SPECTRE (2015)

SpectrePosthumously ordered to Mexico by the previous M (Judi Dench) to kill Marco Sciarra (Alessandro Cremona), James Bond (Daniel Craig) uncovers a secret organisation that connects Quantum and the deceased cyberterrorist Raoul Silva (Javier Bardem). He infiltrates a meeting of SPECTRE in Rome, following a tip-off from Sciarra’s widow (Monica Bellucci), where he is introduced to the group’s leader, Franz Oberhauser (Christoph Waltz). Henchman Mr. Hinx (Dave Bautista) is dispatched to take care of Bond, stalking him all the way to Austria — to the workplace of Dr. Madeleine Swann (Léa Seydoux), who 007 has promised to protect in exchange for Oberhauser’s location. With Bond AWOL, and both Q (Ben Whishaw) and Moneypenny (Naomie Harris) suspected of aiding and abetting his illicit investigations, M (Ralph Fiennes) finds himself in conflict with C (Andrew Scott), who wants to disband the 00 programme as part of a controversial reform of the secret service that will see MI5 and MI6 merged to form a Joint Intelligence Service.

The James Bond film series is a mess, and always has been. Spanning over fifty years and twenty-four movies it has seen the lead role re-cast, the creative team replaced, and the narrative revised so often that James Bond now exists more as an icon than a character. It is this iconography that holds the series together, so that a Bond movie is as identifiable for containing a Bond girl and a Bond villain as it is for featuring Bond himself – heck, the main character has to introduce himself at the outset of every movie just so that the audience knows who is on this particular occasion supposed to be playing him. This formula has produced a number of memorable adventures, but the repetitiveness has made it predictable and over time this has rendered it rote. There is no character development, no narrative progression, no end in sight, just an apparently endless succession of explosions and innuendo that can sometimes stimulate but can rarely satisfy.

It is for this reason that Sam Mendes’ Skyfall — EON’s twenty-third production — was such a success, both critically and commercially. Tasked with celebrating fifty years of Bond, Mendes was really the first director to sit down and think about who the character is or where the series might be going. Even the fact that he was ostensibly operating in a rebooted timeline barely two films old couldn’t stop him from producing the most engaging and comprehensive Bond movie in decades — one that was both emotionally resonant and culturally significant. Skyfall simultaneously operated both within and outwith the series’ established continuity, referencing previous adventures while reinstating fan favourite characters who were nevertheless unknown to Bond. This allowed Mendes to comment on or even slyly mock established tropes while also hitting all of the usual marks. It was at once a standalone adventure and a distillation of everything the series stood for; in many ways it was the definitive Bond movie, and may either have been used to bring one of cinemas longest running sagas to a triumphant conclusion or stand it in good stead to see out the rest of the century.

Obviously, there was little chance that Sony was going to retire one of its most celebrated and lucrative tentpoles, and the existence of SPECTRE shows that of the two options it was going to go with the latter. To the film’s credit, it approaches the idea that James Bond has to adapt to survive head on: Andrew Scott’s character explicitly questions the relevance and validity of the 00 programme in the 21st Century, and spearheads a Joint Intelligence Programme that favours surveillance over espionage. Unfortunately, however, it stops at lip-service, and rather than reach for new horizons the film — as its name suggests — resurrects an organisation that hasn’t been seen onscreen since 1971 to concern itself with instead. Mendes, who after much convincing agreed to return for SPECTRE, is clearly aware of his film’s shortcomings, but having killed M off at the end of Skyfall he is no longer able to refocus attention away from narrative inconsistencies and onto the characters. He overcompensates, contriving to retcon a shared history between Bond and his latest antagonist, but it is neither as convincing or as compelling as the relationship he once had with M. Realistically speaking SPECTRE may only be as incomprehensible as half the other films in the series (it’s certainly as stylish), but after Skyfall it feels all the more inconsequential.

In an age of shared universes and multimedia storytelling, Bond really is beginning to show his age. Like Skyfall, SPECTRE may continue to mirror and directly reference past events (though a fight on a train and a video tape labelled Vespa barely registers as fan-service at a time where Marvel is cross-pollinating between sub-franchises and Fox is commissioning films with the express intention of reinstating some semblance of continuity) but it doesn’t have the same focus or sense of purpose as its predecessor — it confuses matters when it should be clarifying them. Rather than use Skyfall as a jumping off point for new adventures or dynamics, SPECTRE feels more like an epilogue, an after-party, or perhaps just a hangover. The franchise hasn’t been renewed, it’s outstayed its welcome. The suitably stand-out Day of the Dead sequence might have been more than a prelude; it may have been a premonition.

2-stars

Ten 2015 Movies I Could Take Of Leave…Preferably Leave

Since starting to blanket watch the latest releases — first to better serve customers while working in a cinema and later to inspire reviews for this blog — I have seen an incredible amount of dreck. Every year is the same, and yet each year I continue to watch films I know full well will be terrible — either out of unrelenting optimism (nothing pleases me more a pleasant surprise) or some misplaced sense of professionalism (nobody’s going to reprimand me for missing the new Transformers). I have already written a list of the films I am most looking forward to in 2015, so here’s a list of the films I’m not looking forward to at all.

The Divergent Series: Insurgent

InsurgentThey say that there are only seven stories in fiction, but everyone knows that when it comes to the emergent Young Adult genre the one usually suffices. Even so, the first Divergent film seemed especially derivative, with its dystopian districts (or factions), its annual sorting assemblies (or Choosing Ceremonies) and crazy games (or whatever they call that zip-line thingy). The second film looks set to take things to whole new levels of incomprehensible, as the preposterously named Tris Prior is subjected to another round of nonsensical tests — this time in a bid to open a mysterious box.

Get Hard

Get HardJust as there are actors whose developing careers you follow with interest, there are those whose ongoing success you can’t quite explain. Last year the most inexplicable of all was Kevin Hart: star of such torturous tripe as Ride Along and About Last Night. Hart has a number of films out in 2015 — among them Top Five and The Wedding Ringer — but to date Get Hard looks to be the worst of the lot.

Hot Tub Time Machine 2

HTTM2The first Hot Tub Time Machine was a mess of hackneyed but ultimately wholesome 80s nostalgia and the sort of mean-spirited bilge that’s gone on to supercede jokes in 21st Century comedy. The trailer sees Rob Corddry (deservedly) shot in the crotch, necessitating another trip to the eponymous jacuuzi so that he, Craig Robinson and Clark Duke can track down the shooter — this time travelling to the future. John Cusack has been replaced by Adam Scott, but even that’s not enough to win me around.

Insidious: Chapter 3/Sinister 2

Insidious 3The most exciting thing about Insidious and Sinister upon their respective ’10 and ’12 releases was that they were a bit different. At a time when the horror genre was dominated by sequels, remakes and reboots they dared to nightmare up something, if not new, then at least relatively novel. The fact that they have since gone on to produce franchises of their own (to be joined by the equally disappointing The Conjuring 2 in 2016) goes against everything that made the original films special. That they’re each starting fresh with new characters doesn’t help either.

Minions

MinionsWith Gru having gone it alone in Foxcatcher, it seems that his minions have been left to their own devices. Minions will see his little henchthings serve some of the most famous villains in history — Genghis Khan, Napoleon, and Dracula (haha…ha, get it? Hilarious) — before auditioning for the big bad of the 1960s: Scarlet Overkill. Unfortunately, with the synopsis promising a “threat to all minions” it’s sounds an awful lot like Penguins of Madagascar, which doesn’t bode well for Universal Pictures. After all, the original Despicable Me was practically identical to another DreamWorks Animation — Megamind — only inferior in just about every way.

Terminator Genisys

TerminatorThat title! For all Terminator Salvation‘s many, many flaws, at least it managed to spell its title correctly. How do you pronounce it? What does it mean? For goodness’ sake, why? Terminator fans are used to second-guessing the franchise — its timeline alone poses a number of unanswerable questions — but this is the first time they’ll be scratching their heads before the start of the movie. Good thing Hurricane Bale’s no longer involved, or the person who thought Genisys up would likely be in for a battering.

Fantastic Four

With the superhero genre reaching saturation point — there are as many as thirty comic book movies due out in the next five years — it takes a special kind of alien/mutant/billionaire-playboy-philanthropist to stand out. Fantastic Four couldn’t even distinguish itself in the years before Marvel Studios (and its MCU) had monopolised the genre, and there is no evidence to suggest that the reboot will be any different. It’s hard to remember a film that has generated such negative buzz prior to release (even Tim Story’s sequel was given the benefit of the doubt), and when even the amazing Spider-man can’t guarantee box office success you really need every positive word you can get. It’s out in August and we’ve not even had a poster yet.

London Has Fallen

London Has FallenI haven’t seen the first one admittedly, but with only ten months to go until the release of the sequel I can’t imagine myself having the time or the inclination to catch up with it in time.

Spectre

SpectreSkyfall was great. Really great. After one of the most pointless reboots imaginable — and whether you liked Casino Royale or not, there’s no denying that Quantum of Solace undermined it completely — Eos’ James Bond franchise had arguably the most convoluted and confused continuities in cinema (while also being the most inconsistent in terms of quality). Nevertheless, screenwriters Neal Purvis, Robert Wade and John Logan managed to mark the 50th anniversary of Dr No in style, with a celebration of the character, concept and iconography that felt not only coherent but conclusive. It had taken twenty three attempts to get it right but the studio had finally produced the definitive 007 movie. Although director Sam Mendes was subsequently tempted back for another instalment, it already feels like a compromise. Do we really have go through all this again?