Prior to seeing Spectre, I assumed the controversy surrounding Daniel Craig leaving the James Bond series was overblown.
Now I’m not so sure.
Despite the same creative team returning from the outstanding Skyfall, Craig’s fourth outing is a poorly-conceived mess that collapses in its
Spectre aims to be a love-letter to Bond fans, with countless references to previous films and the return of the franchise’s most notorious
Unlike Skyfall, or the equally excellent Casino Royale, this film seems far less concerned with moving the series forward. And unlike Craig’s
disappointing, but serviceable sophomore effort (Quantum of Solace), Spectre is a firm step backwards for the series.
Saying the movie is a return to Roger Moore-era silliness is going way too far, but it’s clear the level of intelligence has dropped
significantly in Spectre.
The film opens with an impressively staged single shot. The camera follows a disguised Bond through the pageantry of Mexico City’s Day of
the Dead parade, into a hotel, up an elevator and across the city’s rooftops.
This incredible extended take seems to have all the makings of a memorable opening sequence, but it quickly devolves into nonsense.
As 007 pursues his target, a helicopter lands in the middle of a crowded square. No one seems to notice or care as Bond jumps aboard and
begins to fight the baddies; including the pilot. Punching the man who’s piloting the aircraft you are currently aboard, while flying over a
crowd of innocent bystanders doesn’t seem like a great idea. And that’s only the first of Spectre’s admittedly well-shot, but senseless action
A later scene finds Bond flying a plane while chasing a pair of SUVs. He flies over them and eventually crashes into a forest, clipping the
plane’s wings. I’m not really sure what he was trying to accomplish here.
The best action sequence is probably a brutal fight between Craig and Dave Bautista as the silent henchman, Mr. Hinx aboard a train.
It’s an obvious reference to From Russia with Love, and Hinx himself is certainly a throwback to the days of Jaws and Oddjob.
But despite Spectre’s reliance on old school 007 nostalgia, it also manages to feel very unlike a Bond film in many places. This is a line that
Craig’s previous films walked so well, but it simply doesn’t work here.
One of the most critical errors the film makes is its portrayal of Christoph Waltz’s villain character, Franz Oberhauser. As if being the head of
a worldwide terror organization isn’t enough, the film shoehorns in connections to Bond’s youth.
It feels incredibly out of place and somewhat sabotages the sense of mystery Skyfall built around the character’s past.
Spectre also wants to say something about government surveillance, but I’m not entirely sure what the message is. There is a subplot
involving Ralph Fiennes’ M as he contends with increased oversight of MI6. This thread was hinted at in Skyfall, but feels completely tacked
While Fiennes is all but wasted, Naomie Harris and Ben Whishaw fare quite a bit better as Moneypenny and Q. Their scenes with Bond are
some of the highlights of the film, and offer brief glimpses of the cool wit that Skyfall so effortlessly exuded.
Indeed, this is a wildly inconsistent film. Its first two acts contain enough solid sequences to keep it afloat, but the deeper we get into
Spectre the worse it gets.
French actress Léa Seydoux has little to work with as the film’s ‘Bond girl.’ So shallowly written is her character that I couldn’t tell you a
single personality trait or significant purpose she serves.
Her relationship with Bond is forced and unconvincing.
There is a torture sequence that is actually fairly unnerving (quite literally), but falls flat when the hook is that Bond may not be able to
recognize her if any damage is done.
The film makes little effort to actually develop a relationship between them. And while you could certainly say that’s an element almost all
previous Bond movies have shared, it comes across as lazy after the advancements of the last few films.
No bigger waste is Waltz, however. An actor of his magnitude could have provided an incredibly strong villain, but the tired, uninspired
screenplay from John Logan, Neal Purvis, Robert Wade and Jez Butterworth gives him little to work with.
He also has surprisingly little screentime.
The talented Sam Mendes returns to the director’s chair, but is clearly handicapped by a script that alternates between misguided story and
character beats, and flat dialog.
Craig suffers as well. He’s an outstanding Bond when inspired by the material he’s given, but I sensed just a hint of disinterest here.
The plot is also weak; jumping from location to location with little real momentum or reason. And while I did like that the film actually made
reference to the seemingly abandoned Quantum organization, it tries a bit too hard to tie all of the Craig Bond’s adventures together.
Actually, it doesn’t try hard as much as it matter-of-factly states that everything up to this point has been connected. It plays as an obvious
and unconvincing retcon.
Despite its numerous flaws, Spectre isn’t a bad film, but an incredibly disappointing one; especially in its flat final act.
The film does get credit for its impressive production value. Hoyte Van Hoytema’s cinematography is outstanding, there is some
outstanding special and visual effects work, and the sound mix and design is superb.
But the creative team is working so far below their potential that it hardly matters.
Even composer Thomas Newman (Who received an Oscar nomination for Skyfall) lays an egg. His score lifts so much material directly from
the previous film that it’s borderline embarrassing. And I’m not just talking about returning themes, but cues that sound as though they’ve
been cut and pasted from Skyfall.
If this is indeed Craig’s final mission as Bond, it’s a disappointing note to go out on. Despite all the potential of its phenomenal cast and
crew, Spectre is an inconsistent and only mildly entertaining film.
I, for one, hope Craig does another installment. He’s developed an even-odd pattern unseen since the Star Trek films. If history is anything
to go by, the next one should be amazing.
Maybe that’s wishful thinking, because Spectre is the first film in the franchise since the abysmal Die Another Day that seems more
interested in rehashing the past than carving a new path for the future.
When Q gives Bond a gun and a radio in Skyfall, the quartermaster sarcastically asks whether 007 was expecting an exploding pen,
quipping that they don’t go in for that sort of thing anymore.
And what does he give Bond in Spectre but an exploding watch.
What a perfect example of how Spectre ignores the franchise’s recent revitalization in the name of nostalgia.
(out of four)
Directed by: Sam Mendes
Written by: John Logan and Neal Purvis & Robert Wade
and Jez Butterworth
Starring: Daniel Craig, Christoph Waltz, Léa Seydoux,
Ralph Fiennes, Monica Bellucci, Ben Whishaw
Cinematography by: Hoyte Van Hoytema
Music by: Thomas Newman
Released: November 6, 2015; 148 Minutes