The popular consensus so far is Daniel Craig’s doing a damn good job as Bond with 2 of his films not only being “good” but possibly, depending on who you ask, amongst the best films the series has ever produced. To date Craig only had a mild misfire to his name that, as much as it may not hold up next to his other 2 outings, is still light years better than Brosnan’s last effort.
Which brings us to Spectre, possibly Craig’s last outing as Bond if you believe recent comments in the media, a film that early on makes it clear from his title sequence* that it’ll tie everything together from the duration of Daniel Craig’s tenure to date. Does it succeed?
(*Speaking of which seeing this was my first time hearing the new Bond Theme by Sam Smith and it was possibly my least favourite bond theme since Die Another Day. The rest of the title sequence however brought back fond memories of the old title sequences from Sam Riami’s Spider-man films as it referenced the last 3 films in the series. If anything it got me too excited for what was about to come.)
Like all good Bond entries the film has a strong assured start hitting the ground running with one of the franchises trademark pre-titles action sequences. From the absolutely beautiful long opening shot which sets the bar for cinematography high* to a terrifying helicopter ride above the crowded Mexico City the sequence doesn’t miss a beat
(*A high I thought the rest of the film struggled to match if I’m being honest. While there were a number of shots here and there that I really loved I preferred Roger Deakin’s cinematography in Skyfall to Hoyte van Hoytema’s here in Spectre, though I’ve seen people that feel the opposite and I’m not going to pretend I know enough about cinematography to discuss it at length here)
There’s a lot to enjoy in Spectre, the returning MI6 cast of Craig, Finnes, Whimsaw, Kinnear and Harris all embody their roles perfectly even though some of them only started in the last film. The first hour carries on the momentum of the pre-credits sequence and makes it look easy as we get our set up, our first Bond girl meeting with Monica Belluci along a memorable introduction to both Dave Basista’s muscular odd Hinx and Christoph Waltz’s head of Spectre followed by our second thrilling action sequence.
And then things start to go south. For all the fuss made about Monica Bellucci’s ‘Older’ Bond girl she completely vanishes in the story after serving her purpose as a blatant plot device and after first hour the plot that was slowly being brought to the boil in the background about a sinister corporation suddenly takes a back seat to a spot of globetrotting action sequence after action sequence that, although extremely well done, feels incomplete without the smaller and at times more personal moments/stakes that Skyfall excelled at.
Not to say there isn’t brief intermissions between said action as we spend time with Bond and Bond Girl Number 2 played by Léa Seydoux. Now we all know Seydoux is a more than capable actress after winning a large number of awards for French drama “Blue is the Warmest Colour” but as you can expect given the history of Bond girls the film doesn’t really give her anything worth of her talents as her and Bond hunt Spectre while she basically sorts out her daddy issues. It made me nostalgic for Craig and Dench’s extended screen time in Skyfall if anything.
The film has its biggest stumble in its closing act as it seems to build to a bizarre anti-climax (Complete with torture sequence!) at the start of it’s third act before a ton of explosions happen. Though the plot isn’t 100% resolved yet at this point it certainly ‘feels’ like it’s over but before we can wonder what the hell is going to happen next Bond literally says the line “It’s not over yet.” After we get reminded of this the film goes on bizarrely limping towards it’s actual real ending resolving what feels like a leftover plot line as the writers fail to realise what superhero writers have already realised – Maybe 2 bad guys is too much?
The films actual final moments end up feeling completely unearned as the climatic stand off literally calls back to a line of dialogue we heard a character mutter 90 minutes prior, if said line of dialogue was a running theme or the basis of a character arc of the film than it may have felt earned but I certainly didn’t feel that way and it just came across like a poor attempt at bringing things full circle. The final scene that follows may feel like a welcome change to some people and “not in character” for other die hard Bond fans.
It’s clear throughout that Spectre does make a serious attempt to have its cake and eat it, going big with the scale of story while trying to add an emotional undertone to it to bring it closer to home but sadly as I was walking out of the cinema I felt it accomplished neither. The film falls over itself trying to hammer home that “Everything is connected” and “Spectre is responsible for everything since Casino Royale” but it no point does it ever feel like that matters. There’s no initial shock or coolness to learning there’s a larger conspiracy in play because that was already well established in Quantum of Solace and because there’s been no clear consistent logic to the bad guys plans for the last 3 films the larger conspiracy plot just feels completely superfluous.
If they missed the target in terms of making everything seem connected then they shot themselves in the foot with their attempt to add a ‘personal’ touch to the proceedings. The writers attempts to create a personal beef between Bond and Christoph Waltz come across like a completely misguided idea at best and so stupid it’s insulting at worst. To be honest I personally found it definitely felt more like the latter as the attempted beef is treated so much as an afterthought that the reaction is “Why did you even bother?” rather than “Oh my god!”
If there’s a running theme to my Spectre criticisms it’s that it simply tries to do far too much at once and even though it’s the longest Bond ever* doesn’t give anything the time of day to be properly developed. We have 2 master-planner bad guys vying for time and neither comes out feeling fully developed. The film doesn’t even try do anything with Dave Batista’s mute henchman hinx after his damn fine introduction scene (Which is a shame after Dave Basista turned out to be such a pleasant surprise in Guardians of the Galaxy) but even worse than that, possibly the films greatest sin, is the films misuse of Christoph Waltz, who lets face it should be the definitive Bond villain. Waltz doesn’t give a bad performance but he’s given almost nothing substantial to work with beyond “megalomaniac’ so it just feels like such a waste as he ends up ranking below Mads Mikkelson and Javier Bardem in my favourite villains since the reset.
(*By a whole THREE minutes, christ I hate when anyone refers to it as the longest Bond forever as if that actually means something)
Thankfully the film is not a complete mess and I stand by that the first hour is incredibly strong before it starts to fall apart after that. If all you’re looking for is some fun action and escapism you’ll probably be more than satisfied by the rest of it so don’t be too afraid to go and see it.
3/7 – A strong start can’t carry the whole film but strong action sequences will keep you entertained throughout even if the story doesn’t. Nostalgia throughout may either annoy or delight you to higher/lower the score but I wasn’t particularly bothered by it.