Tag: james bond

Spectre


Spectre (2015)
★★★ / ★★★★

After an unsanctioned mission in Mexico which resulted in a catastrophe during a crowded national holiday celebration, M (Ralph Fiennes) orders Agent 007 (Daniel Craig) from participating in any future assignments—active indefinitely. Unbeknownst to his superior, however, Bond is partaking on a different mission altogether—a more personal mission—out of respect for his former handler (Judi Dench) which involves an international organization believed to be involved in recent targeted terror attacks.

“Spectre,” directed by Sam Mendes, is a less polished Bond picture, certainly less emotionally involving, and more interested in tying together the three films that came before it. Thus, at times it comes across as though it is suffering from an identity crisis. And yet despite this shortcoming, it remains a solid action picture since it commands highly watchable, thrilling, and occasionally creative sequences.

The pre-opening credits sequence is an obvious standout. Notice the control from behind the camera as it sashays between celebratory crowds while remaining focus on Bond and his partner, through a posh hotel, up a lift, and along the rooftop. Tension is slowly generated as we wait for the movement to stop. Even though we have little idea in regards to Bond’s mission, the entire sequence demands full attention. The tight editing ensures that we blink—and flinch—as few times as possible.

Equally strong is the night car chase in the streets of Rome. This chase serves as the catharsis after a mysterious business meeting that concludes in a brutal murder. Complaints are surely going to be made because the expensive and stunning cars appear to not go very fast. But the suspense and thrills do not go hand-in-hand with speed. Instead, these are correlated with the sudden turns and the unexpected hindrances along the way. It shows our protagonist’s ability to think quickly—and the sheer luck critical to propel him forward.

One feels the heft of the film’s one hundred fifty minutes. Part of the issue is the dialogue. There is often a lack of complexity in the exchanges. We already know that the characters are highly intelligent and yet there are a handful of scenes, particularly those that involve Bond and Dr. Swann (Léa Seydoux), that sound too expository. Problematic, too, are the exchanges between Bond and the leader of the Spectre organization (Christoph Waltz). We expect every look and every word given to one another to be incendiary given the supposedly profound history that ties them together. I found the charade to be pedestrian.

Slightly better are the exchanges between M and C (Andrew Scott), the latter working to close down the MI6’s 00 program. The seething anger and annoyance between the two men of power is quite entertaining. It is a small but welcome surprise that there are a number of moments where office politics outshine what goes on in the field. However, although they are given their moments, Moneypenny (Naomie Harris) and Q (Ben Whishaw), M’s secretary and the head of MI6’s research and development, respectively, are not used enough. Harris and Whishaw are so charming but the screenplay fails to make the audience love their characters even more.

Unspectacular but still solid, there are a handful of sequences to recommend in “Spectre.” The mano a mano aboard a moving train quickly comes to mind. If the screenplay had undergone more alterations such as eliminating the expository chunks in the middle (and one or two monologues) or changing them in order to amp up the intrigue—especially when it comes to the shadowy organization of interest—it would have been a level above more satisfying.

Skyfall


Skyfall (2012)
★★★★ / ★★★★

Two MI6 agents lie dead on the floor while the third sits on a chair as he bleeds to death. The item of interest, a hard drive which contains the identities of NATO agents currently immersed in undercover work among terrorist organizations, is taken from a laptop just minutes before. M (Judi Dench) insists that James Bond (Daniel Craig) retrieve the item at all costs. A failure in Turkey means putting lives at risk as well as a justified questioning of the effectiveness of MI6’s current leadership.

“Skyfall,” written by Neal Purvis, Robert Wade, and John Logan, is a concerto of thrills and suspense in which the highly destructive action sequences balances with nuanced, smart, and playful dialogue. The film has a flair for presentation which makes its individual scenes both a sight to behold and an enveloping experience. It understands the value of range and how to utilize its techniques with efficiency.

Take the scenes set in Shanghai in which the visuals point to excess. The skyscrapers are majestic under the heavy shade of night with their lights so bright and hypnotic, it is like being dropped in the middle of downtown Las Vegas on acid, so much to see and digest while the camera teases, only giving us glimpses of its beauty. On the other hand, scenes set in a casino in Macau provide us a smaller scope without sacrificing the elegance and grandeur of the place. As it should be, each destination that 007 visits has something special and memorable for its audience so we feel excited at the thought of what it might offer in the following exotic locale.

Despite the glitz and glamour, the goals that need to be fulfilled are always clear. Once the assignment is met with success or failure, it is onto the next scene, unpredictable at times in whether the screenplay is going to increase the ante by introducing yet another drop of complexity or giving us two seconds to release the tension that has accumulated in our bodies via a well-placed joke or banter. Bond’s interactions with the brainy Q (Ben Whishaw), effeminate but dangerous Silva (Javier Bardem), and inexperienced but determined Eve (Naomie Harris) are so enjoyable, I wished their conversations are longer. By playing with our expectations, not simply focusing on making the action scenes bigger and louder, the picture jolts our brains from going on autopilot, just waiting to be entertained.

Notice that there is not one completely original action sequence and yet all of them work because it is able to draw inspiration from the game-changers and construct the stunts in a such a way that it feels fresh to this universe, from an appropriate number of beats between uncomfortable silence and utter chaos to specific shots cheeky enough to remind us that Bond remains a legend and an inspiration because he is the epitome of a debonair man in a timeless suit.

Perhaps most importantly, Sam Mendes, the director, plays upon his strengths as a filmmaker whose work is mostly rooted in intimate drama. Most interesting being that as the film slinks toward its third act, it has a feeling of something personal at stake for Bond. While he remains a cool-headed professional, the difficult, almost inescapably desperate, circumstances remind us that even though he is trained to be as tough as steel, as calculating as an apex predator, and as cold-hearted as a bullet set on a specific trajectory, there remains a humanity in him. While Martin Campbell’s “Casino Royale” gave us a Bond with emotional fragility, Mendes’ “Skyfall” is a fitting complement because it gives us a Bond with depth and physical vulnerability.

Mission: Impossible II


Mission: Impossible II (2000)
★ / ★★★★

Dr. Nekhorvich (Rade Serbedzija) was on the plane to the United States after he discovered a virus named Chimera, fatal to its host within twenty hours of contact. However, the only way to transport the virus safely was to inject it inside a living person. The plane never made it to its destination. Meanwhile, Ethan Hunt (Tom Cruise) was assigned by his superior (Anthony Hopkins) to recruit Nyah (Thandie Newton), a professional thief, so that she could reconnect with Sean Ambrose (Dougray Scott), former beau and rising international terrorist. Incidentally, Ambrose used to double for Hunt during missions back when he was still an IMF agent. He’d gone rogue and he planned to profit from the virus by forcing a pharmaceutical company CEO (Brendan Gleeson) to surrender his company. Based on the screenplay by Robert Towne and directed by John Woo, “Mission: Impossible II” was everything Brian De Palma’s “Mission: Impossible” was not: gone were the atmospheric paranoia that kept the characters from fully trusting each other, the heart-pounding scenes in which silence was successfully executed to attain the highest levels of suspense, and the thrilling possibility that anyone could drop dead at any time. Instead, we were subjected to more hand-to-hand combat, slow motions that featured Cruise’ well-shampooed and well-conditioned hair, and forceful, supposedly meaningful, glances between Hunt and Nyah, both of whom shared no chemistry. I wouldn’t have a problem with the direction the filmmakers wanted to take if more thought was put into it. The elements of great drama, a bridge to a solid action movie with a heart, were certainly there. Nyah was trapped between two men, obviously attracted to her, who used to work for the same team. But how were Ethan, not as Hunt the IMF agent, and Sean, not as Ambrose the criminal, different and similar to each other? The closest we got to getting to know them was toward the end when they tried to kill each other from their motorcycles. Ambrose knew how Ethan worked and processed information given that they went through the same training. There should have been more scenes when Ambrose took advantage of the fact that he knew who he was up against. Ethan, on the other hand, didn’t know much about Ambrose. He saw the man as just his double. It would make sense if he took a while to get accustomed to his adversary. Furthermore, there was a duality involving Greek mythology: Chimera, a monster with a head of a lion and a tail of a serpent’s head, and Bellerophon, a hero most famous for slaying Chimera. Incidentally, Chimera was the name of the virus and Bellerophon was the name of the cure. But how was Chimera and Bellerophon related to Ambrose and Hunt, respectively? The film missed another opportunity to further explore its characters independent of blazing guns and egregious slow motion montages. What bothered me most was the script seemed desperate to turn Ethan Hunt into James Bond. Doing something different for a sequel does not mean it’s acceptable to be disloyal to the original character. It means giving us something unexpected but still hanging onto his core, the reason why we rooted for him in the first place.

Die Another Day


Die Another Day (2002)
★★ / ★★★★

Most people consider this installment as one of the worst in the James Bond franchise (along with “Moonraker”) because they claim that it got too ridiculous with its gadgets (such as the invisible car). For me, I quite liked the invisible car but I didn’t appreciate the fact that it had too many mindless action scenes involving technology. What’s so great about the action scenes in the past 007 installments is that they have some sort of believability. This film involves a satellite that can harness the energy from the sun and focus it in a laser beam and destroy anything in its path. In my opinion, it would’ve worked if that aspect had been in the “Austin Powers” franchise because it’s a spoof; it failed here because it’s supposed to be serious but it’s hard to consider it as such. This is Pierce Brosnan’s final appearance as Bond and it’s understandable because I felt like he was becoming too bored with the role. He didn’t have that spicy swagger he originally had in “GoldenEye” that made me want to invest more in his character. Two actors that stood out to me in this picture are Halle Berry as Jinx and Toby Stephens as Gustav Graves. I love watching Halle Berry not only because she’s beautiful on the outside but because of the way she delivered certain comebacks whenever she’d converse with Brosnan. I also loved that her character is someone that can kick butt but feminine enough to have chemistry with the lead character. Stephens is great as the villain because he has this certain arrogance about him that I found interesting (to say the least) but at the same time, I wanted Bond to pound him to a pulp so he’ll be put on his place. Another positive is that Stephen’s character is young and can actually have hand-to-hand (or sword-to-sword) combat with Bond. The best scenes in the movie involve Stephen and Brosnan exchanging verbal daggers and actually piercing each other with sharp objects. As for the rest of the film, I didn’t care about it that much because the story lacks an extra punch that the best Bond films have. If one is a die-hard Bond fan, one has got to see this for the mere that it’s a part of the entire series. It’s a shame because I remember loving this picture when I was about thirteen years old, back when I haven’t seen many movies. Coming back to watch it, it’s lame in its efforts to entertain because it relied too much on special and visual effects without establishing the film’s emotional core first.

The Spy Who Loved Me


The Spy Who Loved Me (1977)
★★★★ / ★★★★

This is one of the strongest Bond films to date because it was able to highlight the franchise’s best elements after the uncharacteristically mediocre “Live and Let Die” and “The Man with the Golden Gun.” While it’s full of memorable action scenes, the film would’ve been something else if it wasn’t for the intelligent script and Lewis Gilbert’s snappy direction. Instead of focusing on the side-quests like the previous two installments (which greatly slows the pacing), this one is purely about the main villain’s (Curd Jürgens) goal of eliminating New York and Moscow using nuclear weapons. He is an effective villain because he’s not the type of criminal that one can stop using bribery. He’s perfectly happy with where he is; the only change he wants to make is to create underwater cities. Jürgens has a henchman named Jaws (Richard Kiel), who definitely gives James Bond (Roger Moore) and Anya Amasova (Barbara Bach) a lot of trouble. Whenever Kiel was on screen, I couldn’t help but pay attention because he exudes menace in every frame (he could bite off chains, for heaven’s sake!). I did admire the underwater scenes near the end of the picture and the scenes in Egypt near the beginning. “The Spy Who Loved Me” was able to use those places not just as a backdrop but also places where a unique adventure would happen. In this sequel, I found it strange that I could stand Moore a bit more. I think he was at a point where he was finally comfortable playing Bond (either that or he grew on me). It was also nice to have Bach as Agent XXX–she was sexy, strong, and smart–and quickly became one of my favorite Bond girls. I also have to give Carly Simon credit for the opening theme song. Not only does it fit the film but it stands on its own; I couldn’t get it out of my head because she sang the lyrics with such sensuality. Even though this Bond picture is far from perfect, I did love its back to basics swagger. With a little more darkness and kinetic hand-to-hand combat scenes, this would’ve been one of my top five Bond movies.

The Man with the Golden Gun


The Man with the Golden Gun (1974)
★★ / ★★★★

It’s a shame that this film is just barely mediocre because it started off really well. It managed to introduce the three-nippled main villain named Scaramanga (Christopher Lee) and establish how dangerous he is within the first three minutes in a convincing manner. It got me really excited because I wanted to see him face off with James Bond (Roger Moore). If I were to make cuts and edits to this Bond installment, only about forty minutes will make it to the final product. The rest of the movie is junk and I find it unforgivable, especially when the movie takes place in exotic places like China and Thailand. Instead of taking advantage of the beautiful locales by telling an exciting and astute story, the filmmakers injected lackadaisical chase scenes one after another. Not to mention the fact that they brought back an incredibly useless and annoying redneck character from “Live and Let Die.” Rooger Moore is not my favorite 007 because he’s just so dull to look at and I just want to fall asleep when he speaks. He has no authority like Sean Connery and Daniel Craig. His charisma doesn’t do it for me either. The only stand-out scenes that saved this film are found in the last twenty minutes. Lee and Moore’s interactions are interesting not only because they constantly measure each other up, they also make the film spicy because their characters reach some sort of admiration and understanding for each other. I wish they met somewhere near the beginning of the picture and made them chase each other until the final scene. Instead, Bond gets into all kinds of side-quests that have absolutely nothing to do with the big picture. Unless you’re a die-hard Bond fan, skip this one because it has nothing special to offer.

GoldenEye


GoldenEye (1995)
★★★★ / ★★★★

This is one of the strongest Bond entries because it hints at the beginning of a more serious Bond mixed with more intricate action sequences. There’s a certain sinister tone, especially in the first half where most of the espionage scenes can be found, which made me more interested in what was going on and what is eventually going to happen. This is Pierce Brosnan’s first outing as 007 and he is more than welcome to walk in the shoes of a beloved character because I believe he is as dangerous and charismatic Sean Connery. Even though he may appeal more to the modern fans of the Bond franchise, he has that classic fun factor that older fans can definitely appreciate. Brosnan is able to deliver the classic one-liners with a certain serious but undeniablly fun swagger. As for the supporting cast, I think the group is one of the most memorable: Sean Bean as Agent 006 proves to be 007’s match physically and mentally, Izabella Scorupco as Natalya Simonova is the smart and beautiful Bond girl, Famke Janssen as Xenia Onatopp is the femme fatale who specializes in squeezing people to death, and Judi Dench as the cold but lovable M. The story of “GoldenEye” may be a bit unbelievable at times (especially back in 1995 during the first’s release) but it’s more relevant today because of technology’s exponential advancements. All logic and credibility aside, the action sequences are mind-blowing (the tank scene alone is reason enough to watch), the style is slick, and it’s fast-paced. Directed by Martin Campbell who will direct “Casino Royale” about ten years in the future, “GoldenEye” is a must-see for all Bond fanatics and spy film enthusiasts. (And did I mention that I believe this has one of the best opening squences in Bond history? So much was accomplished during the first five minutes, followed by an astonishing opening credits with Tina Turner.)