SPECTRE

Movie Information

The Story: James Bond is back and out to save the world and his position in it, while uncovering his own past. The Lowdown: Lighter than the recent Bond movies, this is either a return to form, a winking homage to the whole series, or a dumbing down of the angsty, introspective Bond of the Daniel Craig era. Choose up sides.
Score:

Genre: Spy Thriller
Director: Sam Mendes
Starring: Daniel Craig, Christoph Waltz, Lea Seydoux, Ralph Fiennes, Monica Bellucci, Ben Whishaw, Naomie Harris
Rated: PG-13

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I’m not supposed to think much of SPECTRE (a friend of mine has dubbed it Sphinctre) — and I’m not about to make a case for it as a great movie — but the truth is I like it better than 2013’s Skyfall. And I like it better for the exact reasons I’m not supposed to — it’s goofier and doesn’t take itself so seriously. I might have guessed this when I read comments that it lacked characterization. It never occurred to me that James Bond movies were much about characterization — the possible exception being On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (1969), which is still the gold standard for the series for me. No, they’re about style, swagger, shameless sex, cool gadgets, in-jokes and beautifully realized, preposterous action scenes. This is where SPECTRE (which, by the way, is an acronym for Special Executive for Counter-Intelligence, Terrorism, Revenge and Extortion) scores in ways the gloomy introspection of Skyfall didn’t — for me.  I told someone else who didn’t like SPECTRE — but who was still interested in my review because, he said, I am more insightful than he is — “I’m not sure insight has anything to do with liking or not liking a Bond movie.”

 

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Thinking back on what I liked about Bond when I was a kid, I think it came down to the cars, the gadgets, the vague sci-fi nature and that attaché case of assorted spy doo-daddery. (Whatever became of that case in the series? It seems to have vanished — just like the cheap knock-off I insisted on carrying around when I was 10.) The appeal of the scantily-clad women and the childishly provocative names like Pussy Galore came a little later, but I cannot recall ever wondering about what Bond was feeling — at least till the last scene in OHMSS. I like that SPECTRE brings some of this quality back. I’m even OK with its ridiculous Blofeld plot twist and the extended ending. The film manages what I didn’t think was possible by keeping something of the faux-serious tone of the last few of the series’ entries while bringing back some of the…well, dumb fun and cheerful amorality of the older movies.

 

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I’m not saying SPECTRE can’t get too dumb for its own good. You have only to look at the silly ersatz-Maurice Binder opening credits with their cheesy animation and octopus tentacles wrapping around girls’ bodies like a PG-13 version of a certain kind of Japanese erotica. None of this is helped by that Sam Smith song that sounds like a couple of cats having a fit in a vat of ketchup. I’m also not claiming that the plot is anything special. In fact — and this is surely coincidental — it’s virtually the same as this year’s Mission: Impossible — Rogue Nation, but housed in a classier vehicle. Say what you will, but SPECTRE is one gorgeous-looking movie. Every scene oozes class and careful construction. Hell, the scene where Craig’s Bond meets arch-villain Franz Oberhauser (Christoph Waltz) looks like something out of Citizen Kane. And the action scenes are superb — not just in size, but in how clearly, cleanly and coherently they’re executed.

 

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Though it doesn’t stress it, the film does have something on its mind — an almost Luddite-like concern over the dehumanizing and dangerous effect of modern technology. That’s an interesting stance for a series that was built on cutting-edge technology of 50-plus years ago, but it’s not, I think, unwarranted, and for more reasons than the threat of making Bond and the 00 program obsolete. There are other grace moments in the film — not the least of which is the subtext between Q (Ben Whishaw) and Bond — but basically, this is fun James Bond stuff. Enjoy it for what it is. Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of action and violence, some disturbing images, sensuality and language.

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About Ken Hanke
Head film critic for Mountain Xpress from December 2000 until his death in June 2016. Author of books "Ken Russell's Films," "Charlie Chan at the Movies," "A Critical Guide to Horror Film Series," "Tim Burton: An Unauthorized Biography of the Filmmaker."

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32 thoughts on “SPECTRE

  1. brianpaige

    I didn’t see as much of MI5 in this flick as I did Captain America: The Winter Soldier. In fact near the end when we find out the true nature of “C” as a character it became blatantly obvious they were ripping off the Marvel movie big time. Other than Ethan Hunt seeking out The Syndicate (and Bond tries to find Spectre) I don’t see a ton of overlap.

    I’m probably going to have to watch this again. The ending just felt weirdly flat. In fact everything after the big Blofeld reveal felt weirdly anti climactic. I hope if they do bring Waltz back in the next movie they do something else with him besides the obvious prison escape. How about Bond visiting him Hannibal Leckter style in prison to gain info on whoever the heel is in the next movie?

    • Ken Hanke

      Well, since I never saw (and have no interest in seeing) either Captain America movie, I can’t comment on that. However, the whole dynamic of Bond going rogue, being at odds with his boss, getting help from Q, exposing a dastardly scheme that keeps the 00 program alive is pretty interchangeable with Rogue Nation from where I sit — just change some names.

      • T.rex

        Im sure your plate is full but if you get the chance, see The Winter Soldier. Its the best of those Marvel movies. A very good film, comics or no comics.

        • Ken Hanke

          Just not interested. I have never cared for Captain America, and his appearances in the Avengers movies have done nothing to change that.

          • Edwin Arnaudin

            Winter Soldier is overrated and not as good as The First Avenger. But then I think the Thor movies are the best standalones…

          • Ken Hanke

            Of the ones I’ve seen, I’d go with Thor.

          • Edwin Arnaudin

            Thor is great and the second one is just as good, if not better.

          • Big Al

            The best reason to see “Winter Soldier” is the timely discussion of how far governments will rationalize destroying democracy to defend it, and how the gathering of mega-data can be abused to achieve this. The super hero stuff is just window dressing .

    • T.rex

      They will bring Waltz back. Fans know what that ending leads to. Its basically a cliffhanger.

    • slicedice

      I’m pretty sure they’re leaving the door open to Blofeld killing the Madeleine in the next movie, possible after Bond marries her. That’s what happened last time around. I hope I haven’t spoiled anything for you.

  2. brianpaige

    Winter Soldier was a far better movie than Spectre to be honest. Speaking of Bond going rogue, isn’t that entire shtick completely played out at this point? They’ve been doing that same story on and off since the Dalton era’s Licence to Kill. Since that flick where 007 had his license to kill revoked and went rogue we have seen Bond also go rogue in Die Another Day, Quantum of Solace, and now Spectre. It’s actually kind of interesting to go back and watch Connery and Moore era Bonds and see how congenial they were with M and the level of international cooperation other agencies had with Bond (Karim Bey in FRWL, Tanaka in YOLT, Leiter in a bunch of stuff, etc.). Seems like now the only way they can even do the Felix Leiter subplots is to have HIM also go rogue, like going off script and bankrolling Bond in Casino Royale, or going against his own CIA orders in Quantum of Solace.

    • Ken Hanke

      All of which illustrates why the best Bond movie is the 1967 Casino Royale.

      • T.rex

        Finally watched that this summer. Yeah…I guess I had “to be there” and/or do some psychodelics with the movie.

        • Ken Hanke

          It helps if you think James Bond movies are silly to begin with. And while, yeah, I “was there” I have — strange as it may seem — never done psychedelics.

          In any case, it remains the only Bond movie I own.

      • Bob B

        Speaking of off-hand Bond flicks, I actually own the original 1954 Casino Royale, where Bond is American and Felix is British. Its like a public service announcement against gambling. Great stuff…

  3. T.rex

    Ha, I knew you’d like it. I could not agree more on ON HER MAGESTY’S SECRET SERVICE. It is the gold standard and the best Bond film. To be honest I need to see Spectre again before I give it a fair review. It could have been made with stick figure animation and I would have been just as excited in the sneak preview. One thing that did stick out was the plane chase from the clinic. That segmant was just “meh”. Give us a great ski chase if you are going to the Alps and harkoning back to OHMSS. The opening sequence was great (yes, finally brought back the gun barrel sequence!) and the theme song was fine. Its not on a favorites list but I can listen to it. I’d say Spectre is the third best in the Craig era.

    • Edwin Arnaudin

      the theme song was fine

      So you were the one who clapped for it at our screening. Good to know.

      • Ken Hanke

        I stand by my “couple of cats having a fit in a vat of ketchup” assessment.

        • sally sefton

          I stand by my “couple of cats having a fit in a vat of ketchup” assessment.

          I guess you could say that if you want to overstate the case. I went in to the movie hoping that I would come out feeling differently than Mr. Hanke about the opening song. Though I can’t go into such hyperbole, I can say that the music, most notably the vocalist set my teeth on edge. I have respect for Sam Smith. I even have some of his music, but this was an error in judgement. It was a pander to the millennials at the expense of the all important opening of a Bond film. The opening with credits and sexy images is one of the iconic aspects of the whole experience and it didn’t set me up to really like the film.

          The film was okay. For me it wasn’t four stars. Daniel Craig seemed to phone it in. He has a nice body, but his schtick of being emotionally above it all got tiresome. I wasn’t cheering for him except in the drill in head scene.

          I love Bond and I have never missed one. But this movie made me more intrigued by other letters in the alphabet…Q for example.

      • T.rex

        Were you at the Thursday 7PM show at RPX?? Yep, we clapped at the gun barrel sequence and at the reveal of Blofeld, even at his cat. Lots of fun.

          • T.rex

            That was for Edwin. Trust me, I only go to Regal RPX for big premieres (4 or 5 times ayear) other than that its always The Carolina for me.

          • Edwin Arnaudin

            No, just a failed attempt at making fun of you for liking the song, Mr. Rex.

          • T.rex

            Whoah… I said it was fine. Meaning, just ok.

    • Bob B

      Man it’s good to see so much love for OHMSS. Always been my favorite (best songs too) but Lazenby gets panned so much I thought I was the only one. “This never happened to the other fellow!”

      • T.rex

        Glad to see another OHMSS fan. I thought Lazenby was fine and would have become a great Bond if he didnt listen to his idiot manager that told him to quit. He definitely had the look for it. I need to get one of those chin clefts. “Hope I can live up to your high standards.”

  4. brianpaige

    The theater I was in reacted to nothing at all. I have no idea what anyone thought, but then again this audience was an ultra reserved bunch of old people. I think Bond might have an aging demographic that might occasionally bring in some younger viewers (like Skyfall did). But then why would anyone react to the Blofeld reveal? The movie is called SPECTRE. Not like it’s hard to figure out that Blofeld is in the movie. For those who don’t know what Spectre was all about, they wouldn’t care anyway. Speaking of which I’m glad Ken mentioned the actual definition of the group since they never bothered in the movie.

    • Ken Hanke

      T. Rex saw the movie on Thursday night, or in other words at the earliest possible moment, meaning he was in an audience of true believer fans. And they are always a little overly demonstrative. The week before I caught Scouts Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse with just such an audience. They hooted and hollered and applauded, too. With that crowd a zombie dick joke was cinematic gold. The Blofeld reaction was probably one of anticipation satisfied. I usually see movies — those that don’t have press screenings — first show on Friday morning, which is always a small, usually older crowd. In the case of SPECTRE I held out for the noon show, because it was in the biggest theater with the biggest ‘scope format screen. It was still mostly an older crowd — after all it was a weekday morning — and they were typically more sedate, but there’s another pretty good barometer: How fast do they get up when the credits start. If there’s a rush for the exit, you can generally guess they didn’t much like it, There was no rush to leave with this — even more noteworthy with a 2 1/2 hour movie.

  5. Matt

    Well, if I wasn’t with some good friends, I wouldn’t have seen this one in the theater. I voted for Spotlight, but groups tend to prefer lighter material. So I’m used to watching heavier or slower movies alone. (I think my parents still have a copy of Hotel Rwanda I gave them years ago in its original packaging.)

    Spectre’s one of those movies that uses new twists on familiar tropes so we get that satisfaction of predictability without actually watching the exact same movie over again. He’s got to say “bond, james bond” and “shaken not stirred” and there’s got to be a villain with something quirky and scary (spike thumbs!) and he’s got to remain classy no matter what (fall from a crumbling building onto a couch, straighten tie; or make love after winning fight scene). I’m down with all that AND flipping helicopters. Really. The problem is when the film suddenly tries to retain that contemporary seriousness we gave him in the last few movies, and asks us to be actually invested (bond’s love for new girl, mass surveillance is bad, extended mental/physical torture sequence of Bond in front of the girl).

    Additionally, when Bond and his girl magically appear in a impeccable new outfits not matter what stage of their adventure they are in, or when they appear on other parts of the continent with no real time lapse or explanation, I start to really lose any kind of desire to watch. I wasn’t checking my watch, but I did consider playing a game on my phone at one point. Light and slapstick in this scene, heartfelt in the next, and no attempt at all at logical continuity just made it seem like the mass appeal porn it really is.

    Having said that, I love a good action sequence and fun villains. Opening scene with the flipping helicopter was great, fight scene on the train was fun, villain with thumbs was cool.

    • Ken Hanke

      I hope this does not prevent you from catching Spotlight on your own!

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