'Spectre' Review: Bad, Real Bad
The 24th iteration of 007 was one of the most heavily anticipated movies in the James Bond series, bringing back Sam Mendes after his critical and commercial success with Skyfall (admittedly, I didn't care for it) and sees Daniel Craig facing his biggest threat yet with Spectre, a shadowy organization pulling the strings behind every major incident involving Bond since Casino Royale.
We are introduced to a few new characters in Max Denbigh (Andrew Scott), the new head of British security, taking over MI-6 after the events of Skyfall. He's relatively unremarkeable but provides an interesting foil for the new M (Ralph Fiennes). This M seems a bit less cerebral, but I enjoyed seeing Fiennes thrust into some of the action and his more aggressive portrayal of M was refreshing. Ben Whishaw and Naomi Harris return as Q and Moneypenny, respectively, providing some energy in contrast to the ever dour Daniel Craig.
Mendes has a fantastic eye, and the cinematography of Spectre looks fantastic. The locales are beautiful, especially the opening scene in Mexico City which is the highlight of the film, and everything just looks so sleek. However, this is where the good of Spectre stops. To understand my issues with the film, we need a brief history recap of the Bond films. Prior to Daniel Craig helming the role of James Bond, the Bond films were always a bit unrealistic and occasionally campy. Daniel Craig and co. somewhat "grounded" the character. Sure, he got out of impossible situations, but I rarely found myself rolling my eyes or groaning due to cheesiness (Skyfall finale aside). I enjoyed the Brosnan films because the tone was set, and I knew what to expect. Spectre tries to be this brooding, psychological film that began with Skyfall, but also starts to delve into camp Bond territory which hurts the pacing and plot development. Are we trying to keep this Bond somewhat realistic, or are we embracing the roots of the film series? Spectre tries to execute both simultaneously to no avail.
Spectre is supposed to introduce us to this great shadow organization that is everywhere (Hydra, anyone? They even have almost the same logo, and Rogue Nation did it better), but we're given what amounts to two scenes showing us the inner workings. We don't even really understand the motives of the criminally underutilized Christoph Waltz as Franz Oberhauser, the head of Spectre. He's given a connection to a young James Bond which could have made for an incredibly deep and interesting connection to our titular hero. Yet, his motives are glossed over in a scene, and his two dimensional cartoon character exists in a film completely divorced from the Craig-era bond films. There is even a twist reminiscent of Star Trek: Edge of Darkness that has no "oomph" and exists merely as fan service. Even Dave Bautista's Mr. Hinx is given an impressive introduction and then given one of the tamest car chase sequences in recent memory before being dispatched halfway through the film.
There are some topical plot references, such as the massive surveillance initiative the new British intelligence is attempting to launch, which hearkens to the Snowden saga. Yet, this isn't ever really delved into and is just a plot point that is glossed at a surface level. Some investigation into the true ramifications of such a program would have been far more interesting than repeating "it's the future" over and over, without real context.
Spectre wants to juggle so many ideas, including a laughable relationship with new Bond girl Madeleine Swann (Léa Seydoux), that leads to some of the most head scratching scenes in the film. The last 30 minutes of the film lacks any cohesion or logic and is tantamount to a plot thread from Austin Powers. Multiple details in the plot are mentioned, supposedly having consequences, only to be brushed away by the next scene. There are not stakes, we, as an audience, don't care about James Bond's past, nor does the film. Yet, the misplaced emphasis on James' upbringing permeates the film, only to lead up to a disappointing and predictable reveal. Mendes doesn't know what kind of film he wants to make. Are we going back to the Bond of yesteryear, or are we following the brutal and "gritty" Bond? The disjointed tone detracts from the enjoyment of the film, despite impressive visuals and mostly solid performances.
Spectre wants to be a sprawling, psychological spy film when it ends up being a dumb, non-nonsensical goose chase that holds no weighty reveals. I want to love James Bond again, but these last few films have made me want a new direction for the character. Spectre is a film that peaks too soon and wants to be too much at once, leaving only disappointment in its wake.
Final Say: Skip It