An outsider’s take on the James Bond saga: ‘Spectre’ (2015) (Movie review)

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ith “No Time to Die” coming out in November, I’m looking back at the eight modern-era James Bond films from the perspective of a newcomer, from July 11-26. Next up is the 24th Eon-produced film and fourth starring Daniel Craig, “Spectre” (2015):

OVERALL THOUGHTS

“Skyfall” is the A-game of director Sam Mendes and his team, and “Spectre” is their B-game. It features several superb action sequences and evocative settings, but it ends up closer to a bloated blockbuster than a work of art.

Blofeld is a terrifying all-powerful villain … except when the plot needs him to be incredibly dumb.

It’s nice to have Q (Ben Wishaw) and his gadgets in the mix more, as the Craig “Bonds” continue to inch toward the classic tropes; also, Bond orders a “shaken, not stirred” vodka martini for the first time. “Spectre” underuses Moneypenny, though, and misses Judi Dench’s M and a top-shelf villain.

It has a great actor as a villain, one who ties in to the classic “Bonds” no less, but the overall villainous scheme is both epic and underexplained. In the end, “Spectre” is enjoyable to watch – even if the length pushes one’s patience more than the previous Craig entries – but its house-of-cards plotting is shakier than the previous three Craig entries.

TITLE/SONG

Folkie Sam Smith sings “Writing’s on the Wall,” which has no business being a Bond theme song. While the tentacle imagery evokes the criminal group SPECTRE, the song itself doesn’t get a viewer revved up. SPECTRE comes back into the Eon Films fold here as the company reacquired the “Thunderball” literary rights, thus bringing the whole “Bond” library back in house.

BOND GIRLS

As Madeleine, Lea Seydoux goes through an arc we’re familiar with: She’s initially irked by Bond but eventually falls for him. Although you’d think Craig would have chemistry with anyone, he doesn’t with Seydoux. Their first meeting – where he poses as a patient at her high-class psychiatric clinic – has a spark, but it’s not maintained.

Moneypenny (Naomie Harris) doesn’t have much to do, although it’s fun to see a tinge of jealousy from Bond when he calls and discovers a man is spending the night at her place. Monica Bellucci, now aged out of main Bond Girl roles, makes a welcome (if brief) appearance as Lucia, the widow of a SPECTRE assassin; much to Pierce Brosnan’s frustration, Bellucci missed out on a “Tomorrow Never Dies” gig.

VILLAINS

Ernst Stavro Blofeld is iconic even to non-“Bond” fans thanks to his parody version, Dr. Evil, in the “Austin Powers” films. I first knew the archetype of the scarred, bald and cat-loving supervillain from a “Police Squad” episode. “Spectre” plugs in Oscar winner Christoph Waltz, but this Blofeld comes off like Benedict Cumberbatch’s Kahn in “Star Trek Into Darkness.” Through no fault of the actor, it makes me want to watch “Thunderball” and the other classic Blofeld films more so than this one. We’re told he is Bond’s adoptive brother, but these films have played Bond’s childhood too close to the vest; there’s no sense of tragedy to this broken family link.

Dave Bautista is so good as Drax in “Guardians of the Galaxy” that it’s almost a revelation when he appears as henchman Hinx, a role more stereotypically in line with his wrestler build. But the film’s most important villain might be Mr. White (Jesper Christensen), who is slowly dying from a SPECTRE poison after trying to leave the group, which he now finds too evil for his liking. White was introduced back in “Casino Royale” and he helps tie the saga together.

BEST ACTION SCENE

The opening song is off point, but the opening action sequence connects. In Mexico City, Bond commandeers a villain’s helicopter. As he fights the baddie and the pilot for control of the chopper, it dangerously dips and dives, with the Day of the Dead revelers below screaming in terror every time.

MOST RIDICULOUS MOMENT

“Spectre” doesn’t have ridiculous moments so much as a ridiculous plot. Certainly, the warning/preview of the growing spy state is on point – here, Britain teams with eight other countries to form Nine Eyes, a global spy state. New intelligence head C (Andrew Scott) knows the evil Blofeld developed this tech, but he doesn’t care, and he outranks those who do care, such as M (Ralph Fiennes).

What’s ridiculous is that Blofeld’s all-knowing quality doesn’t come into play in the plot (unless one is generous and notes that Blofeld’s overconfidence is his weakness). Here’s the clunkiest moment: Amid torturing Bond in his desert enclave, Blofeld allows Madeleine to go up to him and receive a bomb-watch, which she then throws at Blofeld. Put simply, Blofeld is a terrifying all-powerful villain … except when the plot needs him to be incredibly dumb.

BEST GADGET

After subverting our gadgetry expectations in previous films, the Craig “Bonds” enter the higher-tech realm here. Bond steals a car intended for 009 and uses it in a thrilling car chase along a (fortunately empty) riverside bicycle path where he utilizes the flame exhaust and ejector seat.

SEXUAL/GENDER POLITICS

Bond is gentlemanly around Madeleine, who eventually falls for his charms; he apparently knows how to adjust his game around any given woman. And there’s further evidence that he adores Moneypenny but is holding back on making a move. I interpret this as his recognition that his feelings for her are deep and he’s hesitant to trivialize them or mess things up.

BEST ONE-LINER

Q (referring to Bond’s car, which he is rebuilding): “I believe I said, ‘Bring it back in one piece,’ not ‘Bring back one piece.’ ”

Schedule of Bond reviews:

Saturday, July 11: “GoldenEye” (1995)

Sunday, July 12: “Tomorrow Never Dies” (1997)

Wednesday, July 15: “The World is Not Enough” (1999)

Saturday, July 18: “Die Another Day” (2002)

Sunday, July 19: “Casino Royale” (2006)

Wednesday, July 22: “Quantum of Solace” (2008)

Saturday, July 25: “Skyfall” (2012)

Sunday, July 26: “Spectre” (2015)