Director Sam Mendes (American Beauty, Road to Perdition, Skyfall) returns to direct Daniel Craig as James Bond, the best 007 we’ve ever had. 2005’s Casino Royale introduced Daniel Craig and stands as the best Bond film ever. The follow up, Quantum of Solace, is an stylistically interesting failure that’s forgivable because of the writer’s strike. The last film, Mendes’ Skyfall, is a top 5 Bond film and the most thematically interesting and relevant of the series. Certainly the most beautifully shot film and one that questioned if Bond should/could exist in the modern world. It subverted the tropes of Bond (ex. climax taking place in Bond’s lair rather than the villains) while also reimagining the suave hero as a necessary shadow.
It pains me to say that Spectre belongs in the middle to back end of the Bond catalogue. I’m a massive Bond fan, but I also recognize that only a little over half of the films are good and maybe 5 or 6 are legitimately great films. Craig is in 2 of those GREAT films so my expectations were probably too high.
The film opens with a Touch of Evil tracking shot in Mexico City. Mayhem ensues, and quickly we adjust to a new tone in Craig’s era. In Skyfall’s opening Bond jumps from one train car to the other and then fixes his cufflinks while giving a charming grin. In Spectre, he jumps down a giant crumbling building, lands on a couch, and then chuckles to himself. That’s the film in a nutshell. Trade suave and sleek coolness for old school gags and gigantic bloated action.
The plot involves Bond discovering a secret from his past that links up to all of Craig’s other films. I so badly wanted to get into this but the narrative rarely picks up momentum. Scene to scene characters just show up and say lines to each other with little flare or energy. It’s sparingly entertaining with an odd disconnect.
Hoyte Van Hoytema’s cinematography offers some luxurious eye candy, and uses architecture and shadow like a Fritz Lang film. But that visual style feels out of place and more classy for a film that’s recalling the 70’s Bond plots. Likely it’s meant as a bridge between modern bond and the past but it creates a confounding disconnect. The main issue that damn near renders the entire thing hollow, is that Mendes is going epic and hugely dramatic for material that’s pulling the other way.
Working as “Bond’s greatest hits,” Spectre globe trots all over the world with Bond going through the motions of classic Bond tropes; only this film doesn’t nail the comic tone and brevity of the Connery and Moore films (his good ones). Frankly, there’s little passion and it’s conventional story + underdeveloped side characters make it a slog more often than not. A few big set pieces and Dave Bautista’s jacked up henchmen Hinx are breaths of fresh air.
The beautiful Lea Seydoux is our token Bond girl. Oh? You thought Monica Bellucci was a Bond girl here too? No. She’s an extended cameo that exists solely to give Bond info and connect plot points. But that’s this movie. Back to Lea. She’s a stunning actress (Blue is the Warmest Color!) whose given a 2-dimensional character and somewhat questionable dialogue. We’re meant to buy a relationship between her and Bond, but a lack of chemistry and a muddled script leave it emotionally hollow. I’m more likely to buy the film’s product placement of watches and Heineken which are now available!
This leads me to Christoph Waltz. If there was a man alive that was secretly a Bond villain, it’d be him. And that’s sorta my problem. He’s an obvious choice and almost always playing the same character. Plus, how can anyone follow Bardem’s Silva, arguably the greatest Bond villain we’ve had? Bizarrely, Waltz is barely used until the third act when the film finally begins to offer some proper ridiculous Bondertainment value.
Specter’s ingredients would work best as an intimate love story with a mysterious villain plot but it’s adamant on making this a “greatest hits” and connecting the past films to this overarching story (Marvel syndrome ooooff). As the film ended I felt like this was just tying up loose ends for the next one, which should be much better if it goes where I think it will.
Mendes gave us Skyfall, an all timer, but I’d like to see new talent come in and deliver something fresh for Craig’s final outing. If there’s one ingredient to making a good/great Bond film I think history shows that it’s reinvention and exploring Bond’s place in the world.
Spectre is back catalogue 007 with spurts of enjoyment and a hollow bridge to the next film. I likely would’ve enjoyed it more if it wasn’t Skyfall‘s sequel and if I’d rented it or caught it on TV. I’d suggest home viewing for casual filmgoers. But I will also mention that thematically there may have been stuff going on that I missed first viewing. Skyfall was loaded after all.
The film certainly doesn’t damage Craig’s run as Bond, but it’ll sit in time out with Quantum of Solace. Spectre has the ingredients of all the great Bond films, but it’s cooked at the wrong temperature. I remain hopeful that it’ll lead to something much tastier. It’s not a bad movie, but it’s not a worthwhile one. So, yeah, Spectre is a pretty okay movie I saw and that’s about it. I’ll patiently wait for the next Bond film.