Category Archives: Spy

Spectre

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In the opening scene of Spectre, the Daniel Craig era of James Bond soars to new heights (quite literally) with a terrific Dia de Muertos sequence. Sadly, the following 130 minutes of screentime can’t maintain the high standards set – and as the film progresses, the expectancy of another Bond classic dwindles indefinitely.

Bond’s 24th (non-linear) outing takes place in the wake of Skyfall, where Judi Dench’s recently deceased ‘M’ kickstarts Spectre’s messy plot into action.  He must kill the criminal Marco Sciarra, and attend his funeral in Rome. From there, the murky depths of a shadowy organisation called ‘Spectre’ are revealed, and at the centre of this establishment is the enigmatic figure of Waltz’s Franz Oberhauser.

This infiltration of Spectre is clumsily written, where action sequences are nonsensical and character developments are ignored – but at least it’s engrossing. The film’s subplot, however – a heavy-handed pro-Snowden exploration of Andrew Scott’s villainous ‘C’ and his endorsement of world-surveillance – needlessly swamps Bond’s mission; the problem with it is that it’s just not all that interesting, and written less as part of the plot and more as a vehicle for director Sam Mendes’ views. With a subplot as weak as Spectre’s, the main story better be good – sadly, ‘engrossing’ doesn’t cut it.

It’s a strange concoction of Craig’s gritty new-era Bond and Moore’s cheesy Austin Powers-esque Bond, and rather than combining the two seamlessly, the script only produces a weird, tonally-jarring mood that serves to diminish Casino Royale’s attempts at a modern Bond with modern ideas. There’s a wonderfully-elaborate villain’s lair, a train fight involving Bautista’s beast of a henchman, Mr. Hinx, that hearkens back to Jaws (the figure, not the film), and the return of gadgets is a welcome sight. Unfortunately, each of these ideas are misused, a microcosm of Spectre’s extravagantly-clumsy plot: the villain’s lair is destroyed too easily, and inevitably, too soon, Mr. Hinx is poorly fleshed out and his actions contradict the motivations written for him, and the gadgets aren’t used in a clever way, but rather as a ‘MacGyver’ in order to end action sequences as they drag on. The action sequences themselves – aside from Spectre’s brilliant opener – are honestly as naff as they come. A car chase is lifeless and lacking in suspense, a mountainous plane ride is shot amateurishly and ends too soon, the aforementioned train fight is anticlimatic and opposes Waltz’s intentions, and a speedboat-helicopter chase has a disappointing resolution.

Much has been touted of Spectre’s empowering presentation of females, where Monica Bellucci has been advertised as the ‘oldest Bond-girl‘. Yet her appearance is more of a cameo, a 5-minutes irrelevance that gives way to Lea Seydoux’s barely-fleshed-out Madeleine Swann, a woman who rejects Bond’s advances and swiftly swoons for him; a rushed romance that epitomises the contrivances of Mendes’ hap-hazardous plot. Lea Seydoux is wasted potential, her character written so lazily and confusedly that she can’t muster the chemistry with Craig’s forever-average Bond for the relationship to bear any believability. The villain is equally wooden, his motives generic and disappointing. This is a step down from Skyfall’s Bardem, and is only salvaged by Waltz’s reliably menacing schtick.

 

For all the expectancy surrounding Craig’s potential final outing, its script does not deliver. From an untidy plot to stilted characterisation and development, this would be a sour note for Craig to end on. Some critics have stated that Spectre is in need of a rewrite – I couldn’t agree more.

– Gus Edgar

 

Kingsman: The Secret Service

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Director Matthew Vaughn has a very accomplished track record; Kick-Ass is a breath of fresh air amid the abundance of Marvel superhero flicks, X-Men: First Class is a hugely entertaining romp that serves as the franchise’s finest, and Stardust, despite being rarely mentioned, is a competent and non-formulaic addition to the fantasy genre. You can imagine my disappointment, then, at Kingsman: The Secret Service, a spy caper devoid of any heart or wit that we have come to expect of the director.

The flick follows ‘Eggsy’ (Taron Egerton), a low-life, criminal that is taken in by Harry Hart (Colin Firth), to attempt to gain a place in the ranks of the titular Kingsmen, via a series of testing, if superfluous trials. From there, it’s a bonkers (and for me, too ridiculous to stomach) third-act to defeat the menacing Valentine, a character annoyingly played with a lisp and without charm by Samuel L Jackson. Incorporated into its convoluted plot, we have a mad, violent killing spree in a church, a mission to shoot a missile-launcher at a satellite after being sent into the Earth’s atmosphere via pressurised balloons, and a unique fireworks display that involves mass genocide – including President Obama, himself. Sounds farcical and preposterous, doesn’t it? That’s because it is.

Sadly, Kingsman: The Secret Service is an amalgamation of contradictions. Its a spoof on the recent gritty Bond capers, but begs to be taken seriously. Amid its story overstuffed with chaos are scenes that should carry weight, or shock, or any emotion whatsoever. All the emotional heft is lost due to the frantic fiasco occurring on screen. Yes, the film is violent and destructive, but despite its plot that threatens to congest, it’s an empty film, where character development – or even the care to structure characters realistically in any way – are sacrificed for full-on mayhem. Its third act amps up the inane tenfold, resulting in an unbalanced mess.

Where the violence worked for Vaughn’s previous effort, Kick-Ass, it falters and stumbles magnificently here; there is always a looming sense of seriousness and tension involved with Kick-Ass, where scenes carry an overbearing sense of danger. In Kingsman, it’s incredibly difficult to be invested in the plight of the characters when henchmen often less than a foot away cannot aim at the protagonist. The mindless violence is shocking and chaotic for the sake of being shocking and chaotic – any depth that the film has is replaced with unrelenting tedium. Amid this influx of violence are actual, genuine, plot points, but the script seems to have decided that incoherent coincidences should decide which way the plot turns; the decision proving beneficial to the protagonist and antagonist in equal measures, but at the expense of fluidity.

And while the film has been critically commended for originality, it is unable to escape condescending stereotypes of the lower-class. It seems as if Matthew Vaughn took all the different exaggerated tropes of a lower-class Brit family and concocted them into a thinly-scripted and one-dimensional set of characters. Nor can the film come up with decent character motivation for its antagonist, settling for an incentive that can only be described as cliche.

In terms of acting, it’s a mixed bag. Aside from a horribly miscast Mark Strong that looks thoroughly hapless throughout the flick, and Samuel L Jackson’s confusing attempt to convey a mixture of Blofield and Rain Man, the cast is largely competent. Taron Egerton is charming and assured, Colin Firth is refreshingly energetic as Hart, and both Sofia Boutella and Sophie Cookson play their strong female characters (which is always a welcome sight) with aplomb.

Yes, Kingsman is undeniably entertaining in short bursts – a skydive without a parachute and the now-infamous church scene set to Lynyrd Skynyrd’s ‘Free Bird’ is a joyous, if unfulfilling romp. Sadly, its entertainment value cannot make up for a strained plot, wooden characters, and a frustrating script. And to top it all off, Kingsman is not nearly as funny as it thinks it is; most of its jokes fall flat – a huge surprise when looking at the director’s credentials. Unfortunately, Kingsman: The Secret Service, much like its final pre-credits scene, is ugly, hugely disappointing, and lacking in any subtlety.

– Gus Edgar