Thursday, November 19, 2015

Spectre

Long time fans of Ian Fleming's James Bond character may have felt their hearts warm upon learning that the latest outing would be named SPECTRE.  Ah, the memories of 1960s era 007, with a dapper yet rough hewn Sean Connery battling a bald scarfaced maniac villain called Blofeld and his organization, from which this new film gets its name. "SPECTRE" was an acronym for Special Executive for Counter-intelligence, Terrorism, Revenge and Extortion, though the current movie makes no effort to distinguish this.  Then again, the actions speak for themselves.  Even so, would this 21st century take be reverent to the old school?

Yes. SPECTRE in fact works in similar ways to the current Peanuts movie in its efforts to blend the old with the new.  To give the diehards the old fashioned derring do while maintaining a contemporary setting.  A timely one in which the MI6's merger with a privately funded intelligence service threatens the existence of the 00 section, deemed to be a stone age relic by a weasely government/corporate head called "C" (Andrew Scott).  C seeks to have Britain join several other nations in a joint surveillance alliance.  One remarked by a character to be scary enough for George Orwell.

Daniel Craig suits up for a fourth (final?) go round as 007, still mourning the death of his superior, M, previously portrayed by Dame Judy Dench.  Ralph Fiennes plays the new Head of Secret Intelligence, locked in a power struggle with C, and perhaps forced to suspend Bond from action after a rather eventful "holiday" in Mexico City (and a great opening sequence) that becomes "an international incident".  Unlike the teaser openings in some previous Bonds, this one is relevant to the story.  As James pulls a curious ring from a dead assassin's finger, he notes the inscription of an octopus that will be familiar to 007 philes.

SPECTRE moves entertainingly and confidently under Sam Mendes' direction, his second in the series.  The film globe trots among snowy and dusty locales, parades a few inevitable bed mates for the super agent, and often segues into an action scene when dialogue threatens to eat up too much screen time.  In other words, business as usual.  Some viewers find SPECTRE a pace or two backward with its willingness to embrace lengthy fight scenes and a plot riddled with holes, but I found it struck just the right tone.  Not exactly light (as in a Roger Moore entry), but less gloomy than in the previous SKYFALL, which I liked quite a bit but felt was over praised.

SPECTRE willingly lifts ideas from the Eon adventures of old, with its moving train scuffles, car gadgetry, large, silent bad guy minions, and even a scene where 007 is strapped to table/chair and threatened with torture.  A few dry wisecracks.  Blofeld's patented fluffy kitty is also seen.  Specific nods to the heart of what made the original films so engaging.  You might carp that there are one too many helicopter scrapes, though.

The "Bond girl" this time is Dr. Madeleine Swann (Lea Seydoux),  a psychologist who is the daughter of a former Bond nemesis, and she exhibits the sort of sexiness and feistiness ala Pussy Galore and others.  Monica Belluci, advertised as the oldest Bond girl in the series, only gets two early scenes.  She isn't given much to do, and that's too bad.  Had her character been developed with some sort of weary wisdom (she is the widow of an assassin Bond has killed) we could've had a more interesting partner for 007.  Maybe a throwback to Barbara Bach's XXX in THE SPY WHO LOVED ME or Countess Tracy (Diana Rigg) in ON HER MAJESTY'S SECRET SERVICE.

A well cast Christoph Waltz assumes the role of the central villain, one revealed to have deep ties with James Bond.   He also is given limited screen time, mainly late in the movie, but delivers a fairly even performance, minus lip smacking.  Critics again may wince at plot developments as Blofeld leads our heroes to his clandestine lair (another 007 cliche), but I couldn't be concerned with such myopia.  I was having too much fun.  SPECTRE is an immensely satisfying trip.  Even during the dependably cheesy, retro opening titles sequence, refreshing to see these days.  Real shame about that theme song, though.

Postscript: To those bitching that SPECTRE's plot and villain remind them of the AUSTIN POWERS movies: what did you geniuses think Mike Myers and company were spoofing in the first place? Go watch a Sean Connery Bond, namely THUNDERBALL.

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