Tuesday, November 3, 2015
Bond. James Bond.
Everyone knows James Bond. I feel like it's kind of ridiculous to explain to someone who James Bond is and why he's so popular. James Bond is an movie institution. James Bond is the world's most popular superspy, It's the third highest grossing movie franchise of all time, and even though it's lower than Harry Potter and the MCU, I would argue to the death that the James Bond films have probably the best quality versus quantity against them. So many Bond movies are cinema classics and the franchise has as much power that even the announcement of a new Bond film's title, intro, villain, henchman, and director is enough to send millions of fans into a tizzy. I don't think I can stretch this point enough. When I think of films, James Bond is one of the first things to come to mind.
While I've been studying in England, I've been doing many things, but I knew for a fact there was one thing I was going to do without a doubt. I knew I was going to buy a pre-release ticket and go see the latest Bond film, Spectre, on its opening night. It released in the UK two weeks before the States, but I held off on the review just so that it's still fresh in everyone's mind when I say this about Spectre; if you want a return to a classic Bond film where Bond is up against evil super villains bent on taking over the world, this is the movie for you.
Unfortunately, that might not be best for Daniel Craig's Bond.
In 2006, the James Bond franchise had a soft reboot of the franchise. Pretty much the goal of it was to update it to the 21st century and create an overarching narrative for Bond. Casino Royale had events that directly flowed into the next film, Quantum of Solace, and both films influenced Skyfall, which was a great emotional cap for the series so far, even though we knew there would be more Bond movies afterwards. But instead of continuing the narrative and emotional elements from the first three movies, Spectre tries to be a classic 60's Bond movie, but with only the slightest bits of connection to the previous three movies.
In Spectre, Bond goes rogue to try and figure out a string of clues left to him by the recently deceased M. Those clues eventually lead him to a villainous organization known as Spectre, but it turns out they're already fully aware of Bond and his missions. It turns out that all of the villains in the previous Daniel Craig films were all members of Spectre, and the head, Franz Obenhauser, is none too pleased with Bond foiling his schemes numerous times. So it's a giant manhunt for Bond as he attempts to stop Spectre while being hunted by them.
If you have seen any Bond movie ever (how many times am I going to say "Bond" in this review?), then you should know exactly how the plot is going to work. It's so predictable and formulaic that during the first few scenes, before Bond encounters Oberhauser, that I knew who the villains were, what the twists would be, and exactly how the plot would progress. Compare this to Casino Royale and Skyfall, two incredibly enjoyable films that always kept me guessing.
Quantum of Solace was just shit though. Felt like that needed to be stated outright.
I know a lot of people have mixed feelings about the Craig era Bond films, but I personally think they're just as good as the Roger Moore and Sean Connery eras. Not better, but just as good. I like the idea of having continuity between movies that's more than just "I'm going to keep foiling Spectre (Spectre has always been the big Bond villainous organization)." We actually develop Bond as a character and a person as see how these villains constantly effect him. We've never seen Bond tortured before in such brutality like in Casino Royale, and we've never seen him as beaten as he's been in Skyfall. Both of these scenes were sudden, kept me on the edge of my seat, and elevated the film beyond being "just another Bond film." I can't say the same for Spectre, but that isn't to say the formula is bad. Far from it actually.
The Bond formula is a solid one, and Spectre follows it by the letter. Bond is on a mission for the intro, the title song plays, Bond bamfs around London for a bit before going on a mission, he does surveillance, meets a Bond girl, runs around the globe while being pursued by henchmen and assassins, meets the villain at his headquarters, gets captured by said villain, villain reveals their plan, Bond escapes and/or stops them in an epic fashion, only for either the villain or the henchman to stay alive and fight Bond one last time, they're defeated, and Bond goes off on his merry way.
There, I just completely spoiled nearly every single Bond movie ever. You may now come after my guts.
Spectre may be formulaic, but it's the execution that makes it work so well. Normally, I would hate a movie as predictable as Spectre, but this is James Bond. I can't fully explain why, but it's alright when Bond does it. Maybe it's because how even though it's a formula, each movie does something different from each other or the stellar cast that each installment brings, it still feels fresh and new despite being done to death 50 years ago.
In Spectre's case, the biggest draws are Christoph Waltz as Oberhauser, Dave Bautista as Mr. Hinx, the amazing theme song, and the awesome intro. Christoph Waltz commands every scene he's in, and even though you can see the twist about his character from the very first nano-second he appears on screen, at least they don't really dwell on the reveal for too long. Franz Oberhauser is to Spectre as John Harrison is to Star Trek: Into Darkness. Waltz is just born to play the villain, and every time I see him as one I get as giddy as his character in Inglorious Bastards. He has the perfect amount of menace, intelligence, and skill to be the head of Spectre.
Dave Bautista is a more interesting henchman, mostly due to him being an amalgamation between Jaws and Odd Job, two classic henchmen that are well know in the franchise. He's strong, silent, and always comes out of nowhere and hits Bond with the force of a semi truck. However, there is absolutely nothing interesting about Mr. Hinx. He has one line in the entire movie and is really only present just so that he can have all of the action set pieces. At least with Odd Job, even though he didn't say a thing or do much of anything, he came across as genuinely frightening with an iconic weapon. Hinx has none of the charm and has the subtlety as the moon in Majora's Mask. I wouldn't say he's the worst thing about this movie (that would be the structure and the really tired "spies are outdated, so let's make way for 21st technology/NSA/Occupy Wall Street philosophy" theme), but he there's no life in the action scenes when he's around.
The Dia de Los Muertos intro was visually interesting and I loved the huge crowds gathered for the shoot and the Mexican aesthetic, but it didn't really do anything noteworthy besides establish the trailer fuel and give some good imagery to use in posters. The sequence was cool until Bond actually started to chase his target, which quickly devolved the scene into a big chase through a city with a helicopter fight that I've seen plenty of times before in other action movies. What was noteworthy was Sam Smith's them song and the sequence accompanying it. On it's own, the song isn't anything particularly amazing, but combined with a fantastic opening and connections to previous characters like Vesper, Judi Dench's M, and Silva, makes it the best Bond theme in decades. Adele might have had a great song when she did Skyfall, but Spectre's intro was like a bolt of lightning.
It just occurred to me, as I was writing this, how much I didn't care what was happening on screen. I didn't care about the big reveals, the shocking heel turns, or the rampant destruction that punctuate the fight scenes. It all was a big blur to me.
That being said, I don't think I've enjoyed a Bond film this much in years. If I had to rank the Craig films, I would say that this is probably on par with Casino Royale, but not as good as Skyfall and its break away from the tried and true Bond formula. Since we're quickly approaching the end of the year and it's almost time for awards season, I don't know how this will rank, if it will even rank on my list. All I can say is that this was the Bond formula at its most polished, most attentive, and most competent in years.
Whether or not that does it for you is up to you.
46. 46 times I said it.
Yes I counted.