Review: SPECTRE (2015) | Casey's Movie Mania | Movie Reviews, Features & Others

Wednesday, 4 November 2015

Review: SPECTRE (2015)

A rousing, if flawed follow-up to SKYFALL that manages to break the sequel jinx often befalls the Bond franchise.


Okay, let's face it. Topping SKYFALL is never going to be easy. That movie has set such a high mark, especially for its strong character arcs and well-written storyline. SKYFALL was also the highest-grossing Bond ever made thus far, with an astonishing total of US$1.1 billion in the box office worldwide. Whether or not SPECTRE manages to equal or overcome its predecessor's record-breaking achievement will remain to be seen. To me, what matters the most is the quality of the movie itself. Does the sequel deliver? Does it worth all the massive hype? These are some of the questions that have been pondering in my mind prior to the screening of the movie. After all, Bond movie often falters when it comes to sequels (DIAMONDS ARE FOREVER and QUANTUM OF SOLACE are the prime examples here). Fortunately, I'm relieved that SPECTRE succeeds -- if not entirely -- as a worthy follow-up to SKYFALL.

WHAT IS IT ALL ABOUT?

Following the events of SKYFALL, this direct sequel continues with James Bond (Daniel Craig) embarks on a rogue mission to Mexico City. After receiving a cryptic message from the past, he subsequently ends up in Rome where he meets Lucia Sciarra (Monica Bellucci), the beautiful Italian widow of a mafioso Marco (Alessandro Cremona). Complicating matters are Madeleine Swann (Lea Seydoux), the physician daughter of Bond's old nemesis Mr. White (Jesper Christensen, reprising his role for the third time after CASINO ROYALE and QUANTUM OF SOLACE), who might hold the key of uncovering a secret organisation known as SPECTRE. As Bond continues his investigation, he discovers a bitter truth that has something to do with the organisation's mysterious leader Franz Oberhauser (Christoph Waltz).

THE GOOD STUFF

As mentioned earlier, SKYFALL is a tough act to follow and whoever in charge of directing the sequel will be a huge undertaking. But returning director Sam Mendes is bold enough to take up the challenge, even though he could have chosen to bow on a high and let another director takes the reign instead. Still, as proven in SKYFALL, Mendes demonstrates the same directing flair that blends Christopher Nolan-like intricate plot structure and riveting characterisation with blockbuster elements. Mendes and his team of screenwriters (John Logan, Neal Purvis, Robert Wade and Jez Butterworth) stuffed the plot in SPECTRE with enough classic "guess-which-Bond-movie" references to keep the die-hard fans happy, while injecting a shade of sly humour and light-hearted playfulness that harks back the Roger Moore era without overdoing it to the point of parody. This is evident during some of Bond and Q (Ben Whishaw)'s witty banters, which provides the movie's biggest laughs.

On top of that, I like how they structured their plot that neatly tied up all the loose ends pertaining to the previous three Bond movies (CASINO ROYALE, QUANTUM OF SOLACE and SKYFALL). But the layered introduction of Christoph Waltz's enigmatic portrayal of Franz Oberhauser is even better. Oberhauser is first appeared in a discreet manner during Marco's funeral in Rome, and then again sitting in the shadow during a meeting with his organisation before his character is fully revealed later in the movie.

SPECTRE also impresses on the technical front. Despite the absence of Roger Deakins who did a tremendous job in SKYFALL, ace cinematographer Hoyte Van Hoytema (HER, INTERSTELLAR) proves to be a terrific replacement. Here, Hoytema fulfils every scene with breathtaking visuals around five location settings, including Mexico City, Rome, London, Austria and Morocco. He also made excellent use of shadows, especially during a meeting scene where Oberhauser's face is largely obscured from plain sight. Thomas Newman, who previously composed SKYFALL, has once again delivers an exciting score that helps amp up the movie to the max. Lee Smith, on the other hand, ensures that the movie's nearly two hours and thirty minutes long (which also happens to be the longest duration ever seen in a Bond movie) doesn't lag too much of the movie's pacing with his sharp editing skill. Jany Temime deserves a praise as well for her classy costume design, ranging from Craig's suave Tom Ford tuxedo suit to Lea Seydoux's elegant evening dress during the dinner scene in the train carriage.

Likewise, Daniel Craig's steely demeanour is put into good use that fits his psychologically-tormented role as James Bond. While he always remains the best when he plays his character with no-nonsense attitude, it is also nice to see him delivering a sense of humour every now and then.

The supporting cast fares better, beginning with Christoph Waltz's performance as Franz Oberhauser. As evident in 2009's INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS, he proves to be a natural fit playing a villain. In fact, his performance impresses the most whenever he confronts with Craig. Lea Seydoux brings enough zest to her feisty character as Madeleine Swann, while her chemistry with Craig sizzles from the moment they meet at her clinic in the Austrian Alps. Although Monica Bellucci only appeared as a cameo in this movie, she made her sultry presence felt during her brief fling with Craig. Dave Bautista, who plays a nearly silent and physically imposing henchman Mr. Hinx, is a welcome addition that has been sorely missed since the late Richard Kiel's memorable role as Jaws in the Roger Moore-era of Bond movies. The rest of the actors, including Ralph Fiennes as M and Naomie Harris as Moneypenny, made their appearances worthwhile as Mendes given them enough room to be the integral part of the movie. Finally, Ben Whishaw almost steals the show with his quirky performance as the gadget whiz Q.

MOST MEMORABLE MOMENT(S)

Hoyte Van Hoytema delivers one of his best works in his illustrious career as a cinematographer during the Mexico City's Day of the Dead opening scene. Brilliantly shot in a single unbroken take, the elaborate scene begins with Bond in a masked skeleton costume weaving in and out of jubilant crowds with a local beauty (Stephanie Sigman). Both of them end up in a hotel room, before Bond scales out of the building and made his way along the ledge with a gun in his hand. After the subsequent gunfire and big explosions that torn down half of the building block, the action gets better with a jaw-dropping moment where Bond struggles with his target in a helicopter that spins out of control.

Another scene worth mentioning here is the FROM RUSSIA WITH LOVE-inspired brutal fistfight between Bond and Mr. Hinx inside the train carriage.

THE BAD STUFF

Apart from the well-executed opening scene and the aforementioned fight scene in the train, it's a shame that most of the action sequences in SPECTRE are surprisingly dull and lack of cinematic vigour. Case in point is the nighttime car chase through the streets of Rome between Bond's Aston Martin DB10 and Hinx's Jaguar C-X75. Instead of generating a sense of adrenaline rush, the car chase feels more like a slick automobile commercial. Then there's the lacklustre Austria-set snowy chase between a small airplane and three jeeps, which almost devoid of much-needed impact and urgency.

FINAL WORDS


SPECTRE may have not matched the same emotional brilliance and intensity that dominated SKYFALL, but this 24th Bond movie remains a satisfying addition to the ever-growing franchise. If the recent news is to be believed that SPECTRE would be Craig's swan song as James Bond since he rather "slash his wrist" than playing the role again, I really hope he will return for one last time before he hangs up his tuxedo for good.

* This review is written courtesy from Sony Pictures Malaysia IMAX 2D press screening *

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