Review: Spectre

A climactic conclusion to Daniel Craig’s James Bond arc that uses every James Bond cliché but doesn’t manage to do a lot with them that’s interesting.

Towards the end of last year, I got persuaded to see the newest James Bond movie, Spectre, even though I had not seen any of the previous movies since Casino Royale. Since Spectre ties heavily to the earlier installments, I’m obviously not the best person to review it, and I can’t discuss everything… but I do want to say a few things.

The obvious first: If you haven’t seen the other Daniel Craig films, you can watch this one, but it’ll be missing something. As in, “Who the heck are all these people?” Eventually you’ll roughly figure it out, and I was actually informed later on that I wasn’t supposed to know as many things as I thought. This movie makes references back to all the others and ties them all under the theme of “Spectre”, the classic criminal organisation, being behind everything. Of course, this leaves the question of whether it actually makes sense, which I can’t comment on much. I know I didn’t get any sense of “Ohhh, now it all makes sense” about how Casino Royale was tied in. Anyway, you certainly get the feeling that they were going for an epic conclusion. They also make the stakes high in other ways such as having the whole MI6 being threatened.

This movie really uses every Bond cliché: The dramatic action prologue, the unexplained charm to women, the two women involved with Bond the first of whom is associated with the villains and the second “nice” one of whom is more important, gratuitous exotic places, stuff blowing up, Bond’s troubles with authority, the special car, the gadget watch, car chases, the tough henchman who almost kills Bond because he’s immune to being hit, the secretive evil organisation, the villain’s special remote base, the monologuing evil mastermind, the scene where Bond is held helpless… I don’t go to see a James Bond movie expecting not to see clichés, but I wasn’t expecting this many.

Not that that’s a bad thing, because, again, it’s a James Bond movie, so what do you expect? These are mostly pretty fun clichés, and such a climactic story is a good place for having all of them at once. The problem is that you have to do something slightly different with them every time, preferably more impressive than before — and that’s what this movie doesn’t do. You’d almost think — can you imagine? — that after repeating the same thing a hundred times in different ways, the people making the movies can no longer find any novelty in it. For example, the first car chase has remarkably much of just “one car drives after another car.” There are some stunts and humour, but most of the time seems to be spent with Bond talking on the phone, as if he too is bored, or at least too busy to engage in a real car chase. (The second car chase does have an airplane in it because someone couldn’t find a car, so it’s just about sufficiently outlandish.) The same applies to most of the cliché elements: most of them are just less interesting or outrageous than in earlier movies, at least after you’ve already seen them those million times. Not bad, mostly, but not more than more of the same either.

The movie also takes up some elements from the earlier Bond continuities. The name alone makes this fairly obvious. This is, again, sort of interesting or at least gratuitously satisfying, but I was not blown away by how it’s done and what’s done with it. It was just okay.

While I haven’t seen the movies in between, I can contrast Spectre with Casino Royale. The earlier movie was much less clichéd — and interesting for that — but the two do have something in common: both make Bond a character with a history and some development. More human than before. The first movie starts his character arc and this one seems to end it. I’m not singing praises for doing this, at least for Spectre, because it’s pretty basic stuff for any other movie. Nor do I think it’s exactly required, because if you want to be serious about your characters, you don’t choose one like James Bond. But it’s something.

Rating: 3/5

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