Spectre: Sceptic or Believer?
November 8, 2015
Spectre has been out a few weeks, and I have heard more conflicting views about it than perhaps any other movie in recent times, certainly any other Bond movie. Judging by the reaction this side of the pond, it’s something of a critics’ movie, with a bevy of five star reviews from reviewers such as Robbie Collin and Peter Bradshaw. Some of the fans I’ve spoken to have been less kind, and there have been a few critics who have dissented. In The Spectator, the wonderfully acerbic Deborah Ross dismissed Spectre as just another mindless action movie. However, in the US, the critics have had a stark marmite reaction. Check out the HMSS Weblog for a look at just how divided the reviews have been.
You may recall that I greatly admired Spectre, and, after watching it again (sad, I know, but I really enjoyed it), I still largely hold that view. There were some details I spotted that enhanced my enjoyment of the film, and other things that rather irked me this time around. I’d thought I’d share them with you here in what is, I hope, a spoiler- free form. Firstly, all of the cast are excellent, but it’s Daniel Craig’s film all the way. I had some quibbles about Craig’s performance in Casino Royale. I thought he was just a bit too thuggish and lacking in humour. Now I see that Craig’s idiosyncratic sense of humour is much more subtle than in the earlier films. Gone are the old one liners that Bond spouted whenever a villain was inventively dispatched. Craig’s voice places a degree of absurdism on certain words, making his Bond much more self-aware than I think he’s been given credit for. Nor is this Bond a violent thug. As Spectre is wrapping up plot lines from the previous three films, there is a sense of finality as the end credits roll and the audience wonders whether Bond can live a normal life. Craig’s grown in the role so much that I felt a slight twinge of sadness that this will probably be his last. Of course I might be wrong about that, I hope I am… Aside from Craig, the next star of Spectre is the cinematographer Hoyte van Hoytema. The use of colour is dazzling from scene to scene and evolves seamlessly as the narrative moves through various settings: from the vivacious explosion of colour in Mexico City to the brilliant fusion of gold and black in the coldly austere depiction of Rome. Hoytema masterly frames each setting with a distinctive colour identity. The harsh monochrome white of the Austrian Alps contrasts nicely with the blinding, sun-drenched North African desert.
On the debit side, the one member of the cast who was truly wasted was not Monica Belluci (she handles her small but important role well) but Stephanie Sigman. Sigman plays Estrella in the pre-credits sequence set during the Day of the Dead in Mexico City, and while its a thrilling scene, we do not see nearly enough of her for it to make sense casting a recognisable actress in the role. Another gripe was the design of the new headquarters of British Intelligence. It looks cool, evoking both the Shard and Gherkin, and the spiral structure is fittingly symbolic, but, really, was glass architecture the best choice? The whole point of a secret service is that people shouldn’t be able to see in, plus the last HQ was destroyed in a bomb attack so, I repeat, did they think through the glass design?
Aside from that though, I was prepared to forgive Spectre its flaws as I was swept away by the romanticism of a film which embraced almost the entire history of the Bond series. And while every Bond film is over the top, and Spectre was no exception, there weren’t any nuking the fridge moments. The ‘nine eyes’ plot line was more interesting than a Bond-saves-the-world climax (in real life it’s called the five eyes), and this suited the meditative, almost languid pace of the film. This made me think Deborah Ross’ criticism was wide of the mark. Whatever its faults, Spectre is not a dumb action movie. For a mindless, and joyless, action movie watch any one of entries in The Expendables franchise.
Of course at the end of the day the only opinion that really matters is your own. So let me know what you thought of the movie in the comment thread below. Were you a Spectre sceptic or Bond believer?