Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Article on the Lucas Museum

I just published a piece over at PopMatters on the failure of the Lucas Museum of Narrative Arts to land in Chicago. As someone with a deep passion for both popular culture and museums, I took an especially keen interest in this project as it played out. I'm disappointed in the outcome--for Chicago's sake--and also feel both parties were to blame in this. A shame. Anyway, this was my crack at articulating what happened--at least from a public relations standpoint--with an eye towards rethinking the Museum's approach as it attempts to move back to California, where it already failed once.

Thursday, July 21, 2016

'Star Trek Beyond' Review

I saw a sneak preview of the new Star Trek Beyond (2016) last night, as part of a three-film marathon. At first, I came away liking it despite not feeling like there was much really there. But (and I’m sure I’m not the first critic to write this) I think upon reflection that Beyond is a good example of how sometimes less is more —after two films which had their moments but were ultimately far too hollow to sustain the weight of their ambitions. In its own very modest way, Beyond tries to understand how Trek works, not just how it looks, without compromising its own expectations as a blockbuster spectacle. And one can only hope that the next story builds on that to tell a story that really does boldly go beyond what Trek has done before. 

Perhaps that why this week’s news has left me less enthusiastic than I’d like to be. Not coincidentally, word circulated of a fourth Trek film this week featuring Chris Hemsworth reprising his role as Kirk’s (deceased) father from Star Trek (2009). Clearly, the news was designed to build further buzz for the release tomorrow of Star Trek Beyond (2016) by demonstrating the studio’s faith in their latest galaxy adventure. I cannot help but wonder if it also partly had to do with JJ Abrams (who announced it) reinserting himself into the news cycle despite having had little direct hands-on involvement in the newest film. 

More cynically, the idea of bringing Hemsworth back certainly suggests an attempt to cash in on the post-Avengers fame he’s enjoyed since the 2009 reboot (I cannot help but continued to be annoyed by the continual willingness to bring back dead characters in the new franchise despite the claim that Shatner will never return for that reason—to be clear, I don’t care either way if he does, but the public argument against is disingenuous and even insulting to fans).

And how will they do it? Time Travel can be a wonderfully effective device—see The Next Generation especially—but within the commercial demands and narrative limitations of the modern Hollywood blockbuster its limitless potential is too often reduced to mere plot convenience. I also wonder what bringing such a major star back into the mix will do to the delicate chemistry that's been established finally with the existing crew.

The main reason I’m ambivalent about going back to the story of George Kirk is because—in the wake of a generally aesthetically successful third film—I worry that the filmmakers are already leaning towards going back to their own old material instead of continuing to go forward, as they have with the newest film. First, some quick thoughts on rewatching the first two—my initial feelings about both Star Trek (here) and Into Darkness (2013) (here) remain mostly the same. The opening sequence of Star Trek, where George sacrifices himself for the crew and its family, is still the best ten minutes of either of the first two films (in that sense, its literally been all downhill from there, and so, as far as that goes, I understand the seduction of bringing George back beyond the obvious commercial motivations—though a powerful moment does not a great character make). 

First impressions really do make all the difference: I think the effectiveness of the first one's opening sequence--contrasted with the unrelenting stupidity of the second one's--both go a long way towards explaining the respective receptions of both films, despite the fact that in both cases the rest of the films are something of a mixed bag.

For example, watching the first two together for the first time, I finally noticed how much better Spock’s character is handled in Into Darkness, which might help explain my initially positive review of the film above, despite its trainwreck narrative and nonsensical fan service. The 2009 film tries too hard through all kinds of trauma to draw out Spock’s emotional side—to the point where he’s frankly an incoherent mess throughout much of it —because it’s afraid to deal with the complexities and subtleties of the character as he has historically existed. But in Into Darkness, the narrative is much more attentive to Spock’s personality, and much more delicate in handling his quirks (and his struggles) because it is deliberately working towards a clearly defined emotional conclusion between him and Kirk (that relationship being the main thing the movie does right). The occasional flashes of human emotion in Spock in the past were so effective precisely because they were so rare. There’s no question that Spock struggles with the human/Vulcan divide within, but it’s not the primary characteristic that defines him.

Its not mere industry hype to note that Star Trek Beyond definitely seems to understand the characters better than past films—because it is a film ultimately as much about the characters and their relationships as about the plot. But don’t get me wrong—Beyond is a satisfying safe film. If the first reboot attempted in its own way to replicate the iconic characters and sets, Beyond attempts to understand how they interact and how the classic stories were told. The story is not particularly as groundbreaking or original as some of the hype may lead viewers to believe, but it didn’t need to be. My only serious complaint on the story would be the inclusion of yet another megalomaniac villain bent on revenge—in that sense, the curse of Khan continues to plague the modern cinematic iteration of Trek. And the plot “twist” (which I won’t reveal here) still fits a pretty established pattern of trying to make certain things more complicated than we at first think. It’s shocking to me that the filmmakers cannot seem to think of anything else. 

But on the whole the movie does more right than wrong. I love the opening 20 minutes or so—for the first time, the Enterprise actually feels like a community, a robust family beyond just the core group of iconic characters, exploring the galaxy. The narrative makes good use of the Captain’s Log—which had fallen into neglect—to establish the crew’s personality and Kirk’s own personal ambivalences. Kirk’s boredom with the “episodic” (wink) nature of his job may come across as dismissive (and strange given his occupation), but it works to convey a side of the original series that was never addressed, but probably should have been. If anything, that part of the journey could have been developed more—but of course we have to move on to the next dramatic crisis as soon as possible (watching all three together, I really appreciated how much every single moment of character insight is almost always punctured by some completely random, completely unexpected immediate crisis—something’s always malfunctioning, someone’s always attacking, etc. etc. I think the reason these films don’t hold up as well during repeated viewings is because how much this superficially effective trick is used to cover up narrative problems the first time through, but it also steps on character development).

On that note, though, I love that they finally get Doctor McCoy right! Like Chekov (RIP Anton), the good doctor has too often been treated as a caricature, a punchline, instead of Kirk’s trusted confidante or Spock’s enduring foil. Halfway through Into Darkness, the narrative even acknowledges what a joke McCoy has become (“enough with the metaphors”) in what has always been a pretty tone deaf fan moment for me. As for other characters, I appreciate that Uhura is given opportunities to be more than Spock’s nagging girlfriend—Beyond handles what’s left of that relationship, which always felt like a betrayal of both characters’ original intentions, reasonably well under the circumstances.

Perhaps the most welcome surprise is that Star Trek Beyond is visually the most impressive ST film I’ve ever seen. To be more precise, it has a tremendously effective sense of space (no pun intended), diegetic space, which also led to some of the best action sequences Star Trek’s ever featured. Maybe it was the 3D which drew it out more, but the film has a visual depth and detail far surpassing its predecessors. There’s more care towards shot composition (perhaps again because of the 3D aesthetic) than the films before it, which seemed largely composed of close-ups, quick cuts and quickly moving cameras. It’s more colorful, with greater visual contrasts. Even little moments work, like the lighting cloud effect as the Enterprise crew literally sail into darkness (which felt like a TMP homage, but that’s probably a coincidence). 

For the first time, the Enterprise finally looks and feels like a massive ship in space—packed with layers of floors and compartments. The Yorktown space station is also a visual treat and a perfect example of the film’s commitment to scale (and provides a visually and conceptually satisfying climax, even as the plot itself is still pretty straightforward and familiar).

Finally, there’s much more of a thorough attempt to acknowledge Leonard Nimoy’s passing in the film than I expected—though it ultimately doesn’t seem to lead to much thematically (other than what I can only describe as a profound moment of cognitive dissonance at the end—some fans might love it, but--as a diehard fan of the original films--I wasn’t sure how to feel).

In short, for all its flaws, Beyond works well enough as a compromise between what made Trek "Trek" and the demands of the summer action blockbuster. It’s too soon to say it’s the better of the three, but that is my first impression. And, unlike the last two, I think it might actually reward repeat viewings

Monday, February 29, 2016

Hawai'i Research Updates

Today, I finished a draft of the last of the seven body chapters for Strangers in Our Own Land: Tourism, Race and Mainland American Media, 1930-1970. Two of those chapters still are missing some minor last minute writing, but otherwise a first draft is just about finished. The bigger caveat is that I have not written the brief conclusion yet (on Brady Bunch and pastiche), and more importantly the introduction. As I've noted in the past, I've learned to save the intro chapter for last, when I have a much clearer picture of what I want to say.

Strangers in Our Own Land explores the historical construction in US popular culture of Hawai’i as a romantic tropical paradise and preeminent tourist destination for American travelers in the pre- and post-WWII and post-Statehood periods. Drawing on theories from the fields of tourism, media studies and critical race theory, it charts both representations of the Islands in Hollywood media, and the central role of industry partners such as the Hawaii Tourist Bureau, the Hawaiian Pineapple Company, Matson Cruise Ships, and United Air Lines to help shape those images. It engages both textual analysis and research into such historical documents as trade papers, industry correspondence, writers’ guides and other archival materials. Rather than see such carefully constructed narratives and symbols as little more that deceptive myths, these highly reflexive media often knowingly negotiated such fantasies through a dialectic of embracing irony and desiring authenticity which I argue often shape touristic discourses. While recognizing popular mainland depictions of Hawai’i as highly constructed, there nonetheless remained a yearning for cultural difference and the pre-modern which defines many such excursions. This complicated relationship with Hawai’i as a “destination image” in turn has useful ramifications for rethinking more established discourses on the colonial histories, nostalgic connotations and rhetoric of racial utopia and tension which traditionally frames scholarship on the subject. 

As I step away from the individual chapters, my next goal in the coming week will be to revisit some of the major theoretical works on Hawai'i and/or tourism (now that the heart of the first draft is done) in order to better nail down the larger argument of the project. The only other work I plan to do in the near future is heavily revising the Hawaii Five-O material in anticipation of SCMS at the end of March. Once the introduction's done, I hope to revise the entire manuscript at some point in the near future, with the benefit of both more research and the hindsight of time away from the project.

Here is the most up-to-date Table of Contents:

1) Save that Gag for the Tourists: Industrial Reflexivity, Genre and the Hawai'i cycle in 1930s Hollywood--this chapter rethinks the notion of Hollywood as simply repeating advertising rhetoric of the time that sold Hawai'i as a pre-modern, romantic paradise. Instead, the studios--often using the convention of the "backstage musical"--playfully reflected on, and at times challenged, these narratives in films such as Waikiki Wedding (1937). It also looks at how the Massie Affair, and the tradition of the "South Seas romance" intersected with these representations.

2) The Time Elements: December 7th, Mediated Memory, and the Contradictions of War Nostalgia--although there is some attention to depictions of the US military presence in Hawai'i during WWII, this chapter primarily explores the collective memory of the events of December 7th as mediated through American film and television. Using such devices as the historical epic and the time travel narrative, these stories reveal fascination contradictions about memories of the attack and of America's participation in WWII--a longing less to return to life before the war, and more a desire for the tragedy itself as a means to sustain that longing--the necessity of horror to maintain the illusion of innocence--as well as the need to somehow both relive but also change the past.

3) "You're Still Talking about Class?": Adapting the Islands for Statehood in Diamond Head (1962)--this chapter approaches the topic of statehood primarily by analyzing the film adaptation of Peter Gilman's popular novel, Diamond Head (1960). The story of a wealthy and powerful white family, led by King Howland, that dominates the industrial and political landscape of Hawai'i, Diamond Head focuses on the challenges they confront in the face of both the coming statehood and a scandalous interracial marriage between their daughter and a local Hawaiian. While the original book focused on the complex intersection between politics, race and labor on the Islands, the film adaptation exclusively emphasized the racism of the interracial drama--using the family conflict to situate Hawai'i's claim to statehood as primarily being a question of whether or not the Islands' reputation for racial tolerance is compatible with the US's somewhat hypocritical claims to democracy and freedom. And, in the process, the film version reflects a neoliberal desire to erase the complex class and labor questions which intersect with racial ones.

4) Founded on Truth but Not on Fact: Pastiche Populism and Historical Revisionism in the Adaptations of James A. Michener--this chapter analyzes the popular historical epic Hawaii (1966) and its less successful sequel The Hawaiians (1970) as key examples of populist American media that negotiate the complex historical questions--those which increasingly emerged in Mainland consciousness after statehood--regarding the legacies of genocide, colonialism, rebellion and annexation that defined America's initial presence in the Hawaiian Islands. More than just revisionism, however, the films try to offset an acknowledged historical guilt over these ugly histories with a celebration of the forward-thinking discourses of multiculturalism and modernity. America's ideals become reaffirmed by depictions of resiliency and adaptation in the face of inevitable (capitalist) change, which necessitates sublimating the destruction of the native Hawaiian people and culture.

5) Business or Pleasure: Working Leisure and Discourses of Immediacy in Elvis' Blue Hawaii, Girls, Girls, Girls, and Paradise, Hawaiian Style--this chapter focuses on the role that Elvis' star persona played in the construction of Hawai'i's popularity in the mainland media of the 1960s and early 1970s. A visible symbol of postwar consumer culture, Elvis' multimedia presence was crucial to reconstructing the aura of romance around Hawai'i tourism rhetoric, while the highly-reflexive films themselves (often explicitly about the tourism industry) played out the baby boomer teen fantasy in the post-war period of finding a way to balance labor and leisure--i.e., to never "grow up."

6) Shoot All Winter, Show All Summer: Frontier Mythologies, Consumer Culture and "Pure" Surf Cinema--focusing primarily on the popular surf films of Bruce Brown (Endless Summer, Slippery When Wet), this chapter looks at the explosion of amateur and quasi-amateur surf movies--as well as its increasing incorporation into Hollywood (Gidget Goes Hawaiian, Ride the Wild Surf)--to highlight the importance of non-theatrical cinema, taste subcultures and the baby boomer desire for new frontiers still to explore, to Hawai'i's continuing popularity.

7) The Hard Sell of Paradise: United Airlines, Hawaii Five-O (1968) and the rhetoric of 1960s Hawaiian Tourism--the final chapter explores the popular late 1960s crime program in the context of discourses on the Hawaiian tourist experience that foregrounded its exhausted, "mass-packaged" nature, in which companies such as United tried to reinvigorate a sense of difference and novelty. Meanwhile, one of the airline's partners, Hawaii Five-O, emphasized the authenticity of location shooting and procedural research, and the urgency of "tourist-in-peril" narratives, to reflect both a shift in TV production strategies and a touristic desire to return a sense of novelty to the mass packaged Hawaiian vacation of the post-war period.

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Writing Updates

I feel as though I often begin new blog posts with an apology for not blogging more often. This time is no exception. Some days, for a host of reasons, I wish I spent more time developing a consistent online voice rather than burying myself in the rigors of academic publishing. But for the most part I find the latter is more substantive and more rewarding (and, ironically, more urgent), and so I keep plugging away. A very few of you may remember that when the blogging bug first bit academia around 2005-2006, I tried to be as prolific as the next writer. But after a couple of years, though traffic numbers were OK, it felt strangely empty--as fleeting and inconsequential, frankly, as most of the ephemera which passes across our collective screens each day. So, I turned back more or less exclusively to traditional publications, which (for better and sometimes for worse) feels much more lasting.

First, I posted chapter excerpts from Flickers of Film over on FB. You can check them out here (likes and shares are always welcome). The book itself, in case you missed it, is now available through most all internet vendors. That epic Flickers of Film post here is still one day coming. We'll see.

Ironically, after all that above, the point of this post is really just to give an update on the Hawai'i project, which is drifting along. Some of the older summaries in following those links are no longer up-to-date. For now I'm not going to concern myself with revising it until I revisit the introduction some time next spring/summer (and I can openly say that I'm not at all happy with the title anymore, but haven't thought of a better one yet). Here's the one I'm going with in the time being:

My current project, Strangers in Our Own Land: Tourism, Race, and Postwar Nostalgia in Images of Hawai’i in Mainland Media, 1930-1970, explores the historical construction in US popular culture of Hawai’i as a romantic tropical paradise and preeminent tourist destination for American travelers in the pre- and post-WWII and post-Statehood periods. Drawing on theories from the fields of tourism, media studies and critical race theory, it charts both the representations of the Islands in Hollywood media, and the central role of industry partners such as the Hawaii Tourist Bureau, the Hawaiian Pineapple Company, Matson Cruise Ships, and United Air Lines to help shape those images. It engages both textual analysis and research into such historical documents as trade papers, industry correspondence, writers’ guides and other archival materials. Rather than see such carefully constructed narratives and symbols as little more that deceptive myths, ambivalent audiences and highly reflexive media often knowingly negotiated such fantasies through a dialectic of embracing irony and desiring authenticity which I argue often shape touristic discourses. While recognizing popular mainland depictions of Hawai’i as highly constructed, there nonetheless remained a yearning for cultural difference and the pre-modern which defines many such excursions. More importantly, then, this complicated relationship with Hawai’i as a “destination image” in turn has useful ramifications for rethinking more established discourses on the colonial histories, nostalgic connotations and rhetoric of racial utopia/tension which traditionally frames scholarship on the subject.
It works for now--one thing I've learned as a writer in the last 3 or 4 years is to not bother writing the introduction until I've finished the complete first draft. Only then does what I want to say really come into focus--and in turn helps focus the inevitably heavy rewriting that comes afterwards. Maybe that's not the way others work best, but its been extremely effective for me. 

So (with the above caveat about rewriting, additional research, etc.), at the moment I have completed four chapters on the project--roughly speaking, 1) 30s Hollywood reflexive touristic depictions, 2) Hawaii Five-O and 60s tourist rhetoric, 3) the Elvis period, and 4) amateur filmmaking and "pure" surf films (i.e., The Endless Summer).

This month I am moving on (appropriately, but also pure coincidence) to what I'm calling for now December 7th "nostalgia films"--From Here to Eternity, In Harm's Way, and so on--and the contradictions of a war-based nostalgia, which runs throughout a lot of these Hawaiian-themed texts, but is something I've yet to tackle head on.

The two remaining chapters after that will be on James Michener's body of work (South Pacific, Hawaii) and media representations of the transition to Statehood in the 50s and early 60s.

Onward and upward.


Friday, November 6, 2015

Spectre, or rebuilding the "Big Picture"

First the good news. My personal copy of Flickers of Film arrived in the mail this week. It’s a study about the possibilities and limitations of a consumer-driven nostalgia within the restrictions of late capitalist Hollywood. I’m very excited about this book, and hope that the occasion arrives in the near future for me to say more about it—especially regarding its long, deeply personal, production history. We’ll see.

By way of transition, I will say that Flickers of Film (then titled Haunted Nerves) found a lot of its focus around the same time in summer of 2012 that I composed this popular piece about the anticipation of Skyfall (2012)—though, importantly, none of that really ended up in the book.


It’s no secret that the Bond franchise has long held a special place in my heart, though as the years go on, I increasingly find myself wondering why. I blogged about Skyfall three years ago here, and on Quantum of Solace a few years before that (in the seven years since that film came out, I’ve written on countless subjects—and many of much greater consequence—than the modest piece about what Bond meant when he told M at theend of QofS that she was “right about Vesper.” And yet to this day, it remains by far my most popular blog post, which might make one wonder what they’ve been doing with the last decade of their life. Might).

I also blogged a fair amount about Casino Royale back in the day, but I think most of those pieces are gone as they eventually made their way in some fashion into a book chapter I wrote for Revisioning 007: James Bond and Casino Royale (2010), a narratological study entitled “Hardly the Big Picture”—the contents of which make for a good starting point in approaching Spectre’s many failings.

There are many reasons why Casino Royale remains not only Daniel Craig’s best Bond film, but one of the two or three greatest Bond films ever. For now, I will restrict myself to two—the film was a smart example of the “reboot” before the reboot became a trendy cliché (in a sense, the franchise was always good at that, hence its longevity), and the solid beginnings of what media scholars now call “world-building.” It wasn’t just a successful stand-alone movie—it promised so much more to come with its iconic final moment. Bond had become “James Bond,” and only at the very conclusion does he at last confront the movie’s true villain in a sequence that offers (in a good way) more questions than answers (not unlike, for comparison, Nick Fury’s cameo appearance a couple of years later at the end of Iron Man).

So where did the franchise go from there? Admittedly, Quantum of Solace is not as bad as its detractors argue (including myself in the past) and has arguably improved over time. It is a first rate action film, perhaps the best of the entire series in that regard—but the problem may ultimately be that it’s really *only* an action film. Its emotional depth (which I wouldn’t quickly dismiss) is based entirely on the way it brings closure on a number of fronts with the events of Casino Royale. It’s not only a lesser film than its predecessor but, to make matters worse, it’s very narrative DNA begs the comparison. But I would argue its failings ultimately were not that it relied too much on Casino Royale—which are frankly my favorite moments of the movie, and which cause me to revisit it at least once a year.  Rather, I’d suggest that QofS’ shortcomings are rooted in the fact that it didn’t also continue to lay the narrative foundation for that “big picture” of which Casino Royale was so fond.

So, this brings us to Skyfall. Its too bad the filmmakers felt the need to start over narratively. I have to say, I am not a huge fan. Its quality definitely puts it in the top half of all Bond films ever—maybe even the top third. But that would be as much a reflection of the other Bond films (*cough* 1970s *cough* Roger Moore) than on Skyfall’s inherent attributes. Skyfall was the first Bond film—at least since the Pierce Brosnan era—that felt like an overthought, high-concept, mess. That’s not to say that aren’t a lot of things to admire, but just that the entire story didn’t feel organic—the unnecessary Dark Knight twists, the returns of Q and Moneypenny which seemed to serve no purpose other than they are expected to be there, the rebooting (again), Bond as old relic (again), the shock ending, and so on.

So, this brings us to Spectre—and I’ll state upfront that there are FULL SPOILERS ahead. I toyed with the idea of trying to write around them, but they are ultimately too central to my problems with this film. But I will add if you’ve been keeping up with the trailers and some of the gossip around Spectre, absolutely nothing will surprise you . . . and that right there is the first of many problems with the film. 


Spectre seems to exist in one of those maddening fictional worlds where everybody not only conveniently knows everyone else but also where (more conveniently) everyone seems to be related to everyone else (by the end of the film I was half-expecting the villain C to reveal to M that he was the elder’s long lost son, and the whole conspiracy was rooted in the son’s revenge for his abandonment).

The problem with Oberhauser . . . sorry, I meant Blofeld:

(To start out, however, I will say that I give the press a lot of credit for keeping this one under wraps, even though it was pretty obvious all along. . . . or maybe because it was so obvious all along)

This “mystery box” strategy, at least when it comes to iconic characters in well-known franchises, has . . . got . . . to . . . stop. And I don’t say this simply because it’s a tired promotional strategy—no, there are deeper problems with it by now. For one, you are just setting up the movie for disappointment by creating a lot of unnecessary hype and anticipation. Bond sells Bond just fine by himself, thank you very much. 

But for another, you end up wasting more than half the film building to a moment that the whole audience is already expecting—so, you’ve wasted half of a (very long) film by putting off the actual story you claim to be telling. Blofeld is Blofeld—embrace it, and given him more to work with, and not just have him be an interchangeable third-act villain (the scar was a nice touch, btw, but entirely predictable--yeah, right, Blofeld totally died in that explosion and isn't in any way coming back).

The other problem with Blofeld is this idiotic, grade school psychology business about him being Bond’s long lost adopted brother with a serious chip on his shoulder. So, we are meant to believe that everything we’ve seen in the last four Bond films can be traced back to one kid who was jealous that daddy didn’t love him as much as the other kid.

It's not just that this weakens the film—it’s that you don’t even need this easy, obvious psychobabble junk to make the film work. Skip it. Blofeld works just fine as a villain without any tiresome motivation (and it’s not that motivation isn’t something to strive for, but the writers could have tried to be a little—lot more—creative). 

So, in the end Blofeld’s mad at Bond because he keeps interfering with his plans for world domination? Or, is it because of Daddy issues? Maybe, he’s also repressing homoerotic feelings too, like a couple of the other past Bond villains? Why not? What an over-determined mess.

Finally, Blofeld doesn’t work because, to bring this conversation full circle, there is just way too much retrospectively tying up of the previous three films—Blofeld’s narrative function in the end is basically, “yes, I was there all along (take my word for that). . . . and, oh, and I killed all the women in your life for retaliation (take my word for that too). How do you know? . . . . Because I have lots of pictures of those people!” Ironically, Mendes could have constructed a more cohesive world for Daniel Craig's Bond here, in retrospect, if he hadn't spent all of Skyfall rebooting Bond.

(casting a fine actor like Christoph Waltz, too, was a misfire, as his bad guy persona is a bit of an obvious cliché by now—and partly what made him such a welcoming revelation in the otherwise uneven Django Unchained)

There are other problems with the film—way too many people who just happen to be in the right place at the right time, with often little explanation, let alone a plausible one. And that got on my nerves too as the film wore on. Even for a Bond film there seem to be a few too many plotholes. Also, I do not find the happy ending terribly convincing—the chemistry between Bond and Swain isn’t terrible, but it’s hard to see Bond running off with her in the end. It's an unearned stretch. This is magnified by how much effort the movie makes to suggest he's still haunted by the ghost of Vesper, and incapable of finding much personal connection with anyone, which is conveniently dropped at the end.

Finally, I will say that are moments, at least for me, there were, literally, laughably bad. We don’t need Tanner to tell us someone is dead after falling straight down 10-15 stories onto a rock hard surface (it was at this point, I honestly began to wonder if Mendes and co. was playing a big joke on the audience, but I hope not because that would be even more infuriating).

OK . . . I don’t hate Spectre as much as it probably seems right about now. I'd put it in the top-half of all Bond films. Maybe even the top third! I do appreciate the fan shout-outs (my favorite was the reference to OHMSS’s “Hildebrand”). The initial Spectre meeting was a wonderfully effective throwback, without feeling like an anachronism. Some moments work—like the Billy Wilder-esque talking to the rodent scene which better highlights Bond’s fragile psyche than the countless dialogue meditations on the same subjects (and serves a useful narrative function). On that note, I too love the use of the mirror during the “Bond . . . James Bond” moment. And Craig is still as good a Bond as there has ever been, and I know I’ll revisit it several times in the future. 

But this was a real missed opportunity overall . . . and, more to the point, I’m beginning to wonder the same thing about the entire Daniel Craig era these days.