SPECTRE Movie Review: The Story That Baffled Me

SPECTRE works best when it delivers action, but stumbles when it slows down to tell its story.
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SPECTRE is Eon Productions' 24th James Bond film and the fourth starring Daniel Craig.  The title is the name of a villainous global organization revealed to have been working behind the scenes of all Craig’s films, but it turns out the real nemesis is modern Hollywood.  While past films with other actors playing 007 have had loose connections to one another, the stories stood on their own, allowing audiences easy entry into the series.  However, being made in this era when people bingewatch because some TV series are serialized and multiple superhero titles are set within a single cinematic universe, SPECTRE appears created for those who will have Bond marathons at home.

The film opens with Bond in Mexico during the Day of the Dead celebration.  He was assigned to stop a terrorist plot by the previous M (Judi Dench) before her death.  When one man escapes, Bond pursues him, leading to a wild helicopter ride and Bond's discovery of a group known as SPECTRE.  This sequence opens with a fantastic single shot pulled off by cinematographer Hoyte van Hoytema and his team that will long be remembered as the camera glides through the streets, a hotel, and across rooftops. 

Back in the UK, M (Ralph Fieness) is dealing with government bureaucracy as the agency is being wrapped into the Joint Intelligence Service, a UK version of the U.S. Homeland Security, under C (Andrew Scott), who is looking to close down the 00 program and instead use a massive global surveillance program with eight other countries. 

Bond goes rogue to tackle SPECTRE on his own, though he naturally gets help from his pals Moneypenny (Naomie Harris) and Q (Ben Whishaw) along the way.  However, SPECTRE, and its leader, Franz Oberhauser (Christoph Walz), have been tracking Bond for a long time, and are prepared for his arrival.  The film moves forward with various and expected actions scenes filled with chases, fight, and explosions until Bond eventually triumphs. 

As the story progresses, it refers back to earlier Craig films. Having not recently seen the prior three, I was obviously missing connections being made, which felt like coming into the middle of a TV series and made me long for more action.  Considering it wasn't until 2013 that Eon obtained the legal rights to the name SPECTRE and all associated, I'd be surprised if there was any hint about it or a similar group in the other films. 

Even odder than trying to shoehorn that idea into the series is Oberhauser's backstory.  Bond aficionados won’t be surprised by his other alias, but after the big revelation that his megalomania is rooted in daddy issues and a connection to Bond, many might find themselves scratching their head about what the four screenwriters were going for.  They wasted their creativity in a needlessly grand overarching story instead of focusing on more important elements, such as creating memorable characters instead of unfortunately forgettable ones they gave us in henchman Mr. Hix (Dave Bautista) and Bond girl Dr. Madeleine Swann (Léa Seydoux). 

Lastly, the theme song, as integral an element of any when it comes to Bond films. While Sam Smith and Jimmy Napes wrote very good lyrics and the orchestra arrangement of "Writing's on the Wall" has a classic feel, Smith’s high-pitched vocals undermine the song. 

SPECTRE works best when it delivers action, but stumbles when it slows down to tell its story.

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