Spec­tre de­liv­ers spec­ta­cle, but com­plex plot de­fuses fun

Winnipeg Free Press - Section E - - FRONT PAGE -

IT’S not easy be­ing the post­mod­ern Bond. The 53-year-old fran­chise is ex­pected to hit the sweet spot be­tween escapist fan­tasy and taut re­al­ism, Cold War nos­tal­gia and 21st-cen­tury rel­e­vance, the pleas­antly fa­mil­iar and the thrillingly new.

Some­times it works, as with the crack­er­jack re­boot that was Casino Royale. And some­times it doesn’t, as with the slough of de­spond Quan­tum of So­lace.

And some­times it’s a frus­trat­ing catch-all of this and that. Spec­tre is a solid Bond out­ing, with strong per­for­mances and eye­catch­ing spec­ta­cle, but it spends so much time try­ing to ful­fil its com­plex man­date that it’s never able to en­joy it­self.

The pre-credit se­quence is promis­ing, mix­ing an el­e­gantly chore­ographed chase with an in­spired lo­ca­tion shoot. Dur­ing Day of the Dead cel­e­bra­tions in Mex­ico City, Bond (Daniel Craig) pur­sues an enigmatic bad­die, but nearly flies a run­away he­li­copter into a crowd of civil­ians.

On his re­turn to Lon­don, he is hauled up on the car­pet by the new M (Ralph Fi­ennes) for his unau­tho­rized ex­tracur­ric­u­lar ac­tiv­i­ties. M is hav­ing has his own trou­bles with C ( Sher­lock’s eerie, elfin An­drew Scott), who wants to es­ca­late lev­els of state sur­veil­lance and data col­lec­tion.

Faced with bu­reau­cratic in­ter­fer­ence and the pos­si­ble can­cel­la­tion of the Dou­ble-O pro­gram, Bond goes rogue, with the re­luc­tant aid of nerdy Q (Ben Whishaw) and in­trepid Moneypenny (Naomie Har­ris). Head­ing to Rome to in­ves­ti­gate a shad­owy multi­na­tional crime con­glom­er­ate, James comes up against his own past.

The theme of child­hood trauma, which gave some moody emo­tional heft to Sky­fall, is badly mis­han­dled here. Play­ing Bond neme­sis Franz Ober­hauser — I’ll leave it to su­per­fans to de­cide whether he has an­other name as well — Christoph Waltz de­liv­ers some speeches with his trade­mark mix of menace and pedan­tic pre­ci­sion, and then dis­ap­pears for over an hour, along with the story’s ini­tial surge of en­ergy.

Bond is left to tussle with Ober­hauser’s less in­ter­est­ing hench­man, a mute man-moun­tain (Dave Bautista) who looks like a side of beef in a suit. Their chase and fight se­quences take in some spec­tac­u­lar scenery — a desert train in north Africa, a fog-bound lake in the Aus­trian Alps — but are scup­pered by pedes­trian edit­ing.

The un­even set pieces are fur­ther de­flated by the flac­cid sto­ry­line. Ober­hauser’s mo­ti­va­tions start out as murky and dis­tant, and when fi­nally re­vealed, come off as al­most com­i­cally an­ti­cli­mac­tic. (Again with the daddy is­sues!)

It doesn’t help that Ober­hauser’s ex­pla­na­tion is ac­com­pa­nied by a tor­ture se­quence that in­volves a ver­sion of what is ba­si­cally an “un­nec­es­sar­ily slow-mov­ing dip­ping mech­a­nism,” as Austin Pow­ers’ Dr. Evil would say.

Spec­tre’s prob­lems don’t in­clude Craig. In his four-film run as Bond, he has bal­anced ex­quis­ite tai­lor­ing with an edge of thug­gish­ness, and self-aware irony with weary hu­man­ity. Here his in­tense phys­i­cal pres­ence is look­ing in­creas­ingly bat­tered, of­fer­ing a fit­ting fin­ish for what is prob­a­bly his last 007 out­ing.

Bond Girl Madeleine Swann (Léa Sey­doux) man­ages to be steely and self-de­ter­min­ing in an un­der­writ­ten part. There’s even — gasp! — a Bond Woman, the mag­nif­i­cent 50-year-old Mon­ica Bel­lucci.

The dif­fi­cul­ties re­ally come down to di­rec­tor Sam Men­des ( Amer­i­can Beauty), al­ways too con­scious of his se­ri­ous Os­car-win­ning pedi­gree, and the bat­tery of six cred­ited screen­writ­ers. Strain­ing hard af­ter post-9/11 po­lit­i­cal sub­text, they pump up the ref­er­ences to Wik­iLeaks and drone war­fare, un­con­vinc­ingly push­ing 007 as a po­lit­i­cal pro­gres­sive be­cause he has the de­cency to look a man in the eyes be­fore he kills him.

And that’s a rather disin­gen­u­ous spot, try­ing to po­si­tion a lone black-ops as­sas­sin as a cham­pion of demo­cratic rights and civil lib­er­ties. As M points out, in an un­con­vinc­ing plea for old­fash­ioned Bri­tish fair play, Bond’s li­cence to kill “is also a li­cence NOT to kill.”

(Memo to the Bond pro­duc­ers: don’t make that the ti­tle of the next film, no mat­ter how post­mod­ern things are get­ting.)

SONY PIC­TURES

Daniel Craig as James Bond in

Spec­tre

ALI­SON GILL­MOR

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