My first thought coming out of Spectre was, “Damn, I really need a beer.” The twenty-fourth Bond films runs nearly 150 minutes. It contains a seemingly countless number of explosions. There are at least five vehicular stunts. Hell, there are TWO ticking clock countdowns (not in the metaphorical storytelling sense, no, I mean two literal ticking clocks). Spectre finds a visibly bored Daniel Craig navigating the globe through a jumbled plot with no real sense of stake or tension, jumping from expensive action set piece to even more expensive set piece, never once stopping to consider what the point of all this really is. Spectre has no real connection to the narrative progress made in the earlier Craig films, and unlike those films, it makes no effort to introduce anything new for the franchise to play with moving forward. It’s a blockbuster that checks all the boxes, takes your money, and then goes home without even hinting at an interesting idea. Spectre is Avengers: Age of Ultron without the costumes; which is to say it’s a clusterfuck of loosely connected action scenes that are more tiring than they are exhilarating.
When you call a Bond film Spectre, it becomes abundantly clear to the audience even before the first frame that the film will, to an extent, borrow most of its ideas from established stories in the franchise. But Spectre does more than just utilize the vast criminal network that had a hand in the 60’s films. This film is a smorgasbord of inside jokes and references; and frankly, none of them are particularly clever. Every action sequence and set functions as homage to, if not a direct rip-off of, something buried in the Bond canon. Director Sam Mendes wants to make a film that will appease diehard Bond fans, but simply recycling elements of prior entries that have now become clichés in action movies is not the way to do so. When the film reveals its hand -meaning its awful twist that I refuse to reveal not because I care about spoilers but because it’s so embarrassingly bad- it sticks a middle finger up to 50+ years of Bond mythos.
The first two minutes of Spectre are easily its best. We open with a beautiful extended shot of Bond and an unnamed lady friend navigating the streets of Mexico City on the Day of the Dead. Hoyte van Hoytema’s camera flows them into a hotel room, and then Bond out the window as he hops the rooftops positioning himself for a killshot. On the right side of the frame, out of focus, we seed hundreds and hundreds of extras parading in the streets below. It was this type of artistry that made Skyfall such an impressive effort from Mendes, and from the onset, it appears as if Spectre will measure up. But then Bond shoots a guy, a building explodes, and Bond hijacks a contorting helicopter. This should’ve been the typically far-fetched but spectacular Bond opening, but editor Lee Smith can’t find anything to smoothly cut together (partially because many of the camera angles used here are drastically different). The result is blurry, and inexcusable given the proven talent involved (Mendes, Hoytema, Smith). Many of the films action sequences are like this. Even as escapist entertainment, Spectre doesn’t really work. It’s just sloppily made.
All I can really say about the story from there is that Bond sets out to bring down the syndicate. It’s not that I’m afraid of giving something away; the film just gives us nothing else story-wise to off of. When the chief villain, Blofield (Christoph Waltz), is revealed, it’s supposed to be a “holy shit” moment. Instead, Waltz’s performance feels like a bad imitation of a character brought to life much more vividly by Donald Pleasence, Telly Savalas, and Max Von Sydow in earlier films. It’s not entirely Waltz’s fault. He’s a gifted actor, and like Javier Bardem from the previous film, one who gives off the aura that he was born to be a Bond villain. The script just gives his character no weight. He’s not shown to be especially intelligent or cunning or horrifying. When he explains to Bond that he’s been the one pulling the strings behind all the tragedies in the super-spy’s life, it’s hard to believe him. Not only does the way this film uses Blofield completely backtrack on the strings and feelings explored in the previous Craig films, it also ruins a man who’s supposed to be Bond’s most iconic adversary. Fuck this movie for doing this. I’m not joking. I’m pissed.
One of the things Skyfall did well (besides, you know, have a coherent story) was reinvent Bond for the 21st century. We got a new M (Ralph Fiennes), a new Q (Ben Whishaw), and a new Moneypenny (Naomie Harris). All appear here and make for some of the films quieter, but stronger, individual moments. However, with the exception of Q, they’re given very little to do. Why cast Ralph Fiennes if you’re not going to let him act? Dave Bautista also appears as a henchman for Blofield who gets into more than one scuffle with Bond. His physical presence is overwhelming, but he says maybe two words in the entire movie. I understand this is a reference to the henchman of old Bond films who don’t talk, but after seeing Bautista’s comedic chops on display in Guardians of the Galaxy last year, it also feels like he was wasted by a bad script.
As I said earlier, Daniel Craig just goes through the motions. He recently made comments as to how he’d rather “slash his wrists” than do another Bond film. He certainly looks like he was telling the truth in Spectre. It’s easily his worst performance in the role, and makes it significantly more difficult to call Craig the best, or even second best, Bond ever. The films only nuanced turn comes from Lea Seydoux as a psychologist whose family history brings her into the plot. It’s discouraging when the script sees her revert to regular Bond girl actions, because the story is initially saved by her inclusion about halfway through the film.
Anyway, there’s not much more to run through. The film is so repetitive and by-the-books that it doesn’t even warrant detailed discussion or criticism. Spectre is a very bad movie. As a lifelong Bond fan who’s seen every film at least twice, I can’t help but be disappointed, offended even, given the excitement Casino Royale and Skyfall brought about. Sam Mendes and his team set out to make a Bond movie for Bond lovers. Everything from the dialogue to the vehicles/gadgets to the very story is a rehash of the franchise’s classic moments. But Spectre doesn’t breathe new life into these classic moments; it taints them.
This is probably Mendes’ last Bond film, and possibly even Craig’s. As someone who’s grown up on this franchise, I certainly hope so. Keep your phone close by, Mr. Elba.