Spectre (2015)

(Video on Demand, February 2016) What’s going on at EON production these days? Casino Royale was a modern Bond classic followed by the disappointment that was Quantum of Solace, followed by another hit with Skyfall, and now another disappointment with Spectre. Oh, Spectre does have its moments: From the technically impressive (but somewhat meaningless) long tracking shot that opens the film to various moments that show that director Sam Mendes knows what he’s doing, this is a slick blockbuster production with matching results. Everything feels calculated for maximum cross-promotional marketing opportunities and the images on-screen are never less than perfect. Perversely, this glossy surface polish makes the basic bone-headed script problems of the film seem even more glaring. No matter the accomplishment of Spectre’s images, the biggest problems with the film remain story issues. I can’t say enough bad things about the dumb decision to make this fourth Daniel Craig entry try to call back to the previous instalments, especially if they’re going to attempt something as cheap as introducing a villain with family ties to Bond, and half-heartedly trying to make sense of the mush that was Quantum of Solace. It suddenly makes the Bond universe feel small and cramped, unrealistic and petty at once. Spectre also mishandles a post-Skyfall Bond by not giving him a standalone adventure in the classic sense. After the character reconstruction of the previous film, we should have gotten a full classic Bond, not another rebuilding instalment as Bond (once again) goes rogue and his agency is (once again) destroyed. Skyfall was a once-in-a-generation reset: the same trick used in successive films is getting thin—and it doesn’t help that it highlights similarities with the far more entertaining Mission Impossible: Rogue State. The various plotting strands are also confounding: Some secondary characters disappear almost as fast as they’re introduced (giving Monica Bellucci a bare two scenes as a Bond Girl is borderline-criminal), the film doesn’t seem to commit to its own sub-plots and the ending earns the stench of an expected sequel by locking up its antagonist. (And don’t get me started on Andrew Scott reprising his worst tics from the Sherlock series.) One thing is for sure: The Daniel Craig years have been very strange for the Bond franchise, zigzagging between exceptional and forgettable Bond movies. What’s perhaps more confounding with Spectre is how the Bond series, which should be timeless and rely on its own time-tested formula, is now aping the worst screenwriting trends of the moments. Feh. But on the bright side, the next instalment should be better if we go by the series’ on-off pattern.

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