Director: Sam Mendes
Cast: Daniel Craig, Léa Seydoux, Christoph Waltz, Ben Whishaw, Naoime Harris, Ralph Fiennes and Monica Belluci
Running Time: 148 minutes
Release Dates: October 26th
The James Bond franchise may be one of the most successful and well known entities in cinema but it shares more similarities in its approach with episodic TV, particularly the procedural genre. Core characters remain the same but each entry into the canon comes with a new plan for world domination, a new villain to thwart and a new women to neck with. In 2006, during the peak of TV’s Golden Age led by serialised shows on HBO, Bond was rebooted with Casino Royale and its quick successor and direct sequel Quantum of Solace. It was refreshing for what had been a stagnant franchise, allowing moments likes Vesper Lynd’s death in Casino to resonate in Quantum and the seed of the Quantum to come into bloom a movie later.
Spectre sees Daniel Craig’s fourth outing as Bond, taking place in the aftermath of Skyfall, with M’s death and the destruction of MI6 very much still reverberating. On a hunt for the connective tissue that links his past three outings, he goes rogue — it’s Bond, when does he not go rogue? — and is lead to a link to his past.
The flaw is that Spectre wants to be both a throughline of Craig’s last three adventures and the episodic Bond of old, folding in on established mythology. It’s back to dressing downs in M’s office, pushing that which shouldn’t be pushed in Q branch and pursuing anything with a pulse. The rebooted Bond had gone long ways to working as a mea culpa to the questionable sexual and racial politics of the past, this is kind of a brazen return to them. It’s an overcooked story — written by Skyfall‘s John Logan, Jez Butterworth along with Purvis and Wade, the eternal hangover of the Brosnan era — that is insistent on knowing nods and winks, well signposted twists and lazy character motivation. It tenuously retcons its prequels in a way that at best is ham-fisted and at worst, actively diminishes superior movies.
Bloated and rote as the storyline is, Sam Mendes, far and away the best director the franchise has seen, ensures it’s at least visually engaging. A breathtaking tracking shot during the Day of the Dead in Mexico City opens the movie and evolves into a stunning action set-piece. The frame bursts with life through Hoyte van Hoytema’s lush cinematography, tracking Bond through a street of thousands. From there though, it only gets limited in ambition and scope, forever moving inward from grand halls soaked in shadows to clandestine bases. Thomas Newman provides one of the better scores in memory, even making that Sam Smith song pretty palatable.
A Bond movie can live or die on its villain and Spectre‘s biggest flaw is just that. Christoph Waltz was born to play a 007 antagonist, the only problem is that he’s essentially been playing that role in every movie that made him a star. As loafer and no socks wearing Franz Oberhauser, he’s dressed like a Silicon Valley CEO giving a keynote speech but his delivery is Tim Cook, not Steve Jobs. His masterplan is wildly underwhelming, only slightly more nefarious than the Ashley Madison leak. A strong staple of Casino, Quantum and Skyfall was a strong female lead to pop the elevated macho bullshit bubble of Bond. Spectre boasts three contenders but all fall back into familiar tropes. Producers got much internet kudos for casting Monica Bellucci — once considered too old for the spry Brosnan — yet her presence is a mere cameo, a victim of the Bond honeypot. In her leading stead is Léa Seydoux who performs valiantly with the tired arc of hating to loving bond in three scenes. The all-action Moneypenny is now on-call tech support.
Craig is good as usual, seeming the most at home with a Bond that is most at peace with what he is. He’s still a ‘blunt instrument’ but one who’s lost a little bit of the dour armour and is more at home with the quips. Erstwhile wrestler Dave Bautista is the one welcome nod to henchmen to the past as coke-nailed Mr. Hinx, a sluggish brute there to give a Bond that was beginning to resemble the Incredible Hulk a fair scrap.
The tone of Spectre is confusing, overtly long and not quite sure what it wants to be. When it’s serious, it bursts tension with gags; it pitches Bond as a saviour but the civilian casualties are monstrous with not one attempt at preserving life. If this is the return to the mission formula of the past, so be it, but it comes with the danger of losing what made Bond relevant again.