CINEMA KNIFE FIGHT: SPECTRE (2015)

This CINEMA KNIFE FIGHT review appeared this weekend at cinemaknifefight.com.  Guest reviewer Nick Cato and myself take on the new James Bond film SPECTRE (2015), as my usual CKF buddy L.L. Soares was off on another assignment.

 

CINEMA KNIFE FIGHT: SPECTRE (2015)Spectre poster

Review by Michael Arruda & Nick Cato

(THE SCENE: An enormous room, ominously lit, with a long table in the center.  Around the table sit various assorted villainous types.  They are all engaged in small talk on such topics as world domination, espionage, and fantasy football.  The balcony above this scene is filled with onlookers. MICHAEL ARRUDA moves amongst them.  He speaks into the miniature microphone clandestinely planted near his mouth.

MICHAEL ARRUDA: Nick, you there?

(The balcony on the other side of the room is also filled with onlookers. NICK CATO moves amongst this group.  He speaks into his microphone.)

NICK CATO: Yes, I’m here.

MA: Any sign of him yet?

NC: That would be a “negative.”

MA: Well, he should be arriving any minute.  While we’re waiting, we can review today’s movie, but we’ll have to do it on the sly, since we don’t want to blow our covers.

NC: Sounds good to me.

MA: Welcome everyone to today’s CINEMA KNIFE FIGHT column. Today Nick Cato and I are reviewing the latest James Bond movie, SPECTRE (2015), which stars Daniel Craig as James Bond.  To do the review, we’ve chosen this location, the secret hideaway of that nefarious league of villains, S.P.E.C.T.R.E., which is why we have to remain incognito.  This group doesn’t take too kindly to uninvited guests.  And the big news tonight is the shadowy head of S.P.E.C.T.R.E is making an appearance, and so we’ll learn for the first time the truth behind his secret identity.

Nick Cato has joined me tonight because all this cool spy espionage stuff does nothing for L.L. SOARES, and he is off on another assignment.  So, thanks for filling in, Nick!

NC: Happy to be here. I’ll do my best to keep my voice down.

MA: Okay, let’s get started. SPECTRE is the latest movie in the James Bond series, a series that started way back in 1962 with DR. NO.  This is Daniel Craig’s fourth time playing Bond, and the thing I’ve enjoyed about the Craig films is they’ve all been connected.  They’ve featured a story arc which continues here with SPECTRE.  The original Sean Connery James Bond films sort of had an arc, as they were connected by the S.P.E.C.T.R.E. storylines which featured Blofeld as the main villain pulling the strings in multiple movies, but once Roger Moore took over the role the films largely became stand-alone movies with little or no connection to each other.  I’ve enjoyed that the Daniel Craig films have gone back to the notion of being linked to each other.

The events in SPECTRE follow the events in the previous installment SKYFALL (2012) directly.  Acting on a message which M (Judi Dench) left him before she died in SKYFALL,  Bond (Daniel Craig) once again goes rogue— he seems to do that a lot these days—- disobeying the orders of the new M (Ralph Fiennes) and taking matters into his own hands to learn what it is the previous M wanted him to learn. What he discovers is the secret organization SPECTRE.  How the deceased M knew about SPECTRE when she was absolutely clueless about them in the previous films is beyond me.

NC: At first this bothered me to no end, but in a way it gives Dench’s M more mystery, which is kind of cool. Perhaps she did know about them but has only revealed them now that she was gone for her own safety? Or am I grasping at straws here?

(A Scarecrow stuffed with straw brushes by NC.)

After Bond watched the video she had made for him before she died in SKYFALL, he says to Moneypenny, “She wasn’t going to let death get in the way of doing her job.” Ha! Gotta love that line.

MA: In the previous Craig films, one of the more intriguing plot points was the underground organization that seemed to be behind every crime Bond was trying to thwart. They were all powerful and nearly invisible, and the prior films in the Craig series did an excellent job creating this group, giving us bits and pieces of their existence and activities, but never allowing Bond to discover who it was he was up against.

That changes in SPECTRE, as Bond learns that this group has a name, and its name is SPECTRE.  He also discovers the man running SPECTRE, Oberhauser (Christoph Waltz), who, like everything else in the Daniel Craig series, has a personal connection to James Bond, which of course, makes Bond’s mission in this one more personal, as if saving the world wasn’t enough.  It only remains for Bond to learn what Oberhauser is up to and then of course to stop him.

I liked SPECTRE well enough, but there were also an awful lot of things about this one I didn’t like.  To me, the best thing SPECTRE has going for it is its cast.  All the players here do an excellent job.  But the direction here by Sam Mendes, who also directed SKYFALL, is nothing to write home about.  There are some decent action sequences, but none that I would call overly memorable.

NC: I will say I thought the opening sequence in New Mexico was very well done, and one of the better Bond openings. Not only do we get a nifty assassination that ends with a building nearly crushing 007 to death, but a wicked brawl aboard a whirling helicopter above a crowded plaza. It was almost like a 2 for 1 action blast that led into what I thought was a great looking opening credit sequence, although I could’ve done without Sam Smith’s dull song.

MA: Oh my gosh! Talk about lackluster songs!  It was about as exciting as a lullaby!

But you’re right about the opening sequence. It was well done.

But the weakest part of SPECTRE is the script.  Now, this movie is written by four screenwriters:  John Logan, Neal Purvis, Robert Wade, and Jez Butterworth.  All these guys have strong resumes, including having written several other Bond movies.  A movie written by these four guys has no business being as tepid as this one is.

NC: No argument there. The plot is thin considering how many people worked on it.

MA: Let’s start with the basic revelation regarding SPECTRE. Seriously, is that really much of a surprise?  I mean, am I the only viewer who when watching the previous Craig films thought that the sinister organization operating in those films sounded an awful lot like SPECTRE?  I certainly expected that to be the case.  Likewise, seriously, the revelation about Oberhauser’s true identity, is that that much of a shock?  No.

NC: For crying out loud Michael Meyers made fun of the sibling thing in his third spy spoof GOLDMEMBER (2002). They could’ve at least made Oberhauser his third cousin or something.

(Mini-Me emerges from the crowd and starts humping MA’s leg.)

MA: What are you—?  Get off me!

(DR. EVIL appears.)

DR. EVIL: Mini-Me, stop humping the movie critic’s leg. It’s friggin embarrassing! (Pulls Mini-Me off MA).   How am I expected to take over the friggin world when I have to keep chasing you around all day?  No.  I don’t want to hear it.  Zip it!  Zip!

NC: Hey, Mike?  Everything okay over there!

MA: I’m fine.  Just a “little” inconvenience, that’s all.

(Mini-Me flips MA the bird.)

MA: Anyway, the problem with SPECTRE is in terms of surprises, that’s pretty much it.  I kept waiting to learn what it was that Oberhauser and SPECTRE were up to.  What was their grand scheme?  And every time they came close to uttering it, the plot would switch back to James Bond.

NC: Yep. An attempt to make Spectre more mysterious, but they’re mysterious enough.

MA: The scene in the room with all the SPECTRE villains is a nice microcosm of the entire movie. We wait for Oberhauser to finally show up, to shed some light on his intentions, and just as it seems he’s going to, he looks up at James Bond and pretty much says “gotcha!  We know you’re here!”  Bond responds by hightailing it out of there.  I’m glad he knows Bond is there, but I wanted to know what he was doing there!  This film never gives him or SPECTRE anything worthwhile to do.

The plot point of controlling information did little for me and reminded me somewhat of the plot in the Pierce Brosnan Bond film TOMORROW NEVER DIES (1997) in which

Jonathan Pryce played a villainous media mogul who was all about— controlling information.

NC: Exactly. And as much as I like Christoph Waltz, I thought Pryce filled that type of threat better.

MA: Agreed. I’ve always thought Pryce was one of the more underrated and underappreciated Bond villains.  Part of that, I’m sure, is TOMORROW NEVER DIES isn’t the best Bond movie.

SPECTRE also is all over the place in terms of tone.  It starts off being very playful, and a lot of the early scenes and dialogue in the movie were reminiscent of the Roger Moore Bond films, which is completely unlike the dark tone of the previous Craig films.

I did like that it opened once more with the signature gun barrel sequence. This is the first time this was used in the Craig films.

By the time the film reverts to its darker side later in the movie, it unfortunately has to contend with the lame SPECTRE storyline. The previous films did a phenomenal job with this all-powerful organization which operated from the shadows, generating a feeling of chaos that ironically is completely absent from SPECTRE.  Furthermore, we finally meet the leader of this group, Oberhauser, and he’s about as effective a villain as Dr. Evil.  Strangely, I was disappointed with all the SPECTRE stuff in this movie.

NC: Weird. My favorite thing about SPECTRE was how the title organization was portrayed. They came off as all-knowing as super sinister.

MA: Really?  I didn’t find them that sinister at all.  I remember in the previous Craig films Judi Dench’s M running around like a chicken with its head cut off, lamenting that she had no idea who these people were, and she was shaken because this organization had people inside MI6, people she thought she trusted.  I didn’t get that sense of inflicted chaos here in SPECTRE.

NC: I did. I’m starting to think YOU are part of Spectre.

And while I wish Christoph Waltz had more screen time, I thought he made a nice throwback-type villain and head of Spectre. Sure, he reminded me, too, of Dr. Evil with his typical Bond villain outfit and eventual facial scar, but the sequence of him happily torturing Bond with that robotic contraption made him seem free of conscience and totally evil. Okay, maybe he was a lot like Dr. Evil, but not as funny.

MA: I just wanted him to do more.

Like I said, I wasn’t all that impressed with the direction by Sam Mendes. There were some memorable scenes, but not a whole lot.  There’s a vicious fight sequence on a passenger train between Bond and a huge assassin Hinx (Dave Bautista) which is clearly an homage to the similar train fight sequences in FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE (1963) between Sean Connery and Robert Shaw, and in THE SPY WHO LOVED ME (1977) between Roger Moore and Richard Kiel’s Jaws character.  In fact, the character of Hinx here reminded me of Jaws, as he was Bond’s main adversary for most of the movie and like Jaws, would walk away from obvious death situations.

NC: I liked Hinx a lot. Actor Dave Bautista has an awesome, intimidating physical presence and I too immediately thought of Jaws from THE SPY WHO LOVED ME. I was actually waiting for 007 to use a lamp or other electrical device to shock him off the train, but how Hinx ends up being dispatched was well done (and ironically reminded me of JAWS (1975), although I’m pretty sure that wasn’t Mendes’ intention).

MA: That’s pretty funny. I hadn’t thought of that.  Hey, you never know.  That might have been a little in-joke.  And who starred in JAWS?  Robert Shaw, who fought Sean Connery in the FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE train fight!

(Captain Quint from JAWS stands from the table.)

QUINT: Here’s to swimmin’ with bow-legged women!   (Sits back down.)

NC: I just hope Kevin Bacon doesn’t show up.

MA: SPECTRE is full of the signature Bond chases and action scenes, but for the most part, they seemed to simply be going through the motions.  There was a lot of “been there, done that” going through my head as I watched this movie.

NC: While I agree, that is what I liked about SPECTRE. During SKYFALL I think Mendes tried too hard to make things a bit different, and I found myself incredibly bored. This time, it felt good to get back to Bond basics, and I especially liked the car chase between 007 and Hinx. I thought it was fun to have Bond’s car a prototype and not fully functional, making him rely more on his driving skills than the gadgets, something that hasn’t been explored in the franchise since 1981’s FOR YOUR EYES ONLY.

I also like how we’ve seen gadgets and props from past Bond films in these four Craig outings, and I think fans of the series will get a real kick out of the toy 007 gets at the end of SPECTRE.

MA: The bulk of this film takes place in London, which was similar to SKYFALL, and I found this a disappointment since most Bond films take place all over the world, and while there are other locations in SPECTRE, the bulk of the action takes place, as it did in SKYFALL, around the MI6 building in London.

NC: I wasn’t bothered by that. There was plenty of travel and action around the globe.

MA: This is Daniel Craig’s fourth turn as James Bond. I’ve been a big fan of Craig in this role, but I have to say, with each successive film I’ve liked him less.  I loved the way he portrayed the character early on.  There was an edge he gave to Bond I hadn’t seen since the Sean Connery days.  Each time he has played the role he seems to have given the character less and less of this edge.  It’s almost as if he’s not as interested in the role, which according to media reports, is true.

NC: It’s beyond obvious Craig isn’t interested in playing Bond anymore, and after his recent appearance on the Stephen Colbert show I’m sure of it. I think the problem is CASINO ROYALE (2006) was such a dark, gritty entry to the 007 world it has been too hard to capture that same spirit. That said, I did enjoy SPECTRE more than Craig’s middle two turns as Bond.

MA: I thought QUANTUM OF SOLACE (2008) kept that same dark spirit alive.

Even more disappointing was Christoph Waltz as Oberhauser. Truth be told, it’s not so much Waltz’s fault as the writers’, who gave this character so little to do.  He’s also just not as menacing as I expected him to be, and Bond seems to gain the upper hand a little too easily.  Of course, the big news here, and I’m not sure if this qualifies as a spoiler, is Oberhauser’s true identity.  Again, this is a no brainer and really shouldn’t be a spoiler or come as any surprise.  I mean, the head of SPECTRE in the Sean Connery films was Blofeld.  Why would it be any different today?

The rest of the cast, however, is very good. I really enjoyed Ralph Fiennes as M, Naomi Harris as Moneypenny, Ben Whishaw as Q, and Rory Kinnear as Tanner, all of these folks reprising these roles from SKYFALL.  The scenes featuring these characters were among my favorite in the movie.

NC: Ralph Fiennes is not only perfect as M, he truly reminded me of an actor from the Connery era films. Major kudos to the producers.

MA: Yeah, I really like Fiennes in this role.

Andrew Scott, who played Moriarty on the TV show SHERLOCK (2010-2014) is memorable as C, a British official who wants to shut down MI6 because he thinks it’s an outdated agency.  Likewise, Dave Bautista makes for a memorable assassin Hinx, and his scenes are among the film’s best as well.  Bautista, of course, played Drax in Marvel’s GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY (2014).

Lea Seydoux is beautiful as the latest Bond girl, Madeleine Swann, but the plot point involving her character and James Bond I didn’t buy at all. We’re supposed to believe that they have real feelings for each other, but I didn’t sense anything special about their relationship, and when the story makes it clear that their relationship is more than just physical, I was left scratching my head.  Craig’s Bond shared much better chemistry with Eva Green’s Vesper Lynd in CASINO ROYALE (2006).

NC: I didn’t buy their romance either. I did like Madeleine Swann’s bad ass character, especially the scene on the train where Bond realizes he doesn’t have to teach her anything. But their falling in love seemed to happen too quickly, and while I don’t want to ruin the ending, I just find it hard to believe Bond would do what he did due to a woman.

MA: I agree.

NC: I know that sounds sexist, but it’s just not in his character. I did like Monica Belluci as Lucia. She looked as beautiful as ever (she was 50 when they filmed SPECTRE) and like Waltz, is given just way too little screen time, although it does fit the need for the part.

MA: Overall, SPECTRE isn’t bad, but I just found the writing to be glaringly subpar in this one.  The story didn’t wow me, and the dialogue I found flat, especially Bond’s dialogue and Oberhauser’s.  I enjoyed the plot of SKYFALL better, and I thought that Javier Bardems’ Silva was a more interesting villain than Christoph Waltz’ Oberhauser.  I did enjoy the ending to SPECTRE better than the ending in SKYFALL, but that’s not saying much.

Strangely, my favorite of the Craig films might be the one that most people tend to like the least, the second one, QUANTUM OF SOLACE.  That was a tight, compact hard-hitting thriller.

I have to say, while I liked it, SPECTRE is probably my least favorite of the Daniel Craig James Bond movies.

I give it two and a half knives.

What did you think, Nick?

NC: It’s easily my second favorite of Craig’s 007 films. I doubt anyone will top CASINO ROYALE, which I truly believe is one of the best in the franchise and one of the best reboots of any series there is.

MA: It is an amazing reboot, that’s for sure.

NC: I agree SKYFALL had a better plot than SPECTRE, but it bored me and I found it lifeless. With everything SPECTRE has going against it, I found myself constantly entertained, which enabled me to forgive many of the quirks we mentioned.

MA: Yes, there were certainly parts of SKYFALL that bored me, and it’s a very uneven Bond film, but the parts that worked I liked a lot, better than most of SPECTRE.

NC: I would like to see if the next 007 caper involves Spectre, as I’d like to see if they’d be in the forefront or once again completely in the shadows.

MA: I wouldn’t mind seeing another plot involving SPECTRE.

NC: And as far as Daniel Craig, I love him as 007, but if the ending of SPECTRE is any indication, this may very well be his last turn at bat. I remember Pierce Brosnan would say how tired he was getting of playing Bond, too, during the end of his tenure, and Craig seems to have the same aura lately.

SPECTRE is full of holes, but it’s just so much fun I give it three knives. Here’s hoping Bond’s 25th film keeps the party going.

(The conversation in the room ceases, and a man enters the room and sits at the head of the table. The lighting is such that we cannot see his face, but it is clear by the reaction of everyone in the room that he is the head of the organization.)

NC: It looks like the moment we’ve been waiting for has arrived.

MA: Yep, he’s here.  Hopefully we’ll learn his true identity.

MAN AT HEAD OF TABLE: I am here to teach you all about chaos and horror.

MA: Here goes.

(The light shifts and gradually illuminates the man at the head of the table to reveal— L.L. SOARES smoking a cigar.)

MA: No!  It can’t be!

LS: Who did you expect?  Some guy holding a white pussycat?  Okay, minions, the beer is on the house!

(Everyone cheers.)

-END-

© Copyright 2015 Michael Arruda and Nick Cato

 

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