In the new outing for James Bond (Daniel Craig), we open on a gun barrel sequence. The classic gun barrel sequence, which we haven’t seen up front in a Daniel Craig Bond film until now. Signifying a return to classic Bond form, perhaps?
In Mexico City on Dia de Los Muertos, Bond stalks through a parade in a skeleton mask. He is on an off-book mission to assassinate a series of targets before they can destroy a stadium full of people. This cold open has its moments, both comedic and action oriented, but it is lacking the urgency of its predecessors.
The scene culminates in a combat scene inside of a helicopter, which includes marvelous stunt work from the pilot, and Bond leaves with a ring with a curious octopus insignia on it.
The opening titles sequence is mixed in terms of its allure. The sleek, sexy figures of Bond and others are exactly what one would expect from a Bond title sequence. The glimpses we get of past characters in the Craig Bond films is also interesting, but the octopus imagery and ultra-falsetto Sam Smith theme song is a bit too much.
Following this, the new M (Ralph Fiennes) sets the stage for the next two hours and fifteen minutes. He assures Bond that the secret service industry is headed for global change, and that the 00-sector is on the chopping block.
This is a meta-textual look at Bond’s progression. Mendes and Eon Productions are creating big shoes for themselves to fill by stating boldly that MI6 is moving “from the Dark Ages and into the light.” As we see later, there is also an attempt at commentary on current affairs in government surveillance. Whether any of this works for the film or against it is up for debate. In this humble critics’ eyes, this is a Bond film, so anything they try to say that goes beyond entertainment is likely to be superficial.
As MI6 prepares to merge into a global surveillance agency dubbed “Nine Tales,” Bond goes on the hunt for something or someone he doesn’t quite understand, but who has some connection with his past. He meets the widow (Monica Belucci) of a man he killed, who informs him that her late husband worked for an organization. So, Bond heads for one of their meetings, using the ring he stole to gain access (how he knew the ring was important enough to steal in the first place is beyond me). At the meeting he gets found out and has to escape so he hooks up with Moneypenny (Naomie Harris) for some other contact, who he seeks out. Yadda yadda yadda.
The entire film is Bond following a trail of bread crumbs to a man he met somewhere in the first half hour of the film. This man is Franz Oberhauser (Christoph Waltz). Long story short, Oberhauser runs an organization called SPECTRE (hence the film’s title), and he is the “author of all [Bond’s] pain.”
Waltz does everything that you would expect Waltz to do in this villain role. Seemingly, Waltz is the perfect pick for a Bond villain, as if he was born for the role. He is giddy in his madness. Calm in his insanity. And all of this plays in the film. However, his character lacks a certain oomph. The intensity just isn’t there. The final arc of his character makes this lack of intensity all the sadder. The anti-climactic nature of this film makes Waltz’ character a massive letdown for Bond fans.
Spectre is visually appealing. It is exactly what a Bond film should look like. However, all of the staples of Bond fall short or are simply nonexistent. Action set pieces are few and far between, and, when they appear, they lack vigor. A car chase between Bond and Hinx (Dave Bautista) seems to have no stakes, and is more of a way to throw in exposition than anything else. Even the best fight scene, between Bond and Hinx on a train, pales in comparison to even the worst of fight scenes in earlier Craig films.
Other Bond staples are simply tossed in without motivation. Immediately following the best fight scene is an incredibly awkward exchange that leads to Bond bedding a woman, for one example. To be fair, this woman, Madeleine Swann (Lea Seydoux) is a fairly good Bond girl. She acts as a foil to Bond until, of course, she falls in love with him. Either way, Seydoux plays it well until the very end.
Spectre wants to be a grand spectacle, but it lacks the punch. It wants a strong villain emerging in the third act, but it doesn’t work. It wants to be new and also harken back to the heyday of classic Bond, and that is the biggest misstep of all, because it can’t have the best of both worlds. At least not in this way. Certain small moments work perfectly, but they are long forgotten in the bigger picture.
If Craig does not return as Bond, we will likely see a massive restructuring of Bond, and the result will likely be a cross between the gaudy spectacle of the Fast and Furious franchise and the massive stunt display of the Mission: Impossible franchise. If this is the case, dark times approach for Bond fans.
For the sake of my James Bond Retrospective, I should give this film an A-F ranking like I did to the rest of the Bond oeuvre. This is proving very difficult, given the recency of my viewing of the film. Overall, as you can likely tell from my review, I was rather disappointed. Yet, putting it in the scope of the entire franchise is a different story. For now, this is where I land:
Spectre is available Feb. 8 on Amazon Video here.
As always, thanks for reading!
Have you seen Spectre? If so, what did you think? What do you think the future holds for Bond? Let me know in the comments!
—Alex Brannan (@TheAlexBrannan)