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Spectre (Blu-ray Review)

11 Feb, 2016 By: John Latchem

Box office $199.6 million
$29.99 DVD, $39.99 Blu-ray
Rated ‘PG-13’ for intense sequences of action and violence, some disturbing images, sensuality and language
Stars Daniel Craig, Christoph Waltz, Léa Seydoux, Ben Whishaw, Naomie Harris, Ralph Fiennes, Dave Bautista, Andrew Scott, Monica Bellucci.

Historically, the prototypical James Bond adventure would involve the British superspy engaged in some sort of mission to protect the world from the villainous schemes of an arch-criminal, though Bond himself rarely had any personal stakes in the case. The trademark of the Daniel Craig era, however, seems to be a deeper scrutiny into Bond as a character, with more emphasis on what turned him into the hardened, wise-cracking agent of lore. Now four movies into this re-examination, one has to wonder when the franchise is going to get back to letting Bond be Bond.

Skyfall, Craig’s third outing, seemed to be aiming in that direction, completing a trilogy that had Bond and MI-6 more or less resembling the franchise’s classic incarnation of the Sean Connery days, and ready for a new mission. Well, Spectre demonstrates the filmmakers weren’t quite ready to take that next step just yet.

The film’s ultimate purpose is to reintroduce the legendary global criminal organization that was Bond’s primary enemy in the 1960s, but has been mostly absent from the series for 40 years due to legal issues. The prospect of the return of Spectre and its leader, Ernst Stavro Blofeld, was cause for excitement among the franchise’s considerable fan base. But alas, the filmmakers’ insistence on continuing to explore Bond’s past gets in the way and makes the second half of the film somewhat of a slog to get through.

Picking up from Skyfall, a surprise tip sends Bond on a rogue mission that starts to unravel the shroud obscuring the manipulative cabal known as Spectre, which doesn’t seem to be trying too hard to stay hidden, judging by all the people who know about it that aren’t actually members. The script tries to connect the plots for Craig’s previous Bond outings to a grand conspiracy on behalf of Spectre, while at the same time tying up whatever loose ends remain, which provides a sense of finality and closure in case Craig doesn’t return to the role.

However, the film misses the opportunity to deepen the plot with a few explanations that might have made everything make a bit more sense, as well as provide for some better plot twists that what actually ends up on screen. (Skip to the end of this review for my own spoiler-laden theory.)

Instead, the film’s insistence on continuing the character study of Bond results in a revelation that is hard to accept in light of all the heavy lifting the “Austin Powers” films did in knocking down the notion of a Blofeld-type bad guy. Indeed, character connections played for laughs in Goldmember have now been given the full weight of the Bond canon, and unironically so.

Despite such silliness in these areas, the film isn’t altogether lacking in effective character dynamics, especially among the core team, and the movie does offer some good action scenes, including a vibrant opening sequence set during a Day of the Dead parade in Mexico City. But aside from the opening shot, director Sam Mendes, who imbued Skyfall with a dazzling sense of style, seems content to let this film feel more conventional despite the obvious story parallels being made to the previous film (especially in its family motifs).

What’s most unfortunate is that in a year that gave us fun and witty spy films such as Kingsman: The Secret Service, The Man From U.N.C.L.E. and Mission: Impossible — Rogue Nation, the latest Bond epic would feel like such a rehash rather than a renewal.

The sense of disappointment carries over into the meager bonus offerings on the Blu-ray, consisting of a featurette about making the opening sequence and 10 minutes of video blogs about other aspects of the production. Like the film itself, it doesn’t feel as substantial as Bond fans have come to expect.

Fans looking for a bit more meat can pick up Target’s exclusive Blu-ray containing a bonus DVD that includes a featurette about Sam Smith’s theme song, as well as the music video, plus an interview with the film’s writers about the history of Spectre. “Shadow of Spectre” was previously released last year as an extra for the James Bond Collection boxed set as part of the theatrical marketing for the film, but has been updated to include the new movie.

Speaking of the James Bond Collection, that boxed set also included an empty slot for fans to put their new Spectre disc, so it’s a bit of a head scratcher why the art on the disc itself doesn’t match the style used for the other discs in that set. It’s not as if people buying the movie without the set are going to care what the art on the disc is, but it’s the kind of detail that really drives collectors nuts (especially if the boxed set is re-released to include the new disc in the proper style, as it was when Skyfall first hit disc).

But that’s pretty much emblematic of the whole project: good enough for what it is, missing key details that could have made it much better, and leaving behind something fans are just going to have to deal with.



Anyway, back to some ruminations on the film itself. The whole story of the film flows from a video left by Judi Dench’s M after she was killed off in the previous film, requesting that Bond hunt down the assassin he takes out at the beginning of the film. Bond’s investigation of him eventually leads to his discovery of Spectre. The specificity of M’s request is a very convenient plot element with little explanation of why she made it or what she actually knew, but it seems to intentionally point Bond on a path that will expose Spectre and Blofeld. But what if M was actually a member of Spectre, or at least connected to them in some way? One of this film’s plot points is that Blofeld wants to create a global surveillance network, an initiative led by a British official who is a crony of Spectre. M may have been approached in the past to aid in this effort, but proved to be an obstacle to it. So Silva’s true goal in Skyfall would have been to eliminate her on behalf of Spectre to pave the way for the reorganization of British intelligence to serve Spectre’s needs. On the flip side, if she weren’t an outright member, at the very least M’s dealings with Spectre personnel would have given her enough information to know where to send Bond to eventually get to them. Her video request for Bond to attack them if she were dead smacks of a suspicion that they killed her for some reason, and that Bond is her best tool to seek revenge from beyond the grave.

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