Truth be told, I’ve never been that big a fan of the James Bond 007 franchise. It’s always kind of the same, no? A suave super spy who loves the sexy ladies and whom the sexy ladies love in return. Slick cars, cool gadgets, and a whole lot of style.
The reason Daniel Craig has been so loved as Bond is because he supposedly makes the character more vulnerable and more human. I really enjoyed Casino Royale, almost fell asleep during Quantum of Solace, and quite liked Skyfall (review here), though I still don’t think it lived up to the hype. Yeah, Sam Mendes made a very nice looking, very artistic film, but I didn’t think there was much substance behind the simple yet unnecessary convoluted plot.
The same can be said for, Spectre, which could very well be Craig’s final outing as James Bond (he’s signed on for one more, but the rights to the franchise are going up for auction and whoever wins it might decide to start afresh) — except it has more problems than just a lack of substance. I don’t want to say I disliked the movie — it was enjoyable on some levels — but it’s definitely weaker than both Skyfall and Casino Royale (can’t compare to Quantum of Solace because I can’t remember it). And for what is supposed to be the “climax” of the Daniel Craig franchise, that’s disappointing.
Spectre starts off with a bang in Mexico City, with Bond on pursuit of a mysterious criminal. I remember being blown away by the opening sequence of Skyfall on that moving train, and Spectre arguably tops that. I saw it in IMAX too, so it was even more spectacular.
The ensuing title sequence they have for all Bond films is also done very well through a catchy blend of artistic imagery and the soulful voice of Sam Smith. It also provides flashes of characters from the previous three films to jog our memories as Spectre ties it all together.
From there, however, the film struggles to keep up. Granted, there is more plot that Skyfall, and the surveillance technology premise is well-suited to the post-Snowden era. Further, the technical execution is still excellent. The action, from what I remember, is perhaps better than that from Skyfall, with a few explosive and eye-popping set pieces that keep the adrenaline pumping. A lot of guns and a lot of explosions, a few slick car chases and nicely choreographed hand-to-hand combat scenes. And of course Sam Mendes ensures everything looks as pretty as ever and Craig remains as suave and unflustered — for the most part — as he possibly can be.
But amid all of this is a whole bunch of ham. Ham-fistedness, that is. The Bond cliches start pouring out, and they feel unnecessary and contrived. From the women and romances to the villains and their moronically elaborate tactics, so much of Spectre gravitates towards the tropes that Craig is supposed to be steering away from. I don’t want to divulge spoilers, of course, but ‘m not kidding when I say this film does the exact sort of things Austin Powers has made fun of.
I was disappointed in the female characters too. I absolutely love Monica Bellucci, but her role in this film is ridiculous and a complete waste of time. I also thought Naomi Harris, who didn’t get to do much in Skyfall, would play a bigger role this time. She does feature more prominently, though just barely, though her presence all but disappears in the second half of the movie. You almost forget about her. Of the Bond girls, only Lea Seydoux has a meaty role. She’s awesome and sassy, but if you think about it, her purpose is still quite conventional — to look sexy and to be rescued.
That brings me to the villain, played by dual Oscar winner Christoph Waltz. He’s supposed to be the baddie of all baddies. The ultimate nemesis. The guy who makes the villains from the previous three films look like pussies. He’s certainly built up to be that guy, and on paper Waltz is perfect for the role. And yet, he totally sucks. Every one of his appearances — every damn one — is preceded by a long, elaborate and over-the-top introduction. And it’s not like we don’t know who he is. Everyone knows it’s Christoph Waltz! And yet it seems he always feels the need to hide in the shadows for five minutes before unveiling his face. The amount of effort Mendes puts into setting Waltz up as the king of villains only ends up accentuating how inept he actually is.
I sound harsher than I mean to. Spectre is skilfully made, looks fantastic (especially in IMAX) and still has its moments, like the opening sequence and some of the scenes involving badass Dave Bautista. Ben Whishaw’s Q is also very likable and Ralph Fiennes does a solid job of stepping in for Judi Dench as M. It’s just that, after three films of making us feel that Daniel Craig represents a different and better kind of Bond, Spectre brings us right back to the formulaic version of the character and tropes that I never cared much for. There’s no other way to call it other than a step back.
3.25 stars out of 5