November 10, 2015

Bond 24: Quite the Spectre-cal

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Put it away, naysayers. I’m sick of people telling me there’s something wrong with liking pop entertainment. It doesn’t have to have a fabulously deep agenda like Mad Max: Fury Road or dispense with traditional narrative or even refuse to follow formula to be entertaining. Quit pointing out the plot holes in Interstellar and the corny dialogue in Gravity and just shut up and watch the movie, because you might have fun.

A Bond movie, fans should know, requires strict suspension of disbelief, so check your intellect at the door and get ready to enjoy a long, lavish extravaganza that has everything you could possibly want from 007.



It has an uber-cool villain in Franz Oberhauser (Christoph Waltz), who is on screen for far too little time yet makes a strong impression. It has the most luminous Bond woman since Vesper Lynd (Eva Green): Madeleine Swann (Lea Seydoux). And it has two pristine vintage automobiles — one new, the other classic — the sight of which is enough to make anyone drool. Spectre cost between $250 million and $300 million to make, one of the most expensive motion pictures ever made — but at least these filmmakers know how to spend it. As Bond himself once put it, “I’ve never seen so much go out the door so quickly … or quite so stylishly.”

The filmmaking team behind Spectre is headed by Sam Mendes, back after the gargantuan performance of Skyfall. Mendes is perhaps the first auteur to come in contact with the Bond franchise, and he brings a polished prestige to a series which becomes either camp and goofy, or somber and serious when left in the wrong hands. That was the problem in the last two installments — they didn’t give us James Bond proper; they gave us James, the brooding avenger. In both Quantum of Solace and Skyfall, the two follow-ups to the high watermark of Casino Royale, Bond was saddled first with the vengeance of a former love in a clumsy, incapably directed mess, then as a frightened, devoted son to his mother figure. Although Skyfall was artistically superior in every way to Quantum, it still left me hungry for the Bond who came before the third act of Casino Royale: the one who enjoys his job and is free of emotional trauma and bereavement to sleep with a few dozen women or settle back with a martini in between shootouts and explosions. The trick with Bond, and the reason his adventures continue after 50-plus years, is that his killing is best when it isn’t personal.

And this time there’s killing to spare. Bond is sent zig-zagging across the world, from Mexico to Tunisia to London to Rome, making his relatively few travel stops in Skyfall look pitiful by comparison. The encumbrance of his dark past seems lifted off his shoulders as he commandeers planes, trains and automobiles in one exciting set piece after another. Perhaps he’s finally come to terms with the traumas that come with this line of work — after all, he was green to the secret agent business the time we first met him in Daniel Craig. Craig is just as good now as he was when he started nine years ago, and he seems not to have aged a day. This might be the last time we see Craig in the role, but if that’s the case, he’s gone out with a magnificent bang.

Despite the newfound freedom in tone, the movie revisits many ghosts from the previous films, including one who shows up in the flesh, not as a reference or a likeness on a video screen. There are nods to all the people who turned up dead — good and bad — in the prior films and how they have influenced Bond’s current trajectory. Basically, it’s all part of a master plan by the evil syndicate Spectre, which has appeared in the series before, but not since the 1970s. Bond’s job this time is simply to unearth their latest scheme. In doing so, he learns many secrets and even gets it on with the daughter of an old villain.

There’s a multitude of breathtaking chases and fights, all of which make time for a laugh and a pithy quip. They feel more like substance rather than larded distraction; such stuff is integral to good 007 escapism. However, Mendes wisely goes for restraint during the climax, rather than trying to one-up everything with more carnage, which leaves an even greater impact. The film is too long and could have sat comfortably at two hours, but the added time is really only extra candy, unnecessary but never boring. It mystifies me why the fifth Mission: Impossible installment received such acclaim this summer when it was instantly forgettable, while Spectre, with far better actors, action sequences and craft, struggles with the critics. Skyfall was acclaimed and yet this Bond is better — it certainly can’t beat Skyfall for sheer entertainment value. Maybe it goes to show that sometimes, when it comes to pop culture, the intelligentsia aren’t the best to judge.

Mark DiStefano is a senior in the College of Arts and Sciences. He can be reached at [email protected].