Director: Sam Mendes
Notable Cast: Daniel Craig, Christoph Waltz, Lea Seydoux, Ralph Fiennes, Monica Bellucci, Ben Whishaw, Naomie Harris, Dave Bautista, Andrew Scott, Rory Kinnear, Jesper Christensen
The James Bond franchise will always see its ups and downs throughout each incarnation and each decade. Outside of the unmemorable and often un-Bond like film Quantum of Solace, the Craig era of Bond has been rather vibrant and pushes the series into new territory. In particular, the blend of classic Bond moments and a shockingly fresh and effective third act in Skyfall made it one of the best entries to date and it assured a new audience for the long time British spy with Oscar nominations (and win) and an artfulness that the series hadn’t seen in a long, long time. So it might come as a huge disappointment that Spectre, the second film to feature Sam Mendes as director, takes a remarkably throwback approach to its narrative and tone. No silhouette fights. No subdued finales. This is Bond 101 back on the screen warts and all. Like the rest of my James Bond reviews for the site, I’m going to break it down by “Bond Elements” for fans and newbies alike. Just know going into Spectre that it is handedly the most tongue-in-cheek and often silly Bond film of the Craig era…for better or worse.
|He's walkin' on sunshine. Heeeeey.|
PLOT 3/5: Here is the biggest issue that arises with Spectre. This 24th film in the decades long franchise very much sticks to the three act Bond formula through and through, but tries desperately to keep the more personal side of Bond jammed in there. This makes for a film that is wholly entertaining with its massive action set pieces, but awkwardly built at times. The film mines more of Bond’s childhood which feels forced and even attempts at adding in another romantic subplot for the audience that doesn’t have enough time to really develop (more on that in a moment). The film is filled with Bond conveniences – where did he get that plane for the really cool chase sequence? What’s up with the drill chair and why doesn’t it seem to work on Bond? Etc, etc. – and often there are gaping holes that feel out of synch with the strong writing that was present on both Casino Royale and Skyfall. However, no matter how many issues I keep finding in the writing or the overlong narrative (there are at least three sequences I would have completely edited to cut down the robust runtime) I have to admit that the film carries enough old school Bond swagger that they never deterred me from having fun with the film. Sure, he magically finds a plane, but he fucking rams it through a barn to wreck it into the convoy he’s chasing! Sure, the opening sequence features a building explosion that decimates a half block that a parade down the street doesn’t seem to notice, but Bond has a fist fight in a helicopter that is doing circus tricks! The plot is certainly flawed, but it makes up for it in sheer charisma at times.
BOND 4/5: Craig has easily become one of the best Bond’s of the franchise with his four films, but the old school approach to Spectre marks one of his weaker outings as the world’s favorite spy. This is because Craig does mean and cold Bond much better than snarky and suave Bond. If you think of the issues that arose with Timothy Dalton in the role, then you will get the jist of what some of the issues that pop up here in Spectre. He still nails a lot of the harder moments in the film – a scene where he interrogates a mouse could have easily gone into Roger Moore era cheese (pun intended), but it’s played with a serious humor that works – and outside of an awkward romantic subplot, he still comes out strong in the role. Not to mention, when he’s kicking ass you really believe that he’s kicking ass.
VILLAIN 4/5: While there was a big hoopla made over the casting of Christoph Waltz as the big bad for Spectre, he really doesn’t show up until well over half way into the film. He pops up here and there in shadows and gives a rather unintentionally hilarious line of “cuckoo!” at one point, but he isn’t allowed to do a whole lot as the film desperately tries to build a mystery and atmosphere around him for two twists on his character. One twist is one you already saw coming if you’re a Bond fan and the other is so ridiculous (and the reason he says cuckoo earlier) that it’s almost eye rolling. However, he does have some fun monologues and becomes even more sinister in the final act that saves it from being a huge miss. His biggest saving grace is the arrival of Dave Bautista as his classic Bond henchmen – an unstoppable/unkillable force with metal thumbnails (I think) who says nothing and remains a thorn in Bond’s side. He even has an awesomely choreographed and shot fist fight with Bond on a train that pulls parallel to the iconic sequence in From Russia with Love which only earns bonus praise from me.
BOND GIRL 3/5: Previous to the release of Spectre, there was a lot of hype for both of the “Bond girls” that would be featured in this movie, Monica Bellucci and Lea Seydoux. Unfortunately for both, despite their acting talents and strong screen presences, the script tends to undermine them. Monica Bellucci is given ten minutes in a throw away role that could have been edited out for timing and Lea Seydoux features a bit better as the main woman in the film, but really doesn’t show up until the mid-second act. She retains a strong presence on screen with her can-do attitude and snarky remarks, but her romantic character arc with Bond is horrifically forced and some of her character moments are out of the blue – like when she tells Bond she can’t live this “spy life” again in the third act. Where did that come from? She earns some merits for effort, but the writing she is given tends to undercut anything they could have built for her.
|Bond goggles. Where can I purchase those?|
After the world swooned with Skyfall, Spectre had some mighty large shoes to fill and unfortunately it doesn’t quite hit mark nor should it. It is, however, classic Bond through and through which features all of the charm and high octane action that one expects from this series. Perhaps it’s because I don’t go into Bond expecting a great film (and always come out shocked when it happens), but I had a blast with Spectre. It’s not nearly as deep or thoughtfully written as past Craig era efforts have been but it remains fun and ultimately punchy enough to keep a huge grin on my face throughout its long run time.
FINAL THOUGHT: The tracking shot in the opening sequence is impressively set up. It’s Sam Mendes tech with the swaggering confidence of early Brosnan era Bond. Love it.
Written By Matt Reifschneider