Bland, James Bland
I’m a Quantum of Solace defender. I think that film, which was Daniel Craig’s second as James Bond, gets better after repeat viewings and was highly underrated when it came out, and still is today. And so maybe you can take extra caution that even I, a Quantum of Solace supporter, think that Spectre falls short of the previous 3 Bond films. Don’t worry, it’s still better than Die Another Day. Spectre relies heavily on plot points from the previous three films, trying to tie all loose-ends together that didn’t need any tying. The movie also feels like a 150 min homage to classic Bond tropes—and it gets tiring when there’s no real purpose except to wink at the audience. It’s a pity so much talent and hype got mismanaged. It may be a pretty film, and distractingly thrilling during its handful of ridiculous action sequences, but its otherwise aimless, oddly unfulfilling if not dull, and ultimately less rewarding than superior actioners like Mi5: Rogue Nation, The Dark Knight and even Skyfall (all from which Spectre seems to be borrowing…or copying).
There’s been a lot of recent news about Craig voicing his desire to hang up the Bond tux for good. Well, if I were Craig and my fourth Bond film had the Spectre script, I’d be just about ready to throw in the towel as well. The film begins with an exciting chase in Mexico City during a colorful Dia de los Muertos festival. James Bond (steely blue-eyed Daniel Craig) is hunting down a mysterious organization at the behest of a secret message left by the late M (Judi Dench). Meanwhile back in London, the 00 Section of Mi6 is under fire (again!) for its seemingly archaic ways, with the main opposition led by a young upstart government surveillance lover, Max Denbigh (Andrew Scott). But back to the secret org Bond is hunting — known as Spectre — run by an evil mastermind, Franz Oberhauser (Christoph Waltz), who has deep seeded connections to Bond’s past. It’s revealed that Spectre has been the source of a lot of bad things, but we’re never really informed to what specifically since its a long list and weirdly complex. In the end, who cares. I miss the old Bond formula where each film had a very unique evil plot to thwart, even if there still were a few subplot strains stretching through multiple film installments.
The biggest mistake that director Sam Mendes makes, and I am pushing most of the blame onto him, is that he tries to incorporate too much of his love of classic Bond campiness and silly action with the new darker, emotionally scarred central characters of recent blockbusters. Casino Royale worked because it featured a new brutish Bond (though kiiiiinda like Timothy Dalton’s Bond, just sayin’). Quantum of Solace worked because it was basically finishing off Casino Royale but with a new one-film baddie. Skyfall worked because it rode the line between the newly revitalized brutish Bond and the old Connery/Moore era villainy and campiness (you disagree? well, remember that a dude is eaten by a giant lizard?). Spectre, unfortunately, crosses the line and forgets how to manage both sides of the coin—the new Bond women are weak and have zero effect on the story, the extended running time ruins any chance for a strong climactic good guy vs. bad guy confrontation, and the tone ventures from campy to dramatic to jokey to nostalgic without any sense of direction.
At least Sam Smith’s super disappointing theme song for Spectre, “Writing’s on the Wall”, sounds better accompanying the traditional Bond film animated opening credits sequence than it does on its own (Critic’s Note: Dear Sony- Don’t EVER, EVER play the music video for a movie’s theme song before screening the movie EVER again. It was redundant and awful to sit through that twice, nevermind adding 5 min to the 150 min running time. That sucked.)
Let’s give a bit of positive credit where it’s due. Hoyte Van Hoytema (Interstellar, Her) filmed Spectre with incredible crispness, allowing us to soak in every exotic locale and take in the whole of each explosion. I’ll give half credit for Spectre’s look to Mendes because he obviously spent more attention to the look of the story rather than the feel and coherence of it. I hope that Spectre ages like Quantum of Solace. Maybe I’ll review the next Bond film and call out my own naivety for having written all these negative words about Craig’s amazing fourth outing. But for now, let’s be glad that Craig is still an amazing Bond, and he should prove it again for the fifth time a few years from now. But Sony and MGM and whoever, please get a new director and new writers. And get a better song. And create stronger female roles. But Keep Q and Moneypenny – Ben Whishaw and Naomie Harris are awesome!
Spectre opens in theaters Friday, Nov. 6th.