Saturday, November 21, 2015


Alternate Title:  Staggeringly Putrid Excrement Created by TRepanation Enthusisasts

One sentence synopsis:     James Bond tracks down the mysterious architect of the events he has been investigating, as well as the shadowy criminal organization he heads.

A Note Before We Begin: Try as we might to avoid it, it became impossible to discuss this film rationally without resorting to SPOILERS. Do not read this review if you are desperate to avoid having a major plot-point spoiled for you.

Things Havoc liked: There are different rules for Bond films. We all know this. Bond is its own genre by now, with 24 movies spanning fifty years of spies, gadgets, seduction and daring-do. The most recent one of these was Skyfall, and I liked it a hell of a lot, a new beginning for a Bond series that has been many things over the course of its half-century lifespan, one that left the series open to any sort of followup the filmmakers wanted. Coming off a sterling performance by Javier Bardem as the previous installment's villain, and with the news that legendary German Tarantino-collaborator Christoph Waltz was to be taking his place as the evil criminal mastermind of Bond's most famous nemesis-organization, I was stoked to see this movie. Like with Skyfall, this seemed to promise the best combination of an excellent Bond (Daniel Craig is in the conversation for the best in the role, as far as I'm concerned), a brilliant villain (go see Inglorious Basterds if you want to know how well Waltz can play this sort of material), and a sleek, modern interpretation of the dynamic between Bond and his foes showcased through three previous movies, two of which were sort of brilliant and the last of which was merely okay. I have to see something every week, rain or shine, hell or high water, doldrums or Oscar season, but sometimes this blog writes itself. Bond was back. It was time to enjoy.

Things Havoc disliked: What the fuck was that?

Spectre is, without question in my mind, one of the most staggering, incomprehensible failures in moviemaking that I have ever seen. It is a disaster, a terrible film on both the level of a standalone action movie and the level of a Bond film, modern or otherwise. Comparing films to their predecessors may be gauche, but this is James Bond, a movie series with heft to it, and more importantly, one that had just finished a rousing triumph in the form of Skyfall, and for the filmmakers to follow Skyfall up with this, makes for perhaps the greatest collapse in quality between one film and another in the same series since Highlander 2: The Quickening. It is a terrible movie, no matter how you wish to slice it or what excuses you wish to give, and if you want to find out why, then we have to start with a little digging...

Bond films have always been silly, we know this. Sometimes, as in many of the Roger Moore and Pierce Brosnan films, they are more overtly so, and sometimes, as with Craig or Timothy Dalton's showcases, there is an attempt made to ground them in a grittier reality, but even when we're dealing with the former case, the silliness of Bond films comes from how over-the-top they are. Laser death traps, girls with ludicrous names, exotic henchmen with signature weapons, evil masterminds who could just kill Bond but prefer to monologue about their evil plan first, these things are staples of the series because they fit the series, or at least fit the movies they are in. Scaramanga works in Man with the Golden Gun because he's established as being an eccentric perfectionist who locks Bond in a dueling arena on his private island because his goal is to defeat Bond in a dueling arena on his private island. Jaws is a giant hitman with metal teeth because we are inhabiting a world with giant hitmen with metal teeth, same with Oddjob and Xenia Onnotop and Pussy Galore and all the rest. You don't drop villains like that into a movie like Casino Royale or License to Kill, at least not unless you intend to make terrible Bond films (Die Another Day comes to mind). So what do these filmmakers do? They get Christoph Waltz, a man who never found scenery he couldn't dine on, and tell him to play Ernst Blofeld (the reveal of which is treated like some grand dramatic thing, even though there is no context for who the hell that is within any of the previous films), zapping at Bond with some contraption of indeterminable purpose, or stashing him within elaborate death traps that he can easily escape, all while the other half of the movie is trying to be a Kathryn Bigelow-esque mediation on surveillance societies and privacy-infringing intelligence resources, material it plays so straight as to strangle all potential for any fun.

But I'm afraid blaming a tonal clash for this film's woes doesn't even scratch the surface. Plenty of movies have tried to be all things to all people, and some of them were even decent. This film however doesn't just fail on the level of ideas that clashed with one another, but because the ideas themselves that they are trying to fuse are BAD IDEAS. The movie goes all-out, trying to convince us that everything from the last three Bond films was leading up to this, all the events of the previous movies were orchestrated by some shadow-organization who is now being revealed, because hey, it's 2015, and we want every movie to be The Avengers now, right? Well Avengers managed that because they were A: Dealing with comic book characters, with strongly-defined archetypical characters, traits, and stories, and B: Marvel spent a goddamn decade building the world they would inhabit up through a whole series of previous films explicitly geared towards this end. You can't short-cut your way through that process by taking the three previous, barely-connected films, waving your hands at any muddled aspects of them that didn't make sense, and claiming that the very lack of specificity to some of the plot details we barely remember was all part of your brilliant plan. The effect is so tendentious as to be laughable, as the movie vainly tries to pretend that this was the plan all along, and when it fails (and oh, does it fail), turning around and doing something you only see when a movie has suffered a tremendous failure at the most fundamental level:


Making the villain a relative of the hero, about whom we have heard nothing previously, in a vain attempt to force some "emotional resonance" into the conflict between them without actually going through the trouble of establishing anything.

Yes, this is a film wherein it turns out that all of the events of the three previous Bond films happened because James Bond's step-brother, whom we have never heard of, became the literally greatest criminal in the world just so that he could torment James Bond and ruin his life through a series of hopelessly lame setpieces and death traps. And we are expected to swallow this despite there being no evidence in any of the previous movies (or frankly, in this one), that anything of the sort was being planned. The transparency of this ploy within the film is so stark as to stagger belief. It is like claiming that you did not kill that man moments after walking into the room with a machete, and, in front of seventeen witnesses, killing that man.

But fine, the plot is stupid beyond belief. Bond movies have survived that much before. What makes this movie fall totally to pieces? Everything else. The action, one staple of Bond films you can usually count on, is staggeringly inept, boring as all get out, with no energy, style, or interest to it. Remember Casino Royale? Its opening sequence, its fight in the bathroom or the parkour-heavy scene in the construction yard? Remember that silent, silhouetted fight scene from Skyfall, the one that took place against the backdrop of a ten-story neon sign? Well forget all that shit, we've got some of the most boring, pace-less, spectacle-free action you've ever seen here. Even Bond doesn't look interested as he lazily shoots down his targets. The fucking climax of the movie involves him firing a pistol at a helicopter while not being menaced even slightly. What is this, some attempt to drop Blofeld and Bond's wackiness into a John leCarre book? Even the henchman, usually a reliable source of fun in a Bond movie, is a hulking cypher of an irrelevancy played by Dave Bautista, who was awesome in Guardians of the Galaxy as Drax the Destroyer because that was a good movie made by skilled filmmakers with a brilliant script. This film, possessed of none of those qualities, makes him into Generic big tough guy number 18, to the point where it wasn't until after he had died that I realized his death sequence was supposed to be a major setpiece of the film.

And what of the Cast, the quality of the film I usually lead with? Useless. Léa Seydoux may be gorgeous, but she is simply a bad actress, something I've determined before from films as varied as The Grand Budapest Hotel and Farewell My Queen. Honestly, the problem here though isn't her, but the character written for her, a generic useless pretty person who has no actual point in either the story or the "grand plot" of the films, and yet whom we are supposed to believe Bond falls in love with to the point where he is willing to give up the life of an itinerant spy. The classic Bond girls of yesteryear were silly, yes, and there as eye candy, but they were also KGB spies and secret assassins and exotic heiresses looking for vengeance in their own right, and when Bond slept with them, you could see what it was that he found compelling. This one is a shrinking violet of no use to anyone, whose character arc is transparently used as an excuse to get her captured, again and again, so that Bond can have a dilemma. Monica Bellucci, meanwhile, about which so much was made prior to the film's release, that there would finally be an older Bond Girl, is basically not in the movie at all, and during the two minutes she does spend there, she accomplishes exactly zero, save of course for being seduced by Bond during her husband's funeral. We've discussed Waltz and Craig, both of whom look flat-out embarrassed to be there, but we also should bring up Ralph Fiennes, who has the unenviable task of basically playing Alec Baldwin's character from Mission Impossible 5 without the compensating quality of being Alec Baldwin. Andrew Scott, meanwhile, who played Morarty on the BBC's Sherlock, gets to play the evil government official who wants to activate a domestic spy program to rule the world, an idea that seems to come out of nowhere except the filmmaker's desire to pretend that this BOND FILM is actually a deep mediation on the questions of our times. Admittedly, this is the sort of shit that worked in Captain America 2, mostly because that movie starred Captain America, was written by someone who had seen a movie in the last thirty years, and was also entirely about the subject in question, rather than tacking it on as a B-plot to impress those who believe we can't have a spy movie that isn't also about how evil espionage is. This film meanwhile is so incompetently-made that we are treated to actual scenes in which Scott stands before his adversaries and sneers at them that they are clearly too naive weak for the modern world because they "are stupid enough to believe in... *scoff*... democracy!".

Final thoughts:    Spectre is not just a bad movie, but the worst kind of bad movie, a movie so bad that it makes me retroactively hate other movies related to it that I previously liked. I praised the hell out of Skyfall when it first came out, but reflecting on the thunderous mess that is Spectre makes me realize that the flaws that destroyed this film were present in its predecessor as well, waiting to strike once the filmmakers ran out of good ideas and threw their hands up in the air. That Sam Mendes, who made American Beauty, Jarhead, and Skyfall itself, was the director of this film, tells me that something went fantastically wrong early on in the process, to the point where nobody, not the cast, not the producers, not Mendes, and not the scriptwriters, were able to salvage anything from it. And yet to present this movie as some kind of Avengers-style capstone to a series that was plainly not aiming in this direction beforehand is a move so shameless that I can only describe it as contemptible. This is a film that tells you that the movies you watched before were other than what they were, and rather than try and figure out what made them popular, prefers to re-write them for the worse so as to peddle lazy swill before you, confident that an action movie in November is unlikely to have much competition.

I get a lot of flak every time I pan a stupid action movie, from people who claim that I am simply failing to get into the "spirit" of the thing by turning my brain off and enjoying the spectacle. While I would point out that you are speaking to the guy who liked both Kingsman and Fast & Furious 7, my counter is not so much that I don't have high expectations, but that a stupid action movie that wants to coast on its action and fun should probably include fun action. And when the film does not include fun action because fun is stupid and all movies have to rip off other successful movies regardless of whether their formulas are compatible, then they should not expect mercy from me when it comes time to review the quality of their work, particularly not when their only recourse is to try and convince me that movies I liked weren't all that good in the first place.

Final Score:  2.5/10

Next Time:  A movie this bad demands a retreat to the indie theaters for something a little... different...

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