SPECTRE. The things I like about these late-era Bond movies, I will continue to like: Daniel Craig's physically dominant, slightly sadistic take on the character — like a revolver in a Tom Ford suit; the emphasis on visual style and cinematic technique, here highlighted by returning director Sam Mendes (Skyfall) and director of photography Hoyte Van Hoytema; the constant search for bigger, grander canvases on which to paint action sequences; and finally, an obvious reverence for the origins both of the Bond character and his cinematic history. Spectre mostly gets it right but falters in its insistence on continuing down Skyfall's route to the true inner Bond.
In that previous installment, Mendes took great pains with pacing, using conflict to strategically reveal critical elements of Bond's psychology. The process was so gradual, so steeped in gorgeous atmosphere (thanks to venerable director of photography Roger Deakins), that one almost didn't realize that the impossible was happening: James Bond was becoming vulnerable, dissected and almost psychoanalyzed on screen. It was a neat trick, or tricks, relying as much on a fresh perspective on the character as it did on fond reflections on the past.
Spectre finds Bond continuing with some of the work left him in the wake of Skyfall. The movie opens abruptly in Mexico City, during Day of the Dead festivities. An impressive tracking shot follows Bond, decked out in skeleton tuxedo, top hat and skull mask, as he and a beautiful woman make their way through the teeming streets to a hotel. In a somewhat uncharacteristic move, 007 is out the window before anything happens between them, obviously preoccupied. He's off to foil a bombing and chase his quarry through the reveler-choked streets and onto a waiting helicopter, which becomes the stage for an impressive mid-air fight sequence. To this point, Spectre has delivered everything one would hope for in a Bond opening: original action, inventively photographed in an exotic locale. All boxes checked. With that done, though, things start to slip.
Back in London, we learn that the Mexico City mission came as a posthumous personal message from the late M (Judi Dench), and that it begins a long and dangerous path. Of course Bond will follow, regardless of orders from above, and that's where the first set of conflicts arises. Current M (Ralph Fiennes), invested though he may be in the 00 program, is also a man of office, answerable to the hierarchy. And that hierarchy is rapidly changing, with an officious little prat named Max Denbigh (Andrew Scott) — or C —, new head of the Centre for National Security, striving to consolidate the world's surveillance apparatus and dismantle M's department. Bond's freelance globe-trotting could hardly come at a worse time, but work is work, and globe-trotting he must go.
The wreckage from the Mexico City incident leads 007 to Rome, where he discovers a heretofore unknown global criminal conspiracy poised to take over the world. It's Spectre, of course, and a shadowy figure eventually known to us as Blofeld (Christoph Waltz) sits at the head of the table. Bond must then make his way through his past to determine his course of action. He falls in with Madeleine Swann (Lea Seydoux), daughter of one his old nemeses, and somewhat inexplicably falls in love with her. At this point in the movie, after a compelling, rather intentional first act, things start to move awfully precipitously as he and Madeleine learn more about Spectre and open some of Bond's old wounds.
As much as I like the fact that this story arc, and many of its component parts, calls back to the Bond movies of days gone by, I can't help but feel that the story and its telling don't quite come together. The style of Spectre is decidedly of its time, as is its excessive two-and-a-half-hour running time. But the third act is packed with abrupt revelations, popping up one after another like firecrackers. This works against the accumulated tension and goodwill of the movie's first half, and by the end it doesn't really feel like a Bond movie anymore, rather some British intelligence potboiler with more style and a better cast than it deserves. Where Skyfall gradually spooled out elements of Bond's interior life, suggesting rather than telling, Spectre hits us over the head with it. That blunt force effect is the movie's undoing. I understand the impulse to humanize the character, but this approach is decidedly un-Bond. PG13. 148m. BROADWAY, MILL CREEK, FORTUNA, MINOR.
— John J. Bennett
For showtimes, see the Journal's listings at www.northcoastjournal.com or call: Broadway Cinema 443-3456; Fortuna Theatre 725-2121; Mill Creek Cinema 839-3456; Minor Theatre 822-3456.
THE 33. A smudge-faced Antonio Banderas stars with Juliette Binoche in a true-story drama about Chilean miners trapped underground for 69 days as the team above races to rescue them. Hope you're not claustrophobic. PG13. 127m. BROADWAY, MILL CREEK.
LOVE THE COOPERS. Christmas chaos with Diane Keaton and John Goodman. Wear your ugly sweater. PG13. 107m. BROADWAY, MILL CREEK.
SUFFRAGETTE. Beatings, bombings and bonnets in a historical film starring Meryl Streep, Helena Bonham Carter and Carey Mulligan as British women fighting for the vote. PG13. 106m. MINOR.
BRIDGE OF SPIES. Steven Spielberg's Cold War prisoner exchange drama resonates with recent events. Tom Hanks and a Coen brothers script yield a crackling, darkly funny story. PG-13. 143m. BROADWAY, MILL CREEK.
BURNT. Bradley Cooper stars in a formulaic comeback drama about a star chef. It's a pretty dish, but unsatisfying. R. 100m. BROADWAY, MINOR.
GOOSEBUMPS. Jack Black plays author R.L. Stein, who's trying to return his fictional creations to their books. PG. 103m. BROADWAY, MILL CREEK.
THE LAST WITCH HUNTER. Vin Diesel and recovering hobbit Elijah Wood battle baddies in a dream dimension. PG13. 106m. BROADWAY.
THE MARTIAN. Ridley Scott directs Matt Damon as a stranded astronaut in a compelling, exciting and beautiful space drama. PG13. 141m. BROADWAY, MILL CREEK, FORTUNA.
PARANORMAL ACTIVITY: THE GHOST DIMENSION. Spirit photography, handheld cameras and found footage. You know the drill. R. 88m. BROADWAY.
THE PEANUTS MOVIE. Snoopy and the gang put their enormous heads together again for this animated feature. G. 93m. BROADWAY, MILL CREEK, FORTUNA.
TRUTH. Cate Blanchett and Robert Redford in a newsroom/political drama about the 60 Minutes report on then president G.W. Bush's military record and the backlash that followed. R. 125m. MINOR.
— Jennifer Fumiko Cahill