drwex (drwex) wrote,

I saw "Spectre" and it was an OK movie and a great Bond flick

I will say first off that these people know how to make a (new) Bond film. This one has enough story continuity to make things interesting and just the right amount of the things you want in a Bond film - guns, women, fast cars, the right drinks, gadgets, humor. It also does OK at the "let's try to reboot a classic Bond trope."

To talk about this I want to split things: looking at Spectre as a film-qua-film, where I think it fares not so well, and looking at it specifically as a "Bond film" where the most important thing is that I left the theater well-satisfied. I don't think I can do this without some spoilers so I'll cut-tag.

One of the hallmarks of the Daniel Craig Bond films is that they're reaching back for some of the gritty edge that characterized both the Fleming novels and the early Connery films, while at the same time trying to lose some of the gross sexism. M was a woman for a while, and Judy Densch not only kicked ass in the role the filmmakers have the good sense to keep her death significant and important to the plot threads linking these movies. Now we have a Moneypenny who is a black woman who is competent and important. Craig-era Bond doesn't shy away from showing off conventionally attractive women (the trope) but it does present them as people with lives and agency over their own futures. They are people, not furniture ornaments. Bond does have sex with them, but not when drunk and it gives at least a very good appearance of mutual consent rather than one-sided seduction.

This new agency is particularly true for Léa Seydoux, the latest "Bond girl" . Her character (Swan) is an MD with a troubled past, on the run from her family and her father's syndicate, with a conscience, and with many hard decisions to make in very small amounts of time. Yes, she's (repeatedly) kidnapped and Bond does rescue her. But she also rescues him at least twice and the scene on the train where Bond tries to teach her about guns is priceless.

The way Seydoux plays it makes the important moment where she has to decide whether to continue or to cut and run all the more powerful. Yes, she loves Bond but there's a real question of whether that's enough to overcome her doubts and fears and for her to commit to one path or another is her choice. If anything, I fault Craig's acting here as he comes across utterly stone-faced, without the level of reaction I want him to have to her obvious struggles.

The other thing I liked is that both Swan and Bond face parallel choices, even if M has to spell it out for the audience - a license to kill is also a license NOT to kill. One of the better themes running through Bond is why does he do what he does. The Craig-as-Bond film arc so far is digging into that and I still think it has potential, though the execution in the films themselves remains clumsy.

If Seydoux gets two thumbs up, I have to give thumbs down to the way the script plays Christoph Waltz's Blofeld. I am SO bored of Bond villains who are just plain insane. In Skyfall we had Silva (insane); before that Dominic Greene (insane). And so on. If the scriptwriters can't come up with a villain motivation beyond "he's nuts" then it gets dull pretty fast. I think Waltz does the best he can with what he's given, but Blofeld just isn't scary. He's annoying. If Blofeld's story is nothing more than "nutcase builds global empire to enact his personal revenge" then boy are you all wasting a lot of potential.

The movie turns on the premise that Bond has to stop the villain's plans for world domination. OK, fine. This time, the world is to be dominated via a linked computer intelligence network called "Nine Eyes". That's an obvious reference to Five Eyes, one of the bigger revelations of the Snowden documents. I give the filmmakers credit for trying to make the film relevant. The bad men are all white English-speaking types, so props for not using brown or black people as villains. What scares us (as it scares M in this movie) is not somebody with nuclear weapons - it's the set of agencies acting as though they were outside any law collecting all our data and watching every move, every conversation, every phone call.

The problem, though, is that the film leaves us with the impression that this kind of thing only happens because the paid agents of madmen are in charge. When in reality it's well-meaning honest people in charge - people who would certainly describe themselves as patriots and who think they are keeping us all safer by making privacy nearly impossible. I would also say that this film pretty utterly fails in having people of color in more than one interesting place.

The film also falls into the canonical stupid trope of "lone hacker is better than all possible computer security systems." Really? That's unimaginative and stupid. I would love to have seen Q go online and bring in his own network of grayhats. Or really about six other relevant plot variants I could think up if I spent two minutes on it.

Being a Bond film one is expected to suspend one's disbelief of the flying abilities of helicopters (and their pilots) and various other physical objects. I get that and sort of expect it, just like I expect every car chase in every old European city will feature cars going down a stone staircase (scattering pedestrians optional). So I'm glossing over all the physics- and object-based things. I also thought the green-screen work was a little too obvious in places.

The final problem I want to talk about is that this series seem unable to manage more than two real characters per film. Previously that was Bond and M, as Dame Judy Dench absolutely crushed it. The new M seems to take the role of flailing guy as Bond and Swan dominate this picture. I realize not everyone is Joss Whedon in being able to write ensemble casts but M, Q, and Moneypenny all have a great deal of potential that goes nowhere, once again. The film brings them in on the action, which is great, but other than one scene of Moneypenny at home and one scene of M facing off with C you don't get the sense that these are real people with interesting stories of their own.

Reading all the above might give you the idea that I didn't enjoy the film - that's not true. I walked out with a big grin, pumped up in the way a good action picture pumps me up. If you're at all a Craig Bond fan go see this. It's arguably better than any of the previous ones except "Casino Royale", which was such a novel change of course for Bond films.
Tags: movie, review
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