Spectre – A Review

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Daniel Craig deserved a better 007 send-off.

If the rumors are true and Spectre was in fact the last film that will feature Craig as James Bond, that is something of a disappointment. I’ve really enjoyed Craig’s tenure as the iconic British secret agent and though I didn’t see Quantum of Solace, I thought Casino Royale and Skyfall reinvigorated the franchise. For his final film to be the lackluster Spectre just doesn’t seem quite fair.

Now Spectre is not a bad movie, but it is a step down in the quality of some of the recent Bond films. There are some exciting action sequences in Spectre but the majority of the film moves at a very languid pace. There clearly has to be some downtime in-between frenetic burst of excitement, but the pacing of Spectre was just too herky-jerky; the film would go from zero to sixty and then back down to zero. Slowing things down would perhaps not have been as jarring if there had been more to the story that Spectre was trying to tell, but unfortunately that was not the case. The plot of Spectre is a weird mishmash – paying tribute to the formula of the James Bond franchise, the more personal and introspective Bond that Craig has created and a narrative that is both overly complicated and too simplistic all at the same time. It’s a testament to the people involved with Spectre that this issues don’t completely derail the film; I walked out of the theater slightly disappointed, but still mildly entertained.

Spectre starts off very promisingly, with a beautifully shot opening sequence where Daniel Craig takes down a terrorist in Mexico City amidst the Day of the Dead celebration. It feels like one long continuous tracking shot that weaves through the festivities to the confrontation that culminates in a disorienting and thrilling fight in a helicopter; it’s both visually stunning and immediately draws you in to the film. I don’t think anything that follows in the film grabs you quite like the opening scene. The rest of the film has a little everything that you’d want as a Bond fan – which I think is part of the problem. With the multiple villains (Christoph Waltz and David Bautista), multiple threats (new surveillance, the 007 program possibly be phased out, personal history), multiple locales (Mexico, England, Rome, Austria, Morocco) and multiple women (Monica Belluci (briefly) and Léa Seydoux), it’s hard not to think that they are distracting the viewer that this is all stuff that we’ve seen before. With so many previous installments in the Bond franchise, it’s not surprising that this is beginning to feel a bit like old hat.

I think the biggest problem with Spectre is that it has the unfortunate timing to follow Skyfall. Skyfall was easily the most introspective and personal of the franchise and that depth elevated the film to one of the highlights of all the Bond movies. Spectre is closer to an old-school Bond film, but suffers in comparison to the film that proceeded it. Once you see what a Bond film can be with Skyfall, it’s hard to not have heightened expectations for Spectre. I know that I am guilty of this as I had very high hopes for Spectre. I still think that Craig is my favorite all-time Bond and he is a large reason that Spectre worked for me as well as it did, but the film was trying to do too much to make too many different people happy and the result is a film that is occasionally thrilling, but mostly feels like long interludes of slogging along and checking the necessary boxes of Bond nostalgia.

Perhaps the biggest disappointment for me was the use of Christoph Waltz, who on paper seems like he would be the absolutely perfect foil for Bond. If anyone was born to be a Bond villain, I’d say it’s Waltz, but his character was a lot of buildup without much payoff. His motivations for his revenge on Bond were just really silly once revealed. I know Bond villains have become something of a caricature – “I will kill you, Bond, but first let me reveal my entire evil plan to you and then leave you alone with some henchmen” – but when you have an actor like Waltz, the writers could have done so much more with him. Spectre only tapped in to the minimal amount of his potential.

Some other random thoughts:

  • Daniel Craig had way more chemistry with Monica Belluci than with Léa Seydoux, so it was unfortunate that the former gets minimal screen time and the latter is the main love interest. I didn’t believe for a second that Bond would risk everything to save Seydoux.
  • The gadgets were a bit on the light side in this outing, but there certainly were some sleek looking cards.
  • I’m adding go to Mexico City of the Day of the Dead celebration to my bucket list. If it’s anything like depicted on screen, that’s got to be a fabulous time.
  • There are plenty of nods to the Bond movies during Craig’s tenure as well as earlier films from the franchise like To Russia With Love, Goldfinger and On Her Majesty’s Secret Service.
  • I may be in the minority here, but I don’t dig Sam Smith’s “Writing on the Wall” as the Spectre theme song. Just ain’t my bag and I’m deducting points for not using the name of the movie in the lyrics. That’s like Bond 101.
  • Daniel Craig can wear the hell out of a suit. Just sayin’.

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  • It’s probably not a great sign that having seen the movie I’d be hard pressed to explain to you what exactly Spectre is and what they want. But hats off to them for allowing a guy to pop out another guy’s eyes during a board meeting. Our board meetings would be a hell of a lot more interesting if that was permitted.

I really am not sure where the Bond franchise goes from here. Personally I think they should blow the whole thing up and come at it from a completely different angle in the future; this is a franchise in desperate need of some shaking (not stirring) up. I’m fine with some references to previous films and I’m not asking them to create a new Bond completely out of wholecloth. Craig’s movies managed to breathe some new life into the Bond character, but with his departure presumed to be eminent this is a perfect opportunity to try something different. It’s no surprise that I’m a big booster for the Idris Elba as James Bond movement, but I’d only want him to take the reins if there was a willingness to take Bond in a new direction. I’ve probably been too hard on Spectre; if you like Bond movies, this is a perfectly serviceable entry in the franchise. But Skyfall showed me that Bond can be different and still pay tribute to its roots. Now that I’ve seen what is possible, I’m having a hard time going back to the same old same old. Spectre is a gorgeous film that turns out to be a little too much style over substance.

 

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One thought on “Spectre – A Review

  1. Ang says:

    I wouldn’t say you were too hard on Spectre – but too easy! This was a huge disappointment. I agree that Skyfall is a hard act to follow but wow, this was just bad. I was bored. I agree with all your points, just bit more strongly. And I am not a tough critic in general! (I’m surprised you haven’t seen Quantum.)

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