Review: 'Spectre' is a good blend of action and characterisation

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Bond (Daniel Craig) following Marco Sciarra through the Dia de los Muertos procession. (Sony Pictures Singapore)

Marcus Goh is a Singapore television scriptwriter. He’s also a Transformers enthusiast and avid pop culture scholar. He Tweets/Instagrams at Optimarcus and writes at marcusgohmarcusgoh.com. The views expressed are his own.

Secret ending? No.

Running time: 148 minutes (~2.5 hours)

“Spectre” is the 24th film in the “James Bond” franchise, and features Daniel Craig in his fourth outing as the character. The film sees James Bond’s first brush with the international criminal organisation known as SPECTRE. It stars Daniel Craig (James Bond), Christoph Waltz (Ernst Stavro Blofeld), Léa Seydoux (Madeleine Swann), Ben Whishaw (Q), Naomie Harris (Eve Moneypenny), Dave Bautista (Mr Hinx), Monica Bellucci (Lucia Sciarra), Ralph Fiennes (Gareth Mallory, M), Andrew Scott (Max Denbigh, C), and Judi Dench (M). It is rated PG13.

The main draw of “Spectre” is the reveal of the titular organisation and their expansive plans. True to its logo, SPECTRE literally has its tentacles everywhere in the James Bond universe, even as the sinister Blofeld shows how he has been orchestrating events since Daniel Craig’s first James Bond movie. It ties all the films together well, and gives a sense of unity to the series by acknowledging past events. This makes the scope of the movie even more epic, since it seems that everything that has happened prior was designed specially to lead up to Bond and Blofeld’s first encounter.

Bond (Daniel Craig) and Madeleine (Léa Seydoux). (Sony Pictures Singapore)

Highlights

Organic and well-paced

“Spectre” engages you throughout the film, even through the exposition. By including nods and references to previous Bond films, it makes you connect the dots mentally and analyse the events of previous movies, making it an interesting thought exercise for the audience. The reveals in the plot are carefully paced, such that each new piece of information causes you to re-evaluate what has been established in a new light. Unlike previous films, which felt like a journey from set piece to set piece, “Spectre” has the plot unfold naturally to make it feel more like an investigation, rather than a showcase of beautiful locations.

Blofeld is fascinating

Blofeld is shrouded in mystery until his actual appearance halfway through the film, although if you’ve been reading up on “Spectre” you’ll know it’s Blofeld anyway. His psychopathic tendencies are only thinly shrouded under a veneer of friendly cordiality, which lends an air of suspense to his scenes. You never know what his next horrible course of action will be, so there’s a constant sense of danger and worry for Bond’s fate. And of course, Blofeld has a personal vendetta against Bond, which makes him an even greater threat for our protagonist.

Bond’s supporting cast plays a significant role

Q, M and Moneypenny actually contribute to a large part of the story, instead of only appearing in the first Act and disappearing for the rest of the film. In fact, their plot thread is an important part of Blofeld’s ultimate plan. The film cuts to them frequently as they aid Bond, allowing us to connect and empathise with Bond’s helpers even as we watch our hero’s exploits around the world. This give us the chance to explore more of Bond’s relationships with the people closest to him, and helps develop a side of his character that we rarely see in the films.

Spectacular stunts

The opening sequence is both a unique and breathtaking one, as it keeps you on the edge of your seat waiting to see how Bond will overcome this impossible challenge. It also nicely bookends the movie, as a similar stunt serves as the climax to the film as well. Bond himself leaps out of buildings, races down narrow alleys, and battles formidable foes that are nearly twice his size. The action isn’t as gory and gritty as the previous few, but is more imaginative and varied, showing us the versatility and skills of 007.

Dave Bautista is Mr Hinx. (Sony Pictures Singapore)

Letdowns

Bond and Madeleine’s love story is awkward

Notwithstanding the age difference, which is large enough that Madeleine almost seems young enough to be Bond’s daughter, there’s very little chemistry between the two leads. There s a distinct sense of artificiality to their interactions and supposed flirting. It’s compounded by the fact that when they do declare their feelings for each other, it sounds hollow and forced. You never really believe that their relationship is genuine, no matter how many things they seem loving to each other.

Not enough Blofeld

More time could have been devoted to establish an even more personal relationship between Bond and Blofeld, rather than retconning past movies as all part of Blofeld’s machinations. It all makes sense, but rather than shoehorning Bond’s past tragedies as Blofeld’s intention, having more intense, face-to-face confrontations would have afforded us more of Blofeld and built a more intense rivalry between the two.

Madeleine is insufferable

Madeleine comes across as a self-satisfied young brat with nary a bone of gratitude in her body. She’s a classic example of a Gen Y monster who complains about everything and is constantly angry with the world. Why Bond would fall in love with her is unfathomable. There’s virtually nothing likeable about her, and you’re left wondering if Bond would have been more successful with Madeleine tagging along.

Moneypenny (Naomie Harris). (Sony Pictures Singapore)

“Spectre” is a fantastic addition to the Bond series, bringing back a classic villain as well as more rip-roaring adventures rather than the angsty, brooding hero of the previous three films. He even quips more in this movie! It’s a good blend of action and characterisation, giving us a film that’s worthy of both Blofeld and Bond.

Should you watch this at weekend movie ticket prices? Yes.

Should you watch this at weekday movie ticket prices? Of course!

“Spectre” opens in cinemas 5 November, 2015 (Thursday).

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