Spectre Review

Spectre
Directed by: Sam Mendes
Written by: John Logan, Neal Purvis, Robert Wade, Jez Butterworth
Starring: Daniel Craig, Christoph Waltz, Lea Seydoux, Ralph Fiennes, Ben Whishaw, Naomie Harris, Andrew Scott, Rory Kinnear, Dave Bautista, Monica Bellucci

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After the debuting with the edgy and exciting Casino Royale and then stumbling with the grim but dull Quantum of Solace, Daniel Craig took James Bond to new heights in 2012 with the help of director Sam Mendes. Skyfall shed some of the 007 tropes to delve deeper into Bond’s back story, humanizing him without dispelling his mystique. It also set a new box office record for the 50 year old franchise in the process, passing $1 billion worldwide. In the end, however, it reconnected the series with tradition, leaving Mendes with the difficult task of trying to come up with an encore.

So now three years later we have Spectre, a movie that maintains the same intense personal focus while also struggling to integrate more elements from Bond’s past (seemingly out of obligation more than anything else). It is quite possibly the most comedic of the Daniel Craig films (not that he ever cracks a smile) but it does not quite pull off the same tonal balancing act as its predecessor. It also falters when it reaches for something deeper because the emotional depth is missing this time around. On a surface level, this is a perfectly adequate entry in the series, but upon reflection it can’t help coming across as a disappointment.

The movie opens with a bang in Mexico City where Bond is attempting to track and eliminate some terrorists, leading to the collapse of a building and a dangerous helicopter fight. We soon find out that he was operating entirely of his own volition and the collateral damage from his mission has incurred the wrath of C, the head of the Joint Intelligence Service. Bond is taken off-duty and the entire Double O program is called into question, but he continues to investigate further. He is soon on the trail of a secret organization called SPECTRE and their mysterious leader, who may or may not have a connection to his own past.

It’s unfortunate that after such a strong cold open featuring beautiful Day of the Dead imagery, thrilling action and an impressive initial long take, nothing in the movie ever manages to top it. This is immediately followed by one of the most uninspired Bond opening credit sequences and theme songs in recent memory before the pace slows down to a crawl. There are still some noteworthy action sequences scattered throughout including a car chase in Rome, a savage fight aboard a train, and a controlled plane crash in the snowy Austrian Alps, but most of them feel perfunctory and feature a distinct lack of tension.

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Roger Deakins did not return as DP for Spectre and instead he was replaced by Hoyte Van Hoytema (Interstellar, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy). The movie looks great, even if it is somehow not quite as striking or memorable as Skyfall. It helps that Mendes seems to think about these movies primarily in terms of visuals and chooses a lot of locations that are interesting and beautiful on their own. Still, it does seem like the actual story suffers a bit as a result.

In many ways, they’re retreading the exact same territory as Skyfall by questioning whether 007 is outdated and obsolete in the digital age. Perhaps this is just a drawback to resuming story threads from the previous film, but they don’t really add anything new. There are some discussions about surveillance and the fear of an Orwellian future but that stuff is ultimately pretty thin. The majority of the film is just following a random trail of clues until we get to the expected climactic confrontation. On the plus side, the plot is surprisingly easy to follow for a Bond movie and the dialogue is at least snappy and fun.

It’s nice to have a bit more interaction with Ben Whishaw’s Q in this movie, while M and Moneypenny also get in on the action by the end. On the other hand, many of the new supporting characters feel neglected. Monica Bellucci barely gets two minutes of “sexposition” and Dave Bautista is mostly a fleeting presence who gets in just one word of dialogue through the entire movie. Lea Seydoux’s character isn’t introduced until halfway through the film, and as a result, her relationship with Bond doesn’t really have enough time to develop. Again, the filmmakers are victims of their own success here, because after focusing on Bond’s attachment to Vesper Lynd and M in previous installments, it’s difficult to build up something as meaningful here.

This brings us to Christoph Waltz’s role, which is obviously the key relationship in the film but also difficult to fully address while avoiding spoilers. Suffice it to say, as much as I like Christoph Waltz, this is movie’s greatest shortcoming. Not only is the reveal pretty underwhelming, but Waltz’s performance is also a little too broad and predictable (not to mention far less memorable than Javier Bardem’s Silva). More importantly, his motivations are muddled, the personal connection is extremely forced and the idea of tying all of the previous films together really doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. Spectre also runs on too long, seemingly because they can’t figure out how to wrap things up with his character.

If you enjoyed Skyfall, there is a good chance you’ll like this movie too, because it is clearly trying to hit many of the same notes. However, you’ll also have a nagging sense of deja vu and the distinct feeling that something is missing. We should be seeing Bond grapple with an identity crisis, not the movie itself. Daniel Craig continues to bring a hard edge to the role but this time Bond is seemingly just as exhausted and fed up as he is. For better or worse, it feels like they’ve taken the character about as far they can along this path, which means a new actor and a franchise course correction are probably inevitable. Still, if Spectre ends up being Craig’s final mission, he can leave with his head held high and his cufflinks on straight… I think we were all just hoping for something more. — Sean

SCORE: 3.5 stars





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  • Matt Thephotoman

    Spot on review Sean. I’ve seen loads of critics reviews saying its ‘fun’ , I though it was an altogether quite somber affair. Also why in the name of all that’s holy is the main bond theme absent in the majority of Craig movies, spectre most of all apart from a quick blast at the beginning and end. Are we not allowed to enjoy that aspect of bond anymore? in skyfall we had a little taste during the Aston Martin scene, almost as if mendes had thought , oh go on then, you can have a little taste, but not too much. WTF. Suppose should be greatfull at least we’ve got the gun barrel opening sequence back.

  • Nobody

    “…but most of them feel perfunctory and feature a distinct lack of tension.”

    Do you think this is party due to the intrusive score? Maybe it’s just me, but it seemed like the score was much more prominent than anything else during the action scenes. It was so distracting that I felt it often drained the excitement and impact from the action.

    Bautista’s one line sounded like it was dubbed. Seydoux’s character doesn’t make much of an impressions and Bellucci and Waltz are wasted, but hey, at least Judi Dench is gone!

  • Sean

    Good point about the theme. I did like the attempt to inject more humour into the film (M gets a handful of good lines) but yeah overall it was still at odds with the tone of the Craig era.

  • Sean

    It could have been partially the score. Admittedly it’s hard to make it feel like James Bond is ever truly in danger but they’ve succeeded with the last few movies.

  • ReelJunkie

    My thoughts from Letterboxd:

    What a big mess this was. First off, whose idea was it to make James Bond campy again, especially in this Daniel Craig version? It absolutely did not work. And that’s the first of this film’s problems. For the first time in a Craig-helmed Bond film I felt zero investment in the action scenes. No amount of shots of mountains and breathtaking locations could make me feel engaged in these action sequences. Mainly because I thought they were not clever or creative enough. Most of them felt so boring. Even when the momentum got going, it got undercut with some really terrible comedic moment.

    Speaking of not being invested, what was up with this story? Could it be more run of the mill? They took an actor of Christoph Waltz’s caliber and turned him into a clown villain.

    I understand them trying to pay homage to the old school campy Bond but did it have to be so blatant and uninspired? If you want to do throwback the right way, then look no further than Mission Impossible 5. That’s how keep your feet on both worlds and give nods to old school spy thrillers and yet manage to be a well made contemporary action film.

  • Glen

    I agree.

    I thought the movie was incredibly boring. I kept looking at my watch throughout the film. Daniel Craig didn’t seem invested at all in this movie unlike Casino Royale.
    By the way do you really need a giant compound and hundreds of people in the middle of an African desert to collect information in 2015? Wouldn’t it be more frightening if a couple of Anonymous teenagers in a shipping container on some foreign coast doing the same thing?

    I’d love for the producers of these films to scale back a bit and maybe set it in Cold War 1950s Great Britian. Have Bond fight the Soviet Union instead of a super villain trying to take over the world movie after movie.

  • PalinEffect

    For me, the high point of the movie was, and I don’t mean to be juvenile, but when he has Monica Bellucci pinned up against the mirror and they’re making out and he goes, “Bond…” the anticipation of him clearly entering her off-screen before going, “James Bond.” Oh, well. But that would’ve been really, really good.

  • ReelJunkie

    I bet the villain’s lair is also some sort of an ode to the previous films but it doesn’t work in a 2015 setting now does it? The tonal shift from the earlier films simply does not work. It’s like Chris Nolan making two Dark Knight films and then deciding to make TDKR an homage to Adam West Batman or something.

  • shortsands

    Not the greatest Bond movie, but not bad. Lovely little WW1 Christmas truce song https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ov8FeODxyXU