James Bond

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Movie News Reviews

Movie Review: James Bond Spectre


Give up the Ghost

A Film Review of Spectre


I’ve never been the biggest fan of the Daniel Craig Bond films, and it has less to do with the man himself and more to do with the adventures his character undertakes.  For a fictional character that has been there and done everything, Daniel Craig’s Bond rarely saw the opportunity to properly peacock by engaging in some rather pedestrian plots.  That was, of course, until Skyfall (2012) where MI6 comes under direct attack and James Bond was called upon to demonstrate some semblance of actual human weakness yielding a more compelling character and a more interesting story overall.  With such a breath of fresh air, one would think that this trend would easily blend into Spectre.  It has the same director (Sam Mendes), some of the same writers (Neal Purvis and Robert Wade) and much of the same cast, so naturally, it stands to reason, no? 

No.  And I’ll tell you why.  Skyfall presented audiences with some specific details extracted from the nebulous origin of this iteration of Bond, but what made that exposition pay off in a big time way was how it was inexorably linked to how the arcing conflict played out.  Bond was outmatched and nearly paid for it with his life, but loyalty to a mother figure in M forces him back in the game despite the fact he isn’t ready for it and uses the setting of his broken past as a means of survival and in a way, redemption.  Spectre is a film that once again attempts to hit the audience’s “G” spot for nostalgia by linking the current conflict back to his boyhood and recent past.  Unfortunately, no ground work was laid in this (or any other) Bond film to make the hard connections audiences need for any of those story elements to matter.  In fact, every connection between Bond and the bad guy is simply spoken from the horse’s mouth in a matter of minutes with some of the least cryptic rhetoric from a Bond villain to date.  “It was me all along,” spoken by someone we have never met, nor even alluded to is a flaccid revelation.  No tension is built, no conspiracy is ruminated, it simply gets to that moment in the movie where things need to move forward instead of aimlessly and boom; the audience knows the “what” and has a glance at the “why”.  Screen writing is not just any form of literature.  It must always be mindful of using words “to show” rather than “to tell” both audiences and producers of film.  Dialogue is an effective tool in filmmaking, but if it happens to be a crutch, it’s already too late to realize it’s actually a noose. 

What ground my gears the most regarding Spectre is a cancerous trend not exclusive to the recent Bond films, but to all action/adventure films coming out of Hollywood these days: vanilla villains.  They talk big games, but don’t do much.  They claim tortured pasts without showing its effects.  Their bark is much worse than their bite.  They are the least interesting antagonists in the world and they are everywhere.  (I’m looking at you too Marvel films!)  Christoph Waltz is an amazing, Academy Award winning actor and his ability to create compelling characters for the screen was recklessly mishandled by Sam Mendes and the entire production staff of Spectre.  Waltz was given practically zero material to work with: no real back story, no clear cut motive and virtually no screen time.  In many ways, his character doesn’t even need to be in this film for it to turn out in exactly the same way.  Why even cast an extra, let alone Waltz, to play a role of such inconsequence? 

Action Style

Thank goodness they hired a stunt runner for Daniel Craig.  Excellent hand to hand, close quarters combat.  Decent car chases with an interesting dash of gunplay.  General stunt work in this film was top notch.


Action Frame

Talk about an animated frame.  Wow!  The cinematography of Hoyte Van Hoytema is to be celebrated in this film.  Both action and dramatic sequences are enhanced by his efforts at creating the picturesque, everywhere.


Lead Performance

Daniel Craig is still the Blue Steel of James Bonds, but also happens to present a Bond you can root for.  Christoph Waltz on the other hand … see above.


Supporting Performance

Ray Fiennes as M is solid and I wish Ben Wishaw and Naomie Harris had more to do as Q and Moneypenny respectively.  Lea Seydoux may be a babe, but her character was far too dull.  What the heck was Drax the Destroyer doing in this film?



Sam Smith’s The Writing’s on the Wall is everything you need in a Bond theme: seductive, emotive, and mysterious.  It is echoed effectively in the dramatic soundtrack throughout.


Sound F/X

Par for the course, although I’ll admit to having a weakness for hearing the engines of super-cars chasing each other on the streets.


                                                                                                           “Moving” = 26/33

Digital F/X

One mark of successful CG is the audience not knowing it was there at all, but I am uncertain if this was due to exceptional CG, or practical effects being so much better than the digital ones in this film.  That said, there did seem to be some plasticity to some explosions and Drax gets dealt with by some goofy animation.


Special F/X

Chris Corbould as the special effect supervisor proves that practical effects can still have a wicked punch!  Great use of vehicle stunts, explosions, ballistics and crashes. 



So many suits in this film.  I’m not exactly pining for ridiculous “onesies” of Moonraker, but come on; can we get a little more creative here?


Hair & Makeup

Very acceptable battle damage on bodies and faces combined with gorgeous styling of female follicles.



Every Bond film is a potential exotic travelogue.  I wish we could have gotten more exotic than Mexico City, though.



I understand that MI6 has been in funding hell for the past few Bond films, but we really need to move these guys out of the sewers once and for all and dress it up with some more tech please.


                                                                                                         “Picture” = 25/33


Even a 007 movie needs something more than “James Bond doing his thing” as the lead in to what exactly is happening, which we don’t exactly know for sure other than vague and undeveloped memories from previous Daniel Craig Bond films regarding the organization of Spectre itself.  The hook is unclear and happened upon by chance.



So the Legion of Doom DOES exist?!  How do you fight them?  Obviously, you run a couple of obstacle courses, shoot a few dudes and victory is assured.  Oh wait, there was supposed to be a more meaningful, personal conflict at work?  Sorry, no one got that memo.



Can something resolve if it was never setup in the first place?  Neither surprising nor satisfying, unless the article that reveals who gets tapped as the next James Bond counts as a dénouement for Spectre.



The moment to moment talking does an excellent job at keeping the audience in the moment, but these are all short term hits with no long term grand slam.



What exposition?  You mean this photograph and me telling you stuff about it you already knew, but no one else does?


Character Uniqueness

Blue Steel is certainly a unique looking Bond, but I was getting used to him not being played like Mr. Roboto in Skyfall.  The main villain in this film is as common as they come.


Character Relatability

Super Spies and secret government cabals are beyond the grasp of “normies”.  Too bad the whole sibling rivalry thing wasn’t developed in this film at all because lots of people could connect to that concept.


                                                                                                               “Story” = 14/34


Overall MPS Rating:  65/100

Spectre is a very average action film that looks better than the story settles on one’s mind.  Perhaps the greatness of Skyfall is a difficult concept to surpass, but film franchises will always make the attempt to string things along, beyond their natural ends because they know those dollar bills will be there.  I don’t expect Spectre to even knock on the door of Skyfall’s financial success long term.  Still, I didn’t hate this film as much as some of my comments make it appear to be, but I certainly didn’t love it and I especially expected it to take Bond into even murkier waters leading to a more domesticated 007 who finally got out of the spy business (something Daniel Craig Bond was ready to do clean and clear at the end of Casino Royale).  What if he had already been out for a few years, started a family, then Spectre takes them out to settle a vendetta, forcing a psychotic James Bond to break every rule in the book to quench an insatiable vengeance and proceeds to set the world on fire (literally) to achieve some twisted form of justice before committing to some ritualistic suicide that only makes up for about 10% of all the bad he committed?  Hold everything!  That’s way too much plot for a James Bond film.  We’ll just have him shoot some people to stop a regurgitated attempt at world domination in the hopes of preserving civilization as we know it.  Yawn.

Movie News Reviews

Movie Review: Skyfall (2012)

Not the Best Bond, But Pretty Darn Close

A Film Review of Skyfall

By: Lawrence Napoli


Daniel Craig is certainly on the short list of actors worthy of playing 007.  He is easily the most physically fit and frequently shirtless of any actor that played James Bond before, but there are some eccentricities that he brings to the character that I still do not particularly care for.  First, the “Blue Steel” stoic look that Daniel Craig completely owns happens to put Derek Zoolander to shame.  I understand that Craig’s Bond is meant as a constant bad*ss, but he really does come off like he’s “posing” in every scene and it downgrades the character’s humanity.  Second, is that Craig isn’t very much of a ladies’ man on screen as his ability to generate chemistry with any of his female costars has a tendency to fizzle.  Every woman he’s been blessed to be cast with is extremely gorgeous, but his most intimate relationship shouldn’t be with Dame Judi Dench as M.  Third, is that Daniel needs to attend “The Tom Cruise school of Running Like You Mean It!” because the way he “runs” seems like an extremely stylized mimicry of running.  It’s also far too hoppy and you all know what I mean once you see it.


“Blue Steel” in full effect.

Skyfall, however, is a film that sees Daniel Craig do much more with the James Bond character than he has during his incumbency with the franchise.  Although we’ve all seen this before in previous Bond films, James is again being portrayed as an antiquated tool for maintaining global law and order via black ops.  Thus, Craig portrays more weakness and vulnerability than he was ever accustomed to before and although he’s still no “Mr. Sensitivity,” there is a moment where he sheds tears and it is quite poignant, moving and the most humane portrayal of the character since George Lazenby in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service.  Daniel is still solid with the less frequent verbal barbs and always hits his mark for action.  He still can’t convince me with women, but his evolved relationship with M allows for him to discard the aura of Mr. Roboto


More art yields better performance.

This entry in the 007 films was written by Neal Purvis, Robert Wade and John Logan whose combined experience on Casino Royale and Quantum of Solace demonstrates maturity in producing a meaningful and somewhat relevant manifestation of the current James Bond.  We are still living in a world with dangerous terrorists, but Skyfall makes no secret about “cyber-terrorism” being the newest, most dangerous and most prominent threat to stability.  This is the main engine behind the portrayal of MI6 and its employees as “behind the times.”  I wonder if this perspective on terrorism in the 21st Century is somewhat of a backhanded compliment to the American approach in handling it.  Throughout every conflict in the Middle East, the Pentagon has been consistent about needing more human assets on the ground infiltrating terror networks to provide the best intelligence, but British sentiments acknowledge terror threats as more than AK-47’s in the sand.  Skyfall is all about the youth movement from the handlers that deal with agents to the quartermasters that outfit and strategize approach.  The irony is that in order to survive this shift, James Bond must reconnect with his heartrending past in an attempt to level the playing field.  When you cap all this with an exceptional Bond villain in Javier Bardem’s Silva, Skyfall is easily the best Daniel Craig James Bond story thus far.


How many terrorists will you find in this scene?

Director Sam Mendes and cinematographer Roger Deakins made Skyfall an exquisite visual cacophony of technology, light, angles cityscapes and landscapes.  In short, this film is easily the most beautifully shot work of art we’ve ever seen in a James Bond film.  Certainly, this film is still about the action (which is top notch, by the way), but I feel camera placement, movement and its interaction with some of the most beautifully configured set designs in this franchise’s history gives Skyfall notable advantages.  Thankfully, the audience will not be jostled by the frantic, handheld camera work we’ve all become accustomed to thanks to the Bourne franchise.  This film shows that great action can still be captured with more traditional techniques and increased synergy among the various production departments of a film production.  Exotic locations are typical of James Bond films, but they’ve never before looked so good.


Cityscapes.  ‘Nuff said!

You already know what I feel about Daniel Craig’s performance, but what about the rest of the cast?  Judi Dench as M is once again flawless in giving this character more significance than any previous portrayal.  M is no mere task master, but also very maternal (despite her best efforts) and her chemistry with Daniel Craig is impossible to ignore.  Ralph Fiennes is a welcome newcomer to the franchise and although the former Lord Voldemort is not exactly featured, he is certainly set up for a thriving future by this film’s end.  The last thing I remember Naomie Harris in was 28 Days Later and she is still lovely as ever, but brings some much needed playful sex appeal which is severely lacking in Skyfall.  Ben Wishaw as the new Q produces a fine performance and reminds me of a British version of Dr. Sheldon Cooper from The Big Bang Theory if one strips away all manner of personality while retaining the ego and elitism.  On top of it all Albert Finney is in this film and it’s an instant win for this cinematic adventurer whenever Daddy Warbucks comes out of the woodwork.


Q who?

Make no mistake; as much as this film is about a revitalized performance by Daniel Craig as James Bond, the other 50% is met by an excellent Bond villain in Silva, masterfully played by Javier Bardem.  The man’s heroic roles don’t hold a candle to his villains (his limited role as the menace in No Country for Old Men was practically the only reason it won best picture).  I absolutely love Silva’s personal eccentricity which I will describe as not exactly being “straight up,” and certainly “with a twist.”  Interpret that as you may, but no spoilers.  Silva is creepy, he is charismatic and he even has an understandable motivation for his evil dealings that isn’t rooted in psychosis or delusions of taking over the world.  He is one of the best Bond baddies because he adheres to the first rule of villainy by making it personal (in a roundabout way) against Bond himself.  Bardem steals EVERY scene with his maniacally fun dialogue and brilliant delivery.  My only regret is that the story limits his fear inducing factor by making him too captivating.  The audience may not fear Silva, but they’ll never get enough of him.


Is this too close for comfort Mr. Bond, James Bond?

This is not the best James Bond film of all time.  Suggesting such a thing is far too silly and a byproduct of “new film awe” that we all experience when we leave the theatre having seen a genuinely good film.  At the same time, I never would have thought that a Daniel Craig Bond film would ever crack my top 5, but it officially holds strong in fifth place with Octopussy (4), The Spy Who Loved Me (3), Goldfinger (2) and GoldenEye (1) standing in front of it.  Skyfall is an excellent piece of filmmaking as both art and entertainment and is more than worth a general admission, but I wouldn’t necessarily shell out for IMAX tickets unless you are an extreme Bond fanatic.  I see this film as redemption for Daniel Craig, but with all this effort to make him look “old,” “human” and “out of date,” I wonder if the search for “the next Bond” isn’t already under way.

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