With Spectre, the James Bond series has once again reached a crossroads. The decision can really be simplified down to this: do we want to continue this dark, gritty charade or actually have some fun again? Spectre, despite its lush locales and trademark superb action set pieces, is a mostly downtrodden, robotic exercise in wild goose chase plotting. No one involved looks to be having much fun, which is a drag for a long and storied series that used to pride itself on showing us things we’ve never seen before and cunningly toeing the line of the absurd.
After the events of Skyfall and the death of his mentor, M, James Bond (Craig) is struggling. He’s going out on missions without MI6’s approval, which is an issue since MI6 is already in danger of being taken over by a newer, higher-tech outfit headed by the shady Max Denbigh (Andrew Scott). While in Mexico City, Bond uncovers a plot to blow up a parade during the Day of the Dead. He foils it, but in the process discovers a ring with a strange symbol engraved in it. The symbol is traced to terrorist attacks all over the world, eventually leading Bond to a mysterious outfit named Spectre. With the help of Q (Ben Whishaw), Moneypenny (Naomie Harris), and Madeleine Swann (Seydoux), the daughter of a former nemesis, Bond traverses the world in an effort take down the syndicate and its leader, Oberhauser (Waltz).
Spectre has all the trademarks of a production plagued by a ballooned budget (at over $300 million, this is one of the most expensive movies ever made) and a host of screenplay rewrites. Where all the money went is a complete mystery. The locales are beautiful, but most of the film takes place either at night or in a darkened room. The palette is so flat it may as well have been shot in black and white, which would have been a far more creative choice than most anything else on-screen. Superseding all of that is that Spectre simply has no personality. There’s nothing to differentiate it from the other Craig Bonds, which do vary in quality, but share the single thread of being so dark and deadly serious that they border on parody of the franchises they’ve aped in tone. On the bright side, the opening scene helicopter acrobatics and an extended chase sequence provide genuinely visceral thrills. We even do get one signature Bond moment after he parachutes onto a city street as if it were nothing. The film needs more of this.
Daniel Craig, who’s been a very competent Bond, seems severely checked out throughout Spectre. This performance lacks any semblance of nuance or depth. At this point he’s playing Bond as more of a flesh-covered robot, often sucking the air out of scenes that should have much more impact. After recently stating that he’d “rather slit his wrists” than play Bond again and admitting that if he did another film it’d only be for the money, this could very well be Craig’s swan song in the role. The rest of the cast is similarly disappointing. Léa Seydoux is instantly forgettable as the bland accomplice. Christoph Waltz, in a surprisingly punctuated villain role, yammers his way through ridiculous rantings and struggles mightily to be an imposing force. It says a lot that Dave Bautista, whose sole purpose in Spectre is to kill people and utter exactly one line of dialogue, has about as much charisma as the leads. Thankfully, Ben Whishaw, Naomie Harris, and Ralph Fiennes bring some interest to their performances and yield results.
Much like after the salty reception of 2008’s Quantum of Solace, extended discussion is sure to arise regarding whether Bond is relevant in our contemporary culture. The answer is yes. Far worse material gets rebooted just as often. The series desperately needs a change in tone. Bond needs to want to be a hero, not a pouty, damaged man who acts like saving the day is an inconvenience to his plans of drinking all night in his dark apartment. Bring back the swagger and the fun. This is easily salvageable.
Studio: Columbia Pictures
Length: 148 Minutes
Rating: PG-13 for intense sequences of action and violence, some disturbing images, sensuality and language.
Theatrical Release: November 6, 2015
Directed by: Sam Mendes
Written by: John Logan & Neal Purvis & Robert Wade & Jez Butterworth.
Cast: Daniel Craig, Christoph Waltz, Léa Seydoux, Ralph Fiennes, Monica Bellucci