Posted by : Patrick | November 10, 2015
Bond movies are often at their best or most interesting when rebooting the franchise, casting a new actor and scrapping certain well-worn elements in favor of a new direction, something fresh to inject life into a franchise that has spanned a whopping twenty-six pictures and counting. Daniel Craig’s time in the character’s stylish shoes has been interesting in that it can nearly claim two of these moments; obviously Casino Royale caught attention as a stomping introduction to a more brutish Bond, while also being a touch defiant in its approach to some of the more familiar trappings in order to separate itself (even mocking the classic martini order!). Then Skyfall jettisoned all the rebelliousness in favor of a sleek approach to the familiar formula, but with more depth and perhaps the first real emotional arc the films have ever had, resulting in what will surely be thought of as one of the best in the series. Unfortunately, the latest entry, Spectre, has the dubious honor of following in those footsteps, and true to form it reverts back to mediocrity, playing it safe by committee, recycling old ideas instead of offering its own.
Sent on a mission to assassinate some terrorist leader we’ve never heard of, Bond’s activities lead him to run across the titular international organization of Dr. Evils bent on world destruction, led by a man Bond fans are very familiar with. Meanwhile, M (Ralph Fiennes) and the MI6 support team are dealing with a government department head threatening to shut them down in favor of a more wide-spread, global intelligence sharing network. Very Snowden stuff. However, whereas its predecessor could stand by itself as a self-contained story, Spectre relies on a little series knowledge to really grasp what exactly is going on here, and that’s part of the problem. The story thread started by Casino Royale barely held enough interest for one movie, and continuing it in Quantum of Solace is what pretty much made the Skyfall reboot necessary. So why go back to this dry well? Apparently for a clumsy attempt to tie the four films together, with SPECTRE leader and puppet master Franz Oberhauser somehow pulling the strings. His reasons for doing this are laughable for such a genius, and despite the writers’ desperately trying to make it seem like he’s been behind everything all along, the story doesn’t work very well as the last act of a series it so wants to be, with connections so tenuous to the previous material. Yet because of its insistence on continuously reminding us in shallow ways of these films, Spectre also can’t stand on its own two feet.
It would’ve been nice if the action could’ve covered some of the boredom of the plot up, but there are mixed results here as well. A brilliant sustained tracking shot in Mexico City during Day of the Dead to open the film quickly devolves into a silly helicopter sequence that gives still further proof that helicopters should be banned from action movies until someone can figure out something sensible to do with them. A car chase that seems at first like it will rev things up instead merely stalls, not sure how to entertain in the end, and so simply bails. Ditto a plane pursuit. Luckily there is a rock ’em, sock ’em all-out brawl aboard a train that recalls how visceral of a “blunt instrument” this Bond can be and is genuinely thrilling, but other set pieces are merely fine, nothing special, and that’s the overriding feeling I get from Spectre. No one’s heart appears to be in this, including director Sam Mendes, who seems to be going through the motions, burnt out. Action scenes lack in meticulous construction, and the rhythm is all over the place. This means sloppy editing that makes sure you see several of the same shots over and over again, prolonging sequences needlessly and adding to the running time (which is long, as per the Bond norm).
As for Craig, he performs admirably, maybe with a touch more levity, like a man knowing he’s about to be released from prison. Christoph Waltz as Oberhauser does his Christoph Waltz thing, but it’s Léa Seydoux who seems to be trying the hardest as love interest Dr. Madeleine Swann, whose character is written all over the map, hating Bond, then naturally sleeping with him, dumping him, loving him again, etc. The writers are clearly attempting to set something meaningful up here (and anyone familiar with the older movies knows that all the pieces are in place), but like most other things in Spectre it falls flat. Not awful, mind you, but no perfectly shaken vodka martini, that’s for sure. Let’s just say my mind began to wander at certain spots, picturing Bond and Swann going shopping for new clothes before heading to the desert, or what henchman got the dumb job of hanging up paper portraits with which to taunt James. I wonder if his scotch tape dispenser ever ran out. This is not what a movie like this wants, the audience pausing to consider its ridiculousness.
Regardless, if Spectre goes down as the last Bond film of the Daniel Craig era, things could’ve been worse. It won’t be regarded as a massive fizzle on the level of A View to a Kill or Die Another Day, but instead an average effort that may mean it’s about that time again to freshen things up, one way or the other.
My Rating: 2½ out of 4