In a lot of ways, Spectre could only disappoint. After the 50th anniversary release of Skyfall meant unprecedented critical acclaim for a Bond film, it would be difficult to almost impossible for Spectre to live up to that hype. Even though Sam Mendes is still in the director’s chair for this one, Spectre doesn’t manage to live up to Skyfall. At all. But it still is a reasonably enjoyable film, just most on the level of a really good Bond film than a really good film, period. But hey, there’s one good thing to be said for it: it’s better than Quantum of Solace at least.
After the death of M in the last film, James Bond (Daniel Craig) is on some sort of personal mission independent from MI6. It is He receives instructions from M to kill one Marco Sciarra, and heads down to Mexico during the Day of the Dead celebration to fulfill her last command. This leads him to his funeral, then his widow Lucia (Monica Bellucci), then to a shadowy secret meeting. At this meeting, he uncovers the mysterious organization who has apparently been ruining his life and causing chaos all over the world since the events of Casino Royale.
Like most films, there are good and bad aspects of this one. Being the twenty fourth James Bond film since 1962, there is a huge amount of baggage this film carries on its shoulders that most films don’t have to contend with. This was done very interestingly in Skyfall, but what happens here is the Bond legacy gets rehashed in some ways and straightforwardly carried over in others. For some reason, with few exceptions, this was just annoying to me this time around. At the end of Skyfall, we seemed sort of in a transitional place for the franchise. It seemed to promise different things for the future while keeping a lot of stuff that we’ve come to love from the Bond films. I suppose that’s accurate, but this new film doesn’t feel that different. It still feels like its struggling with the legacy and prompting all these discussions of the franchise, when I was hoping we would be able to set some of these questions aside and just get some great films. Instead we’re just back to Bond films (sort of).
Like all Bond films, there is a laundry list of requirements for Spectre to check off (or not check off). There are a lot of those requirements that are filled pretty unimaginatively here. Arguably the biggest problem with the film is the villain. I was not very excited when Christoph Waltz was cast, even though I think he’s a very good actor. I remember at first being very intrigued by Chiwetel Ejiofor as a Bond villain as was rumored in the summer of last year, because at least that would be different and interesting. Honestly, I feel he is typecast as a villain here on the basis of his Academy Award winning turn in Tarantino’s Inglorious Basterds, but that’s a very different film than this one. It’s perhaps the most uninspired piece of casting I’ve seen in a while, but I still had hopes because Waltz could make a Bond villain a lot of fun to watch. Unfortunately, he really doesn’t. It seems like without Tarnatino’s dialogue, Waltz doesn’t really know what to do with himself.
On top of this problematic casting, you have the havoc the writers wreck with the character. What plays out in this film is a combination of what happened to Khan in Star Trek Into Darkness and The Mandarin in Iron Man Three. Like in Trek, this villain, who is introduced as Oberhauser, is later revealed to be only the most significant villain in the entire franchise. That plot twist was stupid and obvious because the name of the is Spectre, so obviously the infamous leader of Spectre is going to show up at some point. Combined with how Waltz is shot, with his face largely in shadow at first then slowly revealed, what is supposed to be a reveal comes off as dumb. Then you have this ludicrous backstory about how they were related in the past, and basically the events of the past three films were really Blofeld all along! And the reason why is just the dumbest thing I’ve ever heard. I get that they are trying to continue the journey into Bond’s past from Skyfall, but seriously. Some of the best villains are so villainous because they don’t have motivations. They’re just evil. They effectively neuter the menace of the character and make him into a jealous kid, which made me think about all of that outrage over the third Iron Man movie.
The next is the Bond girl(s). It’s very strange what they are doing here. First we have the widow of the assissin Bond kills, played by Monica Bellucci. She’s great in the role, but only has two scenes and then is never seen again. Bond seduces her, and then we don’t even know if she lives through the great peril he’s put her in. Then you have Lea Seydoux playing Madeleine Swan, the daughter of Mr. White (Jesper Christensen) from previous films (most notably Quantum of Solace). She’s very good, again, in an almost thankless role. Her character is basically Vesper Lynd lite. She’s supposed to have a sincere connection to Bond, which is fine, I’m all for him having actual attachments, but it’s not built up at all. It just occurs. The scene on the train is ripped right out of Casino Royale, but it’s nowhere near as good as that one. The acting does a lot to elevate these characters, but the fact remains that they are very thinly written.
Now, that was about four straight paragraphs of me not liking what this movie is doing. But as I said, both Bellucci and Seydoux were very good and I really enjoyed watching them on screen. The film is fairly watchable and I had a good time in theater. The opening scene (not the title sequence) was fantastic. Overall, the star of this movie is actually the cinematography by Hoyte van Hoytema. Though because of the weak thematic foundation of this movie, it’s hard to connect the stunning visuals to any story points, the fact remains that there are several shots and sequences in this movie that took my breath away. From Blofeld silhouetted in hazy orange light, to the very tense introduction of Bellucci’s character (we just keep cutting to tighter and tighter shots, but it works great), the overlapping reflections of Bond and Blofeld in a subterranean vault…. I could go on and on. The film looks amazing, even if it doesn’t have much of a story to enrich with its visuals.
Spectre, all in all, is a decent Bond film. It doesn’t have the gravitas of Skyfall or the emotional heft of Casino Royale, but at least it kept me awake during its running time unlike Quantum of Solace. It’s a fun enough film, as long as you don’t stop to think about it. This is par for the course with most Bond films, but with the (mostly) solid foundation the Craig-era Bond films have built up over the years I had really hoped for a better movie. Instead, we just get a fun but nonsensical regular old Bond movie.
“You are a kite dancing in a hurricane, Mr. Bond.”
Long story short: 3/4 stars
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