again.

The chief enforcer for the bad guys was played by Dave Bautista, a half-Filipino professional wrestler:


Bautista's low forehead, beard, and height make him appear sufficiently menacing, and of course a 'roided-up body is almost de rigeur for battle these days. Craig and Bautista have an extended fight scene in an elegant Orient Express-style train going across the North African desert (one wonders which line that is) in a scene which is meant to evoke the train fight in From Russia With Love.

This David-and-Goliath fight wasn't quite as ridiculous as, say, Angelina Jolie beating up a bunch of musclemen in a Lara Croft movie, but watching Craig hold his own against Bautista did defy credibility.

The fight, like so much of the movie, is so over the top that it verges on camp. The inside of the train is laid to waste as if it were made of papier-mache, and it was hard to escape the feeling that the action sequence was choreographed by the same people who choreograph Bautista's pro wrestling fights.

Somehow, having included a professional wrestler seems a fitting metaphor for the movie.

Christopher Waltz plays the criminal mastermind, and his performance marks the second film in a row in which the chief villain is effeminate. Waltz doesn't gay it up quite as much as Bardem did in Skyfall (the one discordant note of that movie). But, at the rate the franchise is going, it won't be long before Bond himself is playing for the other team.

My son complained that it was ridiculous that Bond didn't shoot the villain when he had the chance to at the end of the movie. That, of course, was because Blofeld must return in another movie.

I almost regretted that Bond didn't shoot himself.

The weird thing is, despite everything I just said, the movie was still fun: I have to admit, I enjoyed watching it, though not nearly as much as I did Skyfall. It's mostly when you think about it afterwards that you recoil a little.

Ah, I guess I'm glad Bond didn't shoot himself.

2 comments:

jova said...

just saw SPECTRE , I actually enjoyed it better than Skyfall but that is not saying much.

I also disliked the ending , would have been better to see Blofeld escape than seeing Bond just walk away from him.

John Craig said...

Jova --
I loved Skyfall, thought it was great.

Yes, what's the point of having a "license to kill" unless you're going to use it, and who better to kill than the archvillain?