2015 – Bond’s pursuit of a personal vendetta leads to a confrontation with an international criminal organization bent on taking control of the world’s intelligence services.
As you could probably tell from my review of Kingsman: The Secret Service, I’m a hardcore classic Bond fan. Despite the excellence of Skyfall, I was very nervous about this fourth entry in the Daniel Craig Bond era. Would the series revert to the putrescence Quantum of Solace? Or would we finally see a full-on REAL Bond movie from Craig?
Well, overall, Spectre was decent. It’s an entertaining movie, but it doesn’t say or do anything particularly new (especially in the context of the franchise as a whole). You’ll go through the entire movie waiting for a real Bond “WOW!” moment, but it won’t come (although the opening credit sequence comes close). It tries to take the series back to it’s spy roots, which is a good thing, but the plot feels loosely strung together and sags during the bloated 148-minute run time – it could easily have been a half hour shorter. However, it has a fine villain, a good henchman, fine chemistry between Bond and love interest Madeleine Swann (Lea Seydoux), and doesn’t do anything truly wrong. What the producers missed was the opportunity to get things amazingly right. Spectre had the potential to be a Skyfall-level hit. Instead, it’s only the third best of Craig’s tenure.
If this was Daniel Craig’s swan song in the role, my honest assessment is that he leaves it in even worse shape than Pierce Brosnan did after The World Is Not Enough and Die Another Day.
A warning to those who want to go into the movie with fresh eyes: the next section is a scholarly-essay-cum-insane-rant by a Bond nut. Stop here if you don’t want to know every intimate detail of the film!
REVIEW ***WITH MASSIVE SPOILERS***
We all know the “Bond cliches” by now: he sleeps around, he drinks a lot, he’s got a license to kill and does so frequently. I submit that, after the last six films or so, these are no longer the cliches of the series. The new cliches, which are just as formulaic as the old ones, are pointing out and making a joke of the Bond cliches. What was “new and edgy” about the Brosnan era is the boring old boilerplate of the Craig era. Yes, we KNOW that Bond originated in the Cold War. Yes, we KNOW that he burns through women like a blowtorch. Yes, we KNOW that he kills a lot of people. It’s not interesting or clever to keep harping on these facts.
Speaking of Craig’s Bond – although he didn’t really become Bond until his third film, I feel we can finally give him a fair assessment. He’s a brute. He isn’t particularly handsome (in my opinion) or charming. He may come out with a quip every once in a while, but it’s delivered in a flat monotone with a contemptuous curl of the lip. We never get the impression that he enjoys anything he’s doing. All in all, Craig’s Bond is a miserable asshole. He may dress sharply and enjoy stylish sunglasses, but his apartment looks like shit. Everyone who hasn’t read the original Bond books likes to say how faithful Craig’s Bond is to the character; Fleming’s Bond would never have kept an apartment as slovenly as Craig’s. His Bond is about outward style but inward rot. But what about his performance in this particular film?
Bond: Well, he’s finally Bond. He actually does some spying in this movie, which I liked a lot. It wasn’t Bond running around dual-wielding machine guns and blowing away armies of henchmen. He uses a little stealth, deduction, and detective work. Unfortunately, he unconvincingly falls for yet another woman. The lame core trait of Craig’s Bond is that he’s supposedly the most ruthless, heartless bastard of all Bonds, but he’s also the one who falls to pieces over a woman every single time. It reminds me of Christopher’s assessment of Swingers from The Sopranos: “You guys patterned yourselves after Frank and Dean, but there was, like, a pussy-assness to it.” Skyfall‘s strength was that they didn’t give him a woman to cry and whimper over (unless you count M). He’s still a mush-mouth mumbler, but that’s Craig. Thumbs sideways.
Pre-Credit Sequence: Probably the highlight of the movie, with an incredible long tracking shot of a villain in Mexico’s Day of the Dead parade, Bond and a woman going up to their hotel room, Bond exiting through the window and walking across the rooftops to kill his target. Did you notice how Bond adjusted his cuffs walking along the edge of the roof? Just like he did in the Skyfall opening sequence! And when Bond looks at that Spectre ring… awesome. We haven’t heard from the Special Executive for Counterintelligence, Terrorism, Revenge and Extortion since Diamonds Are Forever. I got chills and hoped that something truly legendary was on the way. Thumbs up.
Bond Song: …Aaaaaand they blew it. What IS this? This is the plagiarist guy singing, right? If you didn’t know “Sam Smith” was a man, you’d swear it was a woman wailing out this boring, cringe-inducing anthem to the watered-down Bond that they’re trying to promote. The opening credits also provide a montage of characters from the previous three Craig Bond movies, which is the closest thing we come to ANY INDICATION WHATSOEVER that the events of those movies are interconnected. This is the movie’s major flaw. Thumbs down.
M: I like this M (Ralph Fiennes). He’s a man. I despised Judi Dench, and thank God we don’t have to deal with her this time around OH DAMMIT THERE SHE IS. Yep, she appears, briefly, in a video, to give Bond his next assignment. Judi Dench’s M is such a one-note snore-fest. GET HER OUT OF THE FRANCHISE FOR THE LOVE OF FUCK. That aside, this male M is a cool guy who isn’t afraid to go for a little field work once in a while. Thumbs up.
Q: I don’t like this Q (Ben Whishlaw). What happened to R? If they illogically carried Judi Dench’s M into this weird reboot phase, why not John Cleese? Too “goofy”? Like this emasculated chump isn’t a goofy character? Is it so bad to have older people in a Bond movie? We’ve replaced the legendary old, witty Q who went toe-to-toe with 007 with a loser who wilts as soon as Bond looks in his direction. Ha ha, he’s a pushover. We get it. Thumbs down.
Moneypenny: Wow, what a trendy, dangerous choice to make Moneypenny a young black woman (Naomie Harris)! Actually, it’s neither of those things. It’s predictable, just like every attempt they’ve made to “remake” the franchise for the 21st century. She really doesn’t even need to be in this movie, nor did we need that weird scene where she talks to someone in her apartment and Bond is like, “Who’s that?” and she’s like, “Just a friend.” Why did we need to see that? Who was it? Who cares? This is one of the many reasons that Spectre runs way, way too long. Thumbs down.
The Villain: It’s Blofeld. BLOFELD. He amazing was it to just see Blofeld again?!? They kinda got this one right. He wears collarless shirts and Nehru jackets. He has a Persian cat! He has a scar and a creepy milky white eye! He’s played by Christoph Waltz, although he basically plays Blofeld like every other Christoph Waltz character (he smiles, he’s goofy yet sinister, he’s calm yet creepy). These are all good things about the “new” Blofeld. But suddenly BOOM! He’s Bond’s brother. Um… what? Did Bond ever have a brother referenced before? No? Okay. Also, all of a sudden all three previous Craig-era bad guys were working for Blofeld. Um… Le Chiffre and Greene worked for Quantum, didn’t they? I thought Quantum was going to be sort of “the new Spectre” until Quantum of Solace sucked so badly. Then they dumped that whole angle and had Silva as the stand-alone bad guy of Skyfall, a madman with a personal vendetta against M. Except now he was somehow also working for Blofeld. How? Why? This is just too much to swallow and seems really slapped together. Blofeld’s big “It was me behind it all!” scene would have been much more amazing if there had been ANY indication that there was an “it all” for anyone to be behind. Instead we get a massive info-dump as though it’s expected to instantly make this feel like some kind of grand finale. It doesn’t work. But, all in all, Blofeld himself is good. Thumbs up.
The Henchman: Blofeld’s henchmen are mostly interchangeable except for a big, silent, unnamed tough guy played by Dave Bautista. The credits identify him as “Hinx,” which is awful. They should have just called him “Bautista.” He hearkens back to the golden age of Bond, where every movie needed an enormous physical henchman for Bond to battle. Unfortunately, he only pops up a few times. If the movie needed MORE of anything, it’s this guy. He keeps surviving his encounters with Bond, sort of like Jaws. The two even start to develop a bit of personal rivalry. Then he gets killed off abruptly and rather disappointingly during a train fight, and as inconclusive as his “death” is he never re-appears for a surprise attack. It was nice while it lasted, though. Thumbs up.
The Girls: Swann has possibly the most obscure backstory of any Bond girl: she’s Mr. White’s daughter. Remember Mr. White (Jesper Christensen) from Casino Royale and Quantum? I sure didn’t! He was a bad guy, but suddenly he’s almost an honorable good guy. Anyway, Swann is hot and a good actress and gets a requisite “girl power” moment where she shows she knows how to use a gun. WOW! A GIRL using a GUN?!? I’ve never seen anything like it before! Monica Bellucci is also a Bond girl, but she’s only in it for five minutes and gives Bond some information he could easily have gotten elsewhere. She could have been left on the cutting room floor, honestly. Thumbs up.
The Plot: Loose. Sloppy. These are words that describe both my bowel movements and the plot of Spectre. What is going on? Why are we going here? Why are we going there? There’s no real rhyme or reason for anything to happen in this movie. It moves along at such a leisurely pace that you never get any sense of urgency. Even Blofeld’s scheme isn’t that compelling: basically Spectre is making a bid to control the collected intelligence of the world’s secret service agencies via a double agent. Why? For what? Profit? Blackmail? Or is it just kinda what they’re up to at the moment? Even when there’s a literal ticking time bomb at the end, I didn’t feel any compelling drive to the events. Thumbs down.
Gadgets: Hey, know what’s hilarious? James Bond always has a bunch of gadgets! Can you believe that it’s somehow STILL considered revolutionary to point out this apparently obscure and little-noticed fact about James Bond movies? Still, the “gag” of Spectre is that Bond barely gets any gadgets. His car’s gadgets don’t work. His watch is just a normal watch (except it’s also a bomb). The producers of Bond have lost the ability to find a happy middle ground in terms of gadgets – they either go WAY over the edge like the last few Brosnan movies, or they barely have any at all. But here’s the thing: gadgets are a part of Bond, just like quips and crazy plots. If you take those things away, it’s no longer a Bond movie – it’s Jason Bourne Lite. I want to see gadgets. Thumbs down.
Intangibles: Spectre isn’t especially funny; the obvious “laugh moments” all fell flat with the audience. There are some nice call-backs to other Bond movies, like the villain’s base being in a crater like You Only Live Twice and the train fight like From Russia, With Love and The Spy Who Loved Me. There are an inordinate amount of call-backs to other Craig movies in an unconvincing attempt to make it seem like they’re all tied together, but amusingly there are VERY few references to Quantum of Solace. Like even THEY realize how crappy it was. There’s a torture scene with Blofeld where he starts to drill into Bond’s head. It was pretty gruesome at first, but then Blofeld announces that the next drill will deprive Bond of all his memories. Except, it doesn’t. Whoops! Blofeld was off his game. The villain DOES have a pretty classy lair and a guy serving champagne. Thumbs sideways.
Again, this wasn’t a bad movie. It was entertaining. It’s main flaw is not what it did wrong but what it COULD have done BETTER. I’m not saying “they needed to take more time” – they used to crank out a Bond movie every other year, and they were usually better and more fun than this. They just need to get correct, quick. For a film that may be Craig’s last in the part, it simply couldn’t compare to the excellence of Skyfall or the serviceable Casino Royale.