Review Roundup - Oh James

SPECTRE (2015)

What happened with this franchise? Back when Casino Royale hit the screens it all seemed to be back on the right track. For a series that is always becoming very dated as more time passes, it delivered. Stunts, music, drama, character development - everything was of a much higher standard than what could have been expected after the series took a nose dive with Die Another Day. But since that opening the subsequent films have felt like a waste of time, in spite of Skyfall improving things a little over the misguided Bourne wannabe Quantum of Solace. With Sam Mendes staying on to direct a follow up I wasn't too concerned initially, after all he'd brought some elements that had worked. But it seems as though the critical success of his first outing and the fact he's such a fan have combined to form what is one of the weakest 007 adventures in quite some time. Maybe a lack of pressure allowed things to get out of hand? However the reality is probably more complicated, in a film which is mired in it's own self aware nature, tangled in a poorly thought out script full of tone deaf social commentary and awkward plot twists.

It was a long time coming, but at last they were going to catch up with sinister organisation Quantum and it's obvious parent company, as the title suggests. Terrorism, Revenge and Extortion were at last on the cards. But even my own cynical outlook could not have predicted that this storyline returning would result in such a mess. It starts to trip itself up on those octopus tentacles almost right away, after what is a fairly strong opening sequence. The Mexico City location has plenty of spectacle and while the first tracking shot is a little gimmicky it's visually interesting, and the chase offers plenty of thrill power. However things start to feel off early on, and it's not just because of Sam Smith's wailing vocals in the credits. Perhaps it's the odd title card which appears after the traditional gun barrel. Maybe it's the absence of Roger Deakins, with the cinematography now being drowned in sepia and grey. Maybe it's that the characters all feel so empty for some reason.

The cast is passable, but it's lacking any kind of sharp edge. Daniel Craig looks tired and seems to have his mind set on leaving the series, his delivery lacks any real spirit. The character's jaded attitude now seems to have been replaced by his his own. Christoph Waltz as the big bad doesn't fare much better, lacking the menace and charisma which clearly got him noticed when they were looking at actors and came across his work with Tarantino. The choice of the next big thing is nothing they haven't done before, yet the material is also lacking. His big scheme is telegraphed way ahead of his arrival which doesn't help, it's predictable and trite. Monica Bellucci barely makes an appearance at all making her role pointless, while conversely the rest of the MI6 ensemble seem to have far too much screen time despite the perfunctory appearances of Q and Moneypenny getting no additional purpose or development. Ralph Fiennes gets one of the most unintentionally funny lines the series has had for a while, but for the most part it's dry and boring all round.

Action scenes come off as equally uninspired with the standard car chase being devoid of tension and the exploding control room finale seeming to be there because it's expected. There's a laughable moment where a plane flies at ground level and manages to stay in the air despite being slower than the cars it's chasing. Dave Bautista shows up as the muscle for a fist-fight on a train which is just as unsatisfying. It's all so by the numbers. As a story they totally fail to capitalise on the potential of Casino Royale's ending or the pieces left by it's sequel. They really go overboard on the contemporary issues this time too, with multiple dialogue scenes dedicated to tedious board room discussions and debates on surveillance. Previous instalments offers ideas about hacking and terrorist plots of course, but this is too much. The sinister Mr. White returns but the idea of him being at all sympathetic is a useless gesture and the eventual twist of who is handing out all those sinister rings and how it fits in with the other Craig adventures is frankly embarrassing at best, and at worst a badly planned retcon which undoes what worked before. It's not entirely terrible with some attempts at humour and a few interesting moments, but in a story which debates the relevance of the Double-O section you have to wonder if they are asking the audience the same question.


EVEREST (2015)

Using a true story as the basis for some movie spectacle is nothing new, and Everest delivers a lot of that in terms of mountain scenery, Nepal cityscapes and depictions of hostile weather. For the first half or so things also manage to maintain a good level of pacing as the situation of commercial climbing ventures is played out, with different team members and rival companies being set up. It's also interesting to see how all this works with the use of base camps, Sherpas and equipment to combat the physical effects of high altitudes being given attention. I found all the technical elements to be pretty engaging, and the large cast which includes Jason Clarke, Jake Gyllenhaal and Josh Brolin are pretty likeable. The issues however come in terms of how this story of an ascent going wrong is played out later on. I understand it's a movie and they have to show the actors faces without masks, but is it necessary to have so much forced melodrama? The situations that arise are bad enough, I'm perfectly able to understand what is at stake. There's no need for so many satellite phone calls to home and discussions with wives about missing their anniversaries. There could have been a far greater sense of urgency and isolation without all this, even if these are actual recorded events. It narrative becomes clunky and distracting at times. Overall though these moments don't derail the whole thing, and it's a well made battle against the forces of nature for the most part if that's your kind of thing.