Spectre ★★★

I'm honestly a bit shocked at how much I liked this movie. Initially I felt I liked it more than I should, but the longer it sits with me the more I have to admit that I was really impressed by it. This is a very strange film, one of the most surreal blockbusters I've seen. This movie isn't perfect: some of the movie's attempts at humor in the first half fall flat (though Ben Whitshaw is wonderful), some of the dialogue is cringe-worthy bad in the earlier parts, characters speaking in the tongues of years-old cliche's. In these sections the movie is at its best when there is no talking - and so the films drifts into set-piece after set-piece.

Even with the spectacular opening scene, it was only after Seydoux was introduced did I start to become fond of this movie. Yet the film is still quite fascinating in this aspect: the movie seems to repeat tropes from the series history, not quite inter-textual, yet still managing to play with basic standards the franchise has set, a single being against 2, 3 beings, vice versa, constant additions and subtractions. And in the meantime a sub-plot surrounding an international surveillance agreement! But this movie becomes very alive in its second portion (which most of the movies critics seem to single out as where it drops), some of the most sumptuous visuals I've seen in 2015, surprisingly abstract & expressionist at times. The section where Bond first enters the Spectre headquarters, and every angle Oberhauser is lit so that he remains in silhouette! Or the dreamlike meteor scene, Waltz's face revealed but still engulfed in shadow. OR how the action scenes progressively begin to mimic the "plot" happenings, that Bond is never fully aware what or who he is chasing. Did Oberhauser need to be revealed as Blofeld ultimately? I don't think so, his character was interesting enough on his own terms. And while anyone who has seen a recent Bond movie would be aware of the tendency to make all of 007's exploits "personal" in some way, this is the first one (well, Quantum as well) which really toys with it rather than leaving it as surface gimmick. Because what's interesting in this movie's second half is this understanding of another person (this is also the first Craig Bond where the villain is finally more interesting than the hero) and pushing their buttons - the film becomes a play - a battle of neuroses, total psychological warfare: ultimately this manifests physically as the needle torture scene, probably the best, most unsettling and unexpectedly moving moment in this film. Blofeld wants to poke holes into Bond's brain for fun as much as revenge - as much a masochistic act as a satisfactory one. It's the first time I've really sensed anything beyond the totally fantastical & escapist in these films (moments in Quantum and OHMSS excepted), but one senses minds which have gone awry - like entering the world of Lang's mad scientist from Testament. Yet this same scene is the one where we hear the words "I love you," for the first time in one of these movies.

I almost teared up I think, when Bond says "I would recognize you anywhere." It's a surprise even in how moving it is, which brings me to another subject: it's ellipticality. I can't think of a blockbuster in recent memory which refuses to proceed logically even when giving us events that proceed illogically. But in this movie we proceed from A - C and B goes out the window. And maybe because of that it feels so soon when Craig and Seydoux finally reveal their feelings to each other. Yet I never doubted their attachment for a moment. In a sense, this is the movie I thought Skyfall might have been, where an OK, not completely untalented director is forced to become more inventive in making a genre picture. Of course, that film ended up being the opposite, but perhaps because of the "achievements" that movie made, this tries to do the opposite of the former. And what's even more surprising (this movie is full of surprises, and I don't mean the villain reveal, which as I mentioned prior is unnecessary and also fairly obvious) is how stylized it is. I would not have expected this level of experimentation from someone like Sam Mendes, nor would I have from a $300 million film.

What's also fascinating is how the film never chooses to linger on anything, the movie is constantly moving. At first this annoyed me, but as the movie progressed I found each passing glance & minor moment (specifically between Seydoux and Craig) all the more precious. Also, I should note how nice it was to see the franchises supporting characters get their roles expanded and do more than serve solely functional purposes.

For all this though, what it comes down to: I was genuinely moved by this movie. Is this the first movie here where it's finally addressed that a state-sponsored assassin is no different (or rather, worse) than a killer of any other means? And this is why I was moved: to see this enormously popular and influential character not kill by choice rather than by happenstance (or the only other option in our legacy of franchises - kill the villain). Sure, this may motivated to bring back Blofeld for future installments. But it is moving to see him choose life over death, to watch Craig and Seydoux walk away from the camera hand in hand, like Chaplin and Goddard in Modern Times.

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