Thursday, 25 February 2016

Spectre Review

Alongside Star Wars, James Bond was another major part of my childhood. While I grew up during Pierce Brosnan’s skint as Bond, Timothy Dalton has remained my favourite version of the iconic, British spy. Licence to Kill and The Living Daylights are the films that I still have fond memories of. Whether it’s The Pretender’s Where Has Everybody Gone? playing over Necros’ handiwork or a young Benecio Del Toro’s falling into machinery, these were films I watched constantly on TV. In regards to Daniel Craig’s turn as 007; it’s been a rather uneven road. Casino Royale is easily one of the best instalments in the entire franchise while Quantum of Solace is easily one of the worst. Meanwhile I personally felt that Skyfall, while critically and financially successful, was a rather average Bond film that certainly looked the part but failed to truly deliver. Yet even after a few rough patches and Spectre’s poorly conceived marketing months before its release, I was still relatively excited to see what returning director Sam Mendes would do. 

However, it’s becoming increasingly clear that there’s a lack of originality within the franchise, and action-cinema in general. It seems that in the wake and success of the Bourne Series, Bond has unsurprisingly been quick to dispense with the light-hearted nature and far-fetched narratives for a more grounded-in-current-affairs approach. And while I agree that this was the direction it needed to take, I feel that in doing so the series is losing its unique charm and character. The last two films attempted to reinvigorate a stagnant formula with a more personal story involving the loss of Vesper Lynd and Judi Dench’s Judi Dench with varied success. Bond has become gritty, dark and emotionless, forgetting the quintessential charm that made the franchise and character so iconic and beloved. 

Spectre has all the components of a engaging Bond film, but squanders its composition with poor writing and poor pacing. Hacking, double agents, secret organisations and government corruption sound good on paper, but the film fails to construct a coherent and engaging narrative from them. Extravagant locations, an Aston Martin with gadgets, and a serious henchman offer an sense of nostalgia towards the classic Bond films; On Her Majesty’s Secret Service and From Russia With Love. And while I respect the decision to return to a more traditional Bond, here it feels empty and too superficial. The inconsistent and questionable pacing of the film doesn’t alleviate these shortcomings, but further highlights them. The third act in particular is a scramble to simultaneously wrap up the film’s loose ends while intentionally dragging out the final confrontation, which should be impossible to do.

Daniel Craig has never struck me as “James Bond”. Cold, emotionless and increasingly monotonous, this is his forth outing and while 9 years have passed since Casino Royale, he still hasn’t distinguished this version of Bond. He’s a capable actor, but I feel that whether it’s down to the writing or Craig’s frustrated attitude towards the role, he’s left Bond unlikable and tiresome. Meanwhile Christoph Waltz who usually lights up the screen with his quirky energy and jovial delivery is bitterly disappointing as quintessential Bond villain, Blofeld. Lea Seydoux gives a strong first impression, only to revert to the stereotypical damsel-in-distress that her character ironically deplores. The talent is there, but the writing doesn’t allow it to flourish. 

Spectre’s attempts to return to the traditional framework of the Bond series is more of a confused and lacklustre trip down memory lane than a true instalment in the franchise. It’s a shame that while director Sam Mendes, cinematographer Hoyte van Hoytema and production designer Dennis Gassner have created a visual striking film, everything else is left wilted and lifeless. From the writing to the mediocre performances, Spectre was a bitter disappointment and an unfortunate, missed opportunity. 

Wednesday, 6 January 2016

Favourites of 2015: Star Wars: The Force Awakens

Some of my earliest cinema-going memories are of the re-releases of The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi. Funnily enough I can’t actually remember seeing A New Hope until it’s VHS release. I collected the action figures, the posters, even the Darth Vader drink cups, which all still remain up in the storage attic. Lightsaber duels with my brother, and pretending my bicycle was an X-Wing, it’s fair to say that Star Wars was an important part of my childhood. But I also share the customary disappointment towards the prequel trilogy. As a result, the notion of another series of squandered potential in the hands of creator George Lucas was understandably disheartening. Yet the news of J. J. Abrams sitting in the director’s chair after the successful reboot of Star Trek put some of those fears to rest. 

The Force Awakens doesn’t stray too far from the tried and tested elements of its predecessors, yet manages to construct new foundations and offer enough intrigue to establish itself as the beginning of a new trilogy. Daisy Ridley and John Boyega’s entrance into the Star Wars Universe offers a new lease of life and perspective. A determined scavenger with a mysterious past, and a reformed Storm Trooper allows for a compelling set of characters with an engaging chemistry. Meanwhile Adam Driver’s menacing Kylo Ren, Domhnall Gleeson’s General Hux and Andy Serkis’ Supreme Leader Snoke leave a strong impression that gives glimpses into the true state of the “Dark Side”, even if it’s first oughting ends in a predictable loss. The return of the franchise’s classic characters; Han Solo, Leia Organa and Chewbacca carefully and respectfully pass the torch to the charismatic youth that hope to ascend to similar stature. 

Star Wars: The Force Awakens was a welcome and satisfying end to a rather disappointing year in cinema over here in Japan. From the iconic text crawl accompanied by John Williams’ score, to the sounds of Tie Fighter blaster cannons, J. J. Abrams has recreated some of the magic and spirit that has made the Star Wars Universe so endearing and iconic. And while questions still remain to be answered, I can’t argue that the film left me with a smile.