To tackle the latest Bond Film, The Argus defers to two perspectives across the pond.
Will McGhee (Arts Editor):
“Spectre” is, for much of its running time, an uninteresting film. But it is interestingly uninteresting. It starts out on a very strong note, beautifully capturing the energy of Mexico City’s Day of the Dead celebration. Sam Mendes returns to the directing realm after “Skyfall” to give another gorgeous tour of the world of spies. The wonderful Thomas Newman gives as sweeping of a score as possible. But the plot is the film’s weakness. To some extent its silliness serves as a corrective measure from previous Bond films that took themselves too seriously. But soon that serves to undermine everything that the Craig era has worked for.
Let’s start with our latest Bond villain, played by Christoph Waltz, who was essentially born to be a 007 adversary. Sadly, this role could have been played by anyone, because it is as charismatic and memorable as a block of stale cheese. Waltz’s introductory sequence is one of the film’s strongest, obscuring him in shadow and building up his power. But once his character must take action, he becomes sorely disappointing. “Spectre” makes its villain formidable by claiming that he is the puppet-master behind all the other villains in the Craig era. On one level, this makes absolutely no sense and undermines several aspects of its stronger predecessors. On another, villains such as Mads Mikkelsen’s and Javier Bardem’s were far more intimidating and entertaining than the one who supposedly controls them.
And it is this “twist” that reveals just what brings “Spectre” down. The series’s constant need for escalation undoes itself. “Bond” is a franchise in a unique position. Lasting for more than half a century and for 24 films, it continuously must reinvent itself to remain relevant while holding on to its original, misogynistic roots for dear life. “Bond” stubbornly clings to the idea that it showcases the ultimate male fantasy, with its expendable girls, cars, and watches. But as the times change, “Bond” snails forth. Films like “Skyfall” are able to transcend this by fulfillingly inhabiting its nostalgia while still looking to the future, and also really examining the merits of Bond’s psyche. It is unfortunate that “Spectre’s” only means to succeed is to do the exact same thing. Series always require some form of escalation to continue, but after 24 films, “007” finds it hard pressed to move in any direction other than backwards. The actors and gadgets change, but the franchise continues to glorify a nostalgic view of the 1960’s that has never existed.
Dan Bachman (Foreign Correspondent):
I got to see “Spectre” the day after it opened here in London, and the city was clearly excited for a new Bond film. I tried to get a pre-movie drink at a bar near the theater, only to find that they were out of martinis, and when I got to the theater, I looked at a sea of young, excited men wearing suits. But within a half hour of the opening credits, I realized something.
Every Bond film I’ve ever seen has the same five beats, over and over and over again.
You will always hear Bond introduce himself, “Bond, James Bond.” He will always order a martini. He will temporarily drive an expensive, beautiful car, and it will almost always be revealed, in glistening lighting, to be an Aston Martin. A villain will always monologue directly to Bond in long, vague, condescending sentences. The nostalgic references to Bonds long past are shockingly superficial, and so constantly and consistently repeated that their usage in “Spectre” is inhibiting and groan-worthy. If Mendes and company wanted to make this film a satisfying romp through Bond history, as it desperately tries to be, they needed to dig deeper, and find something more substantial than these endlessly-recycled beats. By the time Waltz strokes a white cat, the gesture feels as empty, tired, and formless as everything around it.
Now, I didn’t hate “Spectre.” There are plenty of moments surrounding the references that are beautifully shot, fun, and engaging, and Craig is still a great fit for the role. That being said, it is shocking that in 2015, Bond films cannot exist without the misogynist cultural tent-pole of Bond Girls.
The actress filling the obligatory role this time is Lea Seydoux, a remarkably talented person who seems capable of effortlessly imbuing any character she occupies with life and substance. And, for a second, “Spectre” seems like it is going to use her prodigious talents. But it never quite does. Seydoux’s character is allegedly brilliant, capable, and strong, but halfway through the film, after Bond saves her life for the second time, she just becomes another over-sexualized character, stripped of agency and personality and marches in step with the parade of women reduced to scenery. Somehow, this 50-year-old cinematic tradition still exists. It’s insulting that “Spectre” thinks we believe these two are in love, and even more insulting that apparently, inexplicably, Seydoux is the only person capable of ‘understanding’ Bond. Watching Seydoux’s character makes me pine for the agency and complexity that Eva Green and Judi Dench brought to the franchise.
There is a lot that “Spectre” has to be held accountable for, but there is one thing worth celebrating. The film revives the Bond Henchman, and does it with style, grace, and muscle. Dave Bautista’s unnamed henchman is a hulking, menacing, superhuman figure, and he’s seriously fun to watch, whether he’s pursuing Bond with juggernaut force or popping the eye-sockets out of one of Spectre’s weaker members. He brings the same level of energy he brought to “Guardians of the Galaxy,” and it’s morbidly delightful. I could watch this guy do anything.
Is “Spectre” worth seeing? It’s hollow, confusing, and treats its female characters inexcusably, so probably not. But I know that I’ll be watching YouTube clips of Dave Bautista sometime very, very soon.