Shadows and ghosts are something James Bond has been chasing his whole life. Spectre sees evil finally take form when Daniel Craig returns as 007 in a story intended to wrap up the loose plot threads that began in Casino Royale. Intentions and results are two different things, however, and unfortunately Spectre ends up being an entertaining but mediocre Bond film that bungles some really great concepts.
Following the events of Skyfall, the British government has the “00” program on the chopping block in favor of more technology-based national security, such as surveillance and drones. Bond isn’t helping matters when he’s sent on a mission from a voice from beyond the grave, resulting in an international incident. But Bond’s mission bears fruit, as it outs him on the trail of a shadowy organization that may just be behind this government power shift, along with all of the adversaries and tragedies Bond has faced since becoming a “00.”
Spectre starts out extremely strong with a beautifully-shot chase scene set against the back drop of Dia de los Muertos in Mexico City, followed by a visually fantastic opening titles sequence. I’m not a fan of Sam Smith’s theme song The Writing’s on the Wall, but the imagery director Sam Mendes and his team developed for this film’s epic opener is stunning, and makes great use of the Spectre organization’s octopus icon.
Unfortunately from there Spectre just slowly follows the Bond movie formula on a slow gradient downhill. The action sequences, while beautifully shot, begin to get repetitive and unimaginative in the second half of the film. Spectre also references all three previous films quite a few times, especially Bond’s one true heartbreak Vesper Lynd (Eva Green) in Casino Royale, and then tries to sell the viewer that he’s now truly fallen for new underdeveloped love interest Madeleine Swann (Léa Seydoux). Whether it was Craig’s portrayal or the way the film was written, Bond doesn’t seem to give a crap about anyone or anything in this film – including Swann.
The reason Casino Royale and Skyfall stand apart from the pack is because they’re both very personal Bond stories with real character growth for the suave spy. Spectre clumsily tries to tie its main threat into Bond’s history, but it comes across contrived and Bond himself never seems emotionally invested outside of which lady he’s trying to bed next. Bond never feels truly threatened or in danger, emotionally or physically, and that makes for an uninteresting Bond film.
Let’s get to that tie to Bond’s backstory, shall we? It’d be impossible to review this film without discussing the giant villainous elephant in the room – Christoph Waltz’s secretive, mysterious baddie. I won’t spoil his identity here, but if you’ve been on the interwebs and read any type of movie blogs or websites you’ve known the “twist” for this character for months. On paper, his character is an awesome idea, but in the actual film, it’s sloppily executed. It also pains me to say that aside from the character’s first appearance in the film, Waltz seems to phone it in far too often while channeling watered-down versions of previous eccentrics characters he’s played on-screen.
As I mentioned earlier, one thing Spectre does well is to nail the action and the sexiness of the franchise’s tried-and-true formula. I particularly found myself really enjoying Dave Bautista and his silent, hulking assassin Hinx. The man never makes a sound the entire film, not even a grunt, but there was just something really mesmerizing about Bautista’s appearances, and his hand-to-hand combat scenes with Craig were a few of the high points of the film. The lovely Monica Belluci (The Matrix films) plays widower Lucia and also has some nice scenes with Bond early in the film that contain much more palpable chemistry compared to Bond and Swann.
One of the bigger inexcusable downfalls of Spectre is how it wastes a tremendous supporting cast of actors and characters. Ralph Fiennes gets his first true outing as “M” and is rendered powerless almost immediately. The film adds the wonderful actor Andrew Scott (BBC’s Sherlock) as “C,” the head of the new technological-based security initiative, but he’s given very little do besides tell M that his team is old and outdated.
Moneypenny (Naomie Harris) appears and disappears for no real reason throughout the film and serves no purpose other than getting to hear Bond say “Moneypenny,” and the charming Ben Whishaw returns as “Q,” the supporting character that arguably gets the most to do, but still feels lost and off his game in this film.
Spectre may end up being the final outing as James Bond for Daniel Craig and the script definitely wanted to rush to wrap up any loose thread. While this film certainly wouldn’t be the high note of his run as the character, it’s also is no Quantum of Solace either. Spectre delivers all of the basic requirements of a good film in occasionally very stylish fashion, but drops the ball with a messy script and perplexingly thin reboot of the iconic evil organization headed by the arch-enemy of James Bond.
Some well-choreographed early action and beautiful on-location cinematography deliver the fun, sexy action of a Bond adventure, but the film clumsily stumbles through the introduction to Bond's greatest enemy while never raising the emotional stakes for Bond himself.