Film Review: Spectre

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Spectre Plot Summary:

James Bond (Daniel Craig) is put on indefinite suspension after he causes an international incident. However, he doesn’t stop and soon encounters a familiar face from his past, Mr. White (Jesper Christensen). White only agrees to help Bond take down the mysterious organization he works for after Bond promises to protect his daughter, Madeleine Swann (Léa Seydoux). However, as Bond and Madeleine get closer to finding the organization’s leader, Franz Oberhauser (Christoph Waltz), Bond is forced to confront his past.

Yesterday, as part of my series on the Bond movies, I called 2012’s Skyfall a movie perfectly suited to our nostalgia-heavy pop cultural moment. And while I still think that’s true, Spectre gives it a run for its money. Skyfall was the 50th anniversary Bond movie, so it celebrated what made the Eon films fun: fast cars, beautiful women, exotic locations, over-the-top villains, the obvious stuff. This film is digging a little deeper into Bond’s past, the movies and Ian Fleming’s writing. Spectre is perhaps not as accessible to the average viewer, but it might be more rewarding as an entry in not just the franchise, but Daniel Craig’s time in the role.

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While the references to the short stories “The Hildebrand Rarity” and “Octopussy” are unexpected, it’s the similarities to On Her Majesty’s Secret Service that are most surprising. That film has only recently become considered one of the best and while Spectre recalls it in subtler ways (a medical facility atop a snowy peak, Bond nearly being suspended for pursuing Spectre) the most obvious are the villain and the girl.

There’s been a lot of speculation about who exactly Christoph Waltz plays in the movie and, listen, if you’re a Bond fan, you already know who he is, and if not, me telling you he’s Blofeld isn’t going to stop you from thinking he’s a weird Dr. Evil reference. The movie is not so direct, but long before the character reveals his identity, the truth is pretty clear. Not only does he run Spectre, he’s got a fluffy white cat and the same cut to his suit the character had in You Only Live Twice. Waltz’s performance, though, is thankfully closer to Telly Savalas’s in OHMSS, with the same sinister air and quiet, refined delivery. However, here, Blofeld is set up as a foil for Bond. There’s a lot of mirror imagery throughout, but it culminates in the insane moment when Bond and Blofeld, dressed in similar outfits, talk through a sheet of bulletproof glass. The scene literalizes the movie’s point: Bond is reflecting on his life, job and past.

However, the girl, Madeleine Swann, is equally important to that point. While her name isn’t Tracy di Vicenzo like the character in OHMSS, she’s very similar, especially in the way she’s meant–as in the books–to recall Casino Royale‘s Vesper Lynd (Eva Green). Purely in terms of surface, Léa Seydoux is a brilliant choice. Her blond hair sets her in direct contrast with the brunette Vesper, yet her slight French accent and the character’s slightly adversarial stance toward Bond are similar to Casino Royale‘s femme fatale. The most significant similarity, though, is that she makes Bond consider giving up the spy life.

For a notorious cad, Bond falls in love rather easily here and you kind of just have to suspend your disbelief and accept that to engage with the larger character and story arcs. The reason Madeleine is such a good match for Bond is that she grew up in his world. However, it’s also the reason she knows it’s no way to live long term. When she asks Bond what he would do if he stopped, the confusion, maybe even fear on his face show how much he’s forgotten that there are other ways to live.

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There’s been a lot of talk lately about Craig potentially leaving the franchise after this film and it’s hard not to look at moments like that as having a sort of double meaning. Unlike some of his predecessors, there are no signs of fatigue in Craig’s performance. If anything, he’s better in the role now than he was in Casino. Skyfall spent a lot of time suggesting Bond and therefore Craig was getting too old for his license to kill, but Spectre asks the more dangerous question of does he want to do this anymore? I won’t spoil the ending–I’ve already done enough–but whether Craig and this particular version of the character could come back is a toss-up. On the one hand, there’s still enough left open for another chapter in this story. On the other, Spectre is kind of the perfect end note for the character’s arc in the Craig years. I would never object to seeing Craig order one more shaken-not-stirred martini, but I hope he gets into that Aston Martin and never looks back.

Rating: 7.5/10
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By day, Marisa Carpico stresses over every detail of America’s election system. By night, she becomes a pop culture and celebrity obsessive. Whether it’s movies, TV or music, she watches and listens to it all so you don’t have to. You can find her risking her life by reading comic books while walking down the crowded streets of New York City, having inappropriate emotional reactions at her iPad screen while riding the subway or occasionally letting her love of a band convince her to stand for hours on end in one of the city’s many purgatorial concert spaces. You can follow her on Twitter to read her insightful social commentary or more likely complain about how cold it is at @MarisaCarpico.
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By day, Marisa Carpico stresses over America’s election system. By night, she becomes a pop culture obsessive. Whether it’s movies, TV or music, she watches and listens to it all so you don’t have to.