SPECTRE Review

I saw my first James Bond film at fifteen. What I saw, some say, is the worst Bond picture of all time. 2002's Die Another Day featuring the last go-around for Pierce Brosnan as the famous British super spy was goofy fun at the time, especially for someone keenly unaware of any of the traditional elements and archetypes included in a Bond film, but four years later and one year after the revolutionary origin story that was Batman Begins made it okay to make something campy into something more grounded and serious we received a new kind of Bond, a more grounded in reality Bond with a seriously serious streak about him. That isn't to say that producers Michael G. Wilson and Barbara Broccoli overcompensated as Casino Royale still sits as my favorite of the Daniel Craig Bond films. For what it's worth, I don't necessarily have a great affinity for the Bond movies. They have never done much to excite me, but I look forward to them because I more or less know what I'm getting, but on a grand scale. And I like epic. Moreover, Craig is the Bond of my generation and if I were to have any type of fondness for any of these films it would be his rough and rugged incarnation of the typically suave MI6 agent. All of this is to say that while I appreciate what the producers and director Sam Mendes (Skyfall) have done for the series in being bold and essentially wiping the slate clean and starting from scratch it can't help but feel as if they ran out of tricks with the latest installment, Spectre. While there is much to like in this new film-the set pieces are consistent, the familiar elements more present than ever since Craig took over as well as the gorgeous cinematography from Hoyte Van Hoytema (her, Interstellar) capturing it all-and yet there is something missing from the story. There is a lack of substance while still holding an unbelievable amount of aspiration. Spectre feels like a film that wants and has the intention to do so many things and fulfill so much fan service that it actually ends up doing very little. To say Spectre is a waste of time or even a bad movie is too harsh as there is clear craft that has been put into the final product, but what the film is and what it wanted to be are clearly two very different entities.

James Bond (Daniel Criag) and Dr. Madeleine Swann (Lea Seydoux) are on the run in Spectre.
We pick back up with Mr. Bond shortly after the events of Skyfall as he is on "vacation" in Mexico City on the Day of the Dead. The celebrations are raging and the world's most famous spy is not letting the festivities pass him by without getting in on the fun as well. Obviously, Bond has more of an agenda than to just escape and it becomes apparent that he is after another of what is apparently a long line of foes that have been part of a larger criminal organization. Once Bond returns to London to reconnect with M (Ralph Fiennes) and receive his penance for stepping out of line in Mexico City we learn that he has received a cryptic message from the past that has motivated him to seek out these infamous criminals. While M more or less grounds Bond from any further activity for the foreseeable future M is also dealing with C (Andrew Scott) who is a rising star at MI6 that wants to put together a sort of United Nations of intel gathering, linking together several nations worth of secret service agencies essentially subjecting everyone and everything to 24/7 surveillance. As M and Tanner (Rory Kinnear) are busy dealing with C's attempts to dismantle the double-O program Bond doesn't help matters by enlisting Q (Ben Whishaw) and Moneypenny (Naomie Harris) to assist him on his rogue mission. Eventually landing in Rome, Bond meets Lucia (Monica Bellucci), the widow of the man Bond killed in Mexico City who helps him infiltrate a secret meeting that unveils the secret evil syndicate known as Spectre. At the head of this syndicate sits Oberhauser (Christoph Waltz), who is yet another villain in a long line of villains that has been making elaborate plans his entire life to exact revenge on Bond for something that doesn't seem like that big of a deal. After narrowly escaping Oberhauser's clutches and a chase through Rome with Hinx (Dave Bautista) Bond again comes face to face with Mr. White (Jesper Christensen) who promises to expose Spectre's secrets if Bond promises to protect his daughter, Dr. Madeleine Swann (Léa Seydoux), in exchange.

With just under half an hour left in the film Craig's Bond mutters the line, "it's not over yet!" and all I could think was, "why not?" Spectre is an unnecessary two and a half hours. It is a movie of building momentum that never achieves any kind of satisfactory reveals. Even worse is the disparaging way in which the script treats the majority of it's supporting characters, sans Seydoux's Swann, nevermind the lackluster narrative that attempts to pull together it's own connected universe. Harris' Moneypenny is more or less a moot point after clearly demonstrating her skill and efficiency in the field in Skyfall. One would have thought Mendes and his four-man writing team might have found a way to bring Moneypenny into this new era by making her more than a pretty face behind a desk, but we never see Harris do anything more than run a few errands for the higher-ranking Bond. Whishaw's Q is a little more influential this time around as he's even given the slightest of chase scenes, but the main henchmen of the picture, Bautista's Hinx, is only present for a handful of scenes that reveal a unique skill thanks to his thumbnails, but instead of becoming a trademark we never see these weapons again. As for the big bad of the film, much has been made of what role Waltz is playing, but the truth is it doesn't matter. The only thing that matters is that you've recruited what is essentially the greatest villainous actor of our time and underutilized him. Waltz has the ability to make any line of dialogue seem effortlessly diabolical and yet supremely intelligent. It's not hard to imagine the guy as the leader of a large criminal organization, but when Waltz doesn't show up until an hour in and is kept in the shadows for the majority of his screen time up until the third act the intended threat doesn't feel nearly as menacing. As for Seydoux's Swann, her contributions are one of the few aspects that keep Craig's iteration of Bond in line with his previous installments as his affections for the women he encounters are rarely brief sexual flings, but encounters that elicit some genuine emotional response.

The mysterious Oberhauser (Christoph Waltz) is out to get Bond for reasons unknown.
In essence, Spectre should be the culmination of everything Craig's Bond films have been building towards in crafting the famous persona the character has established over the last half century. Instead, the film sees Bond going through the motions without anything bigger or even interesting to say no matter how much it wants to bring 007 into the modern era. What Skyfall did so well, and likely why Spectre feels largely uninteresting, is because it was able to include all the staples the Bond films have employed over the years, but did so in a way that it took these archetypes not as a burden but as an opportunity to develop them further. With Spectre, it seems to take these homages and callbacks as something it has to construct it's narrative around rather than implementing in a pre-existing narrative. Done in a manner that makes these elements feel forced, the tone never gels as we become stuck between the real-world tone of Craig's Bond and the outlandishness of earlier entries. Spectre makes these references to past Bond films feel unnecessary to a franchise that is always ongoing and always looking for fresh ground to cover. Keep moving forward, there is no need to come full circle when everyone knows these films will be made for as long as anyone can foresee. The goal, at this point, has to always be to create a fully realized film that honors why this character is still around and why people still go to these movies while at the same time finding this new life that will engage the uninitiated as Casino did with me. If Spectre were the first Bond film I were to experience I probably would still acknowledge how well Thomas Newman's score compliments the unsubstantial action scenes and how well it keeps things moving even when the story feels stilted. In terms of the film as a whole though, Mendes never seems to find his footing this time around committing the cardinal sin of making a Bond film that is rather boring. In the end, Craig's Bond could return or he couldn't. It feels inevitable that he will at least return one more time so as to once fully embody the quintessential Bond that pop culture has come to expect, the one he wanted to play in Spectre, but the one Spectre wouldn't let him have just yet.