Review: Spectre

Synopsis: A cryptic message from Bond’s past sends him on a trail to uncover a sinister organization. While M battles political forces to keep the secret service alive, Bond peels back the layers of deceit to reveal the terrible truth behind SPECTRE.

“Spectre” opens today and while it doesn’t top Daniel Craig’s previous entries it does fine-tune the rebooted story that began in 2006. My first reaction leaving the theater was, “They better get Daniel Craig to come back for ONE MORE movie.”

For a Bond picture, “Spectre” is surprisingly light on action and what action they do feature feels a tad forced.

The opening fight within a helicopter looks more irresponsible than thrilling. Later the car chase through Rome has some beautiful¬†scenery but doesn’t get your adrenaline going. Bond eventually chases a convoy with an airplane and then continues the chase in the fuselage after crashing the plane. Honestly that part felt more like a scene out of Arnold Schwarzenegger’s “Commando” than anything else.

Not that I have any ill will toward “Commando.”

Still “Spectre” gets right what “Quantum Of Solace” got wrong. “Quantum” had an action piece every other scene, trying way too hard to mimic the Bourne formula. “Spectre” keeps to a few big action scenes and is surprisingly more dialogue-heavy.

The lack of action actually grew on me after a few days. One of my favorite James Bond moments is from “Dr. No” where Sean Connery is looking over his hotel room for evidence that it had been broken into. He’s being an investigator instead of a pure action icon.

There are two scenes in “Spectre” where Craig had to do the same thing while chasing after Jesper Christensen’s Mr. White. To me, that packed more of a punch than outrageous high-flying adventurism.

Craig is great and gets to use a little more swagger this time. In many ways this is his first normal Bond film, the famous gun-barrel sequence opens the film instead of being retooled or placed at the end. He’s allowed to make more wisecracks (in one case showing contempt for a Frank Sinatra tune…not cool) and shows off his knowledge of classic British cars.

I’d rank Lea Seydoux’s Madeleine Swann as the second-best Bond Girl of the Craig movies, just a hair behind Eva Green’s Vesper Lynd. Yeah, there’s a big age difference between her and Craig. Yeah, at times she can be a damsel in distress. And yeah, we all thought Monica Bellucci would get just as much screen time instead of a mere cameo…I’m still sore about that.

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But throughout the film you get hints that Swann is perfectly capable of defending herself, she even saves Bond’s life at one point. She does a damn good job of projecting some inner turmoil, almost as if she had to kill someone in the past and never got over it. Her character is a doctor who’d rather save lives than take them.

There’s more I can say about her character but it’s spoilery and speculative so I’ll save it for another day.

I should admit that going into this movie I was predisposed to like Christoph Waltz as the main villain. Totally standing by that.

Again, like “Dr. No” at first the bad guy is hidden in the shadows but still heard from. I love that imagery.

Waltz’s character, named Oberhauser, does share a connection to Bond’s past which did worry me a bit. Luckily they pull it off, not being sappy about their shared history or overplaying the personal stuff. I could say more but don’t want to ruin the surprise reveal.

[Fun piece of trivia, Waltz and Seydoux shared a scene in “Ingourious Basterds” when she played one of the farm girls in the opening scene]

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Also, if you’re afraid of drills you will squint a bit during one of the scenes between Bond and Oberhauser.

Moving on to the supporting cast…

Even though she’s underutilized, Naomie Harris’ Moneypenny does well and the banter between her and Bond is better than it was in “Skyfall.” Same goes for Dave Bautista’s Mr. Hinx, the main SPECTRE henchman. He gets a great introduction and proves he can beat the living crap out of Bond…but he only gets one friggin’ line of dialogue!

After picking Bautista as my favorite character in “Guardians of the Galaxy” I had hoped he’d get to philosophize more in “Spectre.”

The rest of the supporting cast, especially Ralph Fiennes’ M, have time to shine. I love how his M is a true jack-of-all-trades, fitting in naturally at government functions and yet excelling in the field, as well.

Andrew Scott, of “Sherlock” fame, plays an intelligence chief trying to dismantle the traditional spy program in favor of more drones and satellites and triumphs at playing a real tool.

“Spectre” also finds a way to reference previous characters that we miss, at one point name-dropping Jeffrey Wright’s Felix Leiter who I wish would come back again. Judi Dench’s M also makes a quick reappearance.

The theme by Sam Smith, titled “The Writing is on the Wall,” improves after listening to it multiple times but isn’t as catchy as the last three themes. The opening credit number also looks weird with the octopus imagery and borders on qualifying as tentacle porn.

One shot of a tentacle next to a woman even looks like concept art for Neil Blomkamp’s Alien movie.

If I could sneak in one final criticism, it’s that “Spectre” does suffer from an “Avengers: Age of Ultron” problem where the plot points feel a little too similar to the previous film. Bond follows up on a lead, goes somewhere else for a lead, confronts the bad guy at his lair and then has a final confrontation on Bond’s home turf (in this case London).

Not a perfect comparison, but it does feel like there’s a hint of “Skyfall” to this script.

From the box office perspective, “Spectre” has broken a few records in the UK (beating the average per screen take set by “The Dark Knight” and the best weekly take set by “Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban”) and is expected to open number one here in the states.

The only concern is that with such a huge price tag for the film (upwards of $300 million) that it could pull an “Amazing Spider-Man 2” and just be too expensive to make a solid profit. Both films were distributed by Sony.

Coming to a close, “Spectre” is a nice fit among the Craig films, showing off Bond’s spycraft instead of his destructive habits and leaves the door open for a cool take on the franchise.

If I had to give it a grade: B-

Review: Guardians of the Galaxy

Going into Guardians of the Galaxy I was looking for an excuse to brush it off.WP_001210

Sure, the trailers were promising but could I really get into a movie with a talking raccoon and a walking tree whose dialogue was on loop?

Well, I stand corrected. Getting down to brass tacks, you gotta love a film that praises Kevin Bacon, features a Soviet space dog and might be our last, best hope to remind kids what the hell a cassette tape was.

For the most lighthearted Marvel film, Guardians has a pretty serious opening. It begins with a young Peter Quill in the hospital the day his mother dies of cancer. The movie skips over the grieving part as Quill runs away and is immediately zapped into space.

We then fast forward over two decades later to find Quill (Chris Pratt) snagging an ancient orb and using space lizards as microphones. No word yet on whether that’s animal cruelty. The end credits only promise that no raccoons or tree creatures were harmed making this picture.

From there, all our characters meet up as each tries to steal the orb and sell it to the highest bidder. This is in the back-drop of a rogue alien NGO* trying to use the orb to destroy its former enemy despite a recent peace treaty.

It’s a real contest to see who steals the show the most. Pratt nails his part. Gamora (Zoe Saldana) can do anything Quill can do only backwards and with green skin. Other reviews have said Rocket Raccoon (voiced by Bradley Cooper) breaks out the most to carry the movie. Groot (voiced by Vin Diesel) … is Groot (not that that’s a bad thing).

Me? I’d nominate Drax (Dave Bautista) for best character. He delivers some of the film’s best lines with a straight face, has a damn good vocabulary and you’ll never laugh so hard at a bazooka blast than in this movie.

The main villain, Ronan (Lee Pace), is sufficiently sinister and even has a spaceship that matches his costume! Oddly enough, he has a line similar to Ben Kingsley’s in Iron Man 3 (“Some people call me a terrorist…”). ¬†Nevertheless, his character isn’t just a tool who’s a walking excuse for a Budweiser plug.

Guardians is the kind of fun sci-fi film I would’ve loved as a kid. The trailers sold us a space comedy with action elements and, by Jove, that’s what we got. That’s a much more accurate selling tactic than when trailers presented Iron Man 3 as a serious flick but gave us a slapdash action-comedy instead.

Geez, when did this review turn into an Iron Man 3 hatefest?

On the negative side, for a film that takes place in the vast frontier of space the two starship battles feel somewhat cramped. The close, zoomed-in shots feel just like the fight scenes in the Bourne Trilogy: tight and hard to follow. Guardians makes up for it with great hand-to-hand fight scenes, though, especially during the prison escape scene.

The final showdown between the Guardians and Ronan was also a little too melodramatic. But being a comic book/sci-fi movie I’ll give it a pass.

Finally, we could’ve used more Djimon Hounsou. Aside from the scene featured in the trailers¬†he only makes one and a half more appearances in the movie. What a waste.

Bottom line: Marvel departs from its established superhero franchises and wins.

*Just in case you didn’t know, NGO stands for non-government organization. My political science major tendencies couldn’t resist.