After seeing Spectre at the cinema last October I asked my fellow contributor Wil what he thought. "You see the thing with Bond films", he replied, "is that they're a bit like sex. Even when they're bad they're still pretty good."
Spectre is a pretty good Bond film.
Usually I'll see a Bond film at least twice whilst it's playing in cinemas, but I only made one visit to watch Spectre. I had quite a few reservations about the movie but it was more circumstance than anything else which kept me away from a second viewing, so I was looking forward to the home release to see if it changed my mind.
It sorta did because I enjoyed Spectre a lot more second time around. I think, perhaps, this was partly to do with expectation build-up, as following on from Skyfall was always going to be a big task, but possibly largely because I was already aware of Spectre's many flaws. One of which, especially, ruined it for me on first viewing.
If you haven't already seen Spectre then best leave now as after the image there will be spoilers.
Spectre is a Bond-by-the-numbers film. All the traditional set-pieces and things we associate with the franchise get ticked off one by one... s..l..o..w..l..y... The tone is set from the off, with a 13 minute opening sequence which starts with a leisurely stroll around Mexico City. Once it gets going, it's good, but it sure takes its time about it. The plot itself is overly elaborate, and the script is filled with loads of exposition, which often takes you out of what could've been far more spectacular action sequences (turning a car chase in Italy into a rather sedate affair, for example). But the main issue I have with Spectre is the ridiculous twist (and really, now, last chance before I spoiler it) that adds absolutely nothing to the film, in fact I feel it takes away from any credibility the Bond series may have been looking to achieve during Daniel Craig's era.
Skyfall showed us that after James was orphaned Kincade looked after him in Bond's Scottish family home. That home was destroyed along with all its contents, or rather all but a brown envelope worth of mementos. Amazingly, one of the handful of surviving items just so happens to be a photo of young Bond with Hannes Oberhauser and a second boy. Oberhauser, apparently, taught Bond to hunt and ski, and "was a wonderful man. He was something of a father to me at a time when I happened to need one."
And the other boy in the scorched photo? That would be Franz Oberhauser. Bond's 'brother' who grew jealous of his father's increasingly close relationship with the future spy, so he basically threw the ultimate hissy fit. Franz killed his father, faked his death, founded SPECTRE, took his mother's maiden name, and now likes to be called Ernst Stavro Blofeld.
Who the hell signed off on that nonsense?
For months Christopher Waltz character was shrouded in mystery. We all knew he was Blofeld but producer's decided to keep this under wraps (or at least attempted to) meaning that the whole thing reeked of Benedict Cumberbatch’s 'Harrison is Khan' reveal in Star Trek Into Darkness - and we all know how well that went down amongst fans! Really film-makers, learn from these mistakes!
Why can't Blofeld just be Blofeld? It's more than enough that he's the primary antagonist who's been pulling the strings across all of Craig's era. Just finally coming face to face with him for this showdown would've been more than adequate. Connecting Bond to Blofeld from their youth is completely unnecessary. It seems as if it's only been included just because it's the kind of thing 'they like to do' nowadays, but this need to have everything connected just ends up taking away from all that Bond has been through for the last decade. You're telling me it was all down to his jealous brother? Pah!
This was the lasting impression Spectre left on me after watching it at the cinema. I was quite hung up on the ludicrousness of this one thing that nothing else stuck, however as I said at the top of this review, going into Spectre a second time forewarned, as such, with this knowledge I found the overall experience of the movie much more enjoyable. Of course, it's still an absurd plot twist but, in amongst the absurdity, Christoph Waltz is always a joy to watch as Franz/Blofeld. It's just a shame that he's never allowed to be a real threat. I'm assuming he signed on for the role before reading the script, or they made major adjustments or edits. And the less said about his character's brain surgery skills the better!
Interwoven is a story-line revolving around the old chestnut of "are spies still relevant?" Something Bond films like to come back to frequently. I'd say, given that Spectre is the 24th official movie and that the franchise shows no signs of stopping or drastically changing Bond's profession, maybe we could all just assume that the answer is 'yes, spies are still relevant' and move on. It's not helped that Mission: Impossible - Rogue Nation offered pretty much the same story-line just months earlier, and delivered it far better and in a more entertaining way.
However, this area of the film features the ridiculously talented Andrew Scott as the secondary antagonist C, and as ever he is brilliant, bringing just the right amount of 'he needs a good slap' to his character without ever venturing into an over-the-top pantomime villain performance.
And this is really where Spectre excels, in the performances more than plot. From the regulars; Ralph Fiennes, Ben Whishaw, Naomie Harris and Rory Kinnear, to the aforementioned Waltz, the returning Jesper Christensen as Mr White, and the latest Bond girl Léa Seydoux, who as Dr. Madeleine Swann joins an elite club who live to shag another day.
Also walking away from Spectre with his head held high is Dave Bautista as Mr. Hinx, who makes for one of the finest henchmen the series has seen, certainly the most memorable, and menacing, since Jaws.
And Daniel Craig himself, once again, performs more than admirably as Bond. You can see why he was so vocal in interviews about how he doesn't want to make another Bond film, as he's really put through the wringer here. He also has great rapport with co-star Léa Seydoux, and, briefly (a-hem), with Monica Bellucci as Lucia Sciarra.
The action sequences, while certainly not ground breaking best-of-the-franchise material (even if they do feature the largest explosion in the history of movies), are spectacular enough to impress, and the annoyingly whiny theme tune from Sam Smith works amazingly well within the confines of the film - especially the instrumental refrain. You'll be humming it all over again for days afterwards.
Skyfall left us with a new, yet familiar beginning for the Bond series. Surprisingly then, Spectre feels very much like the end of an era. If Craig does choose to call it a day then his final scenes work well in that context.
So is it worth investing in Spectre on DVD?
Well of course it is. For one, you'll buy it so there's no gap in your collection. You'll buy the Blu-ray for the ever informative behind the scenes extras. I suspect, though, the actual movie will ultimately see a lot less viewings than the majority of other Bond films in your collection.
Watch Spectre for its assured performances from Craig and the supporting cast. Watch Spectre for the stunts, the fights, and the action sequences. Watch Spectre with its flawed, exposition heavy script and many languorous moments. Watch Spectre because even when it's bad it's still pretty good.
Spectre is released in the US on DVD and Blu-ray on February 9th, and is already available for digital download. In the UK Bond's 24th official installment will be available for purchase from February 22nd.