Half an hour or so into SPECTRE, James Bond has infiltrated a meeting of the eponymous organization and is listening to it’s mysterious leader speaking to his cohorts. The man then abruptly begins speaking to Bond, who he knows is in the room. He then looks up at him and shouts “Cuckoo!” Bond scowls and then escapes from the meeting. He gets into his astonishing Aston Martin DB10 and takes off into Rome, but he is being followed by the SPECTRE assassin, Mr. Hinx. They tear through the city and the music swells. The movie is speaking to us. They are telling us that this is important. This is the movie that all prior Daniel Craig Bond movies have been leading to.
Or… at least it should be.
SPECTRE, the twenty-forth James Bond film and the fourth movie of Daniel Craig’s iteration of the super spy, is a fun, action-packed roller coaster ride. It is also not very good. The “story” involves Bond, on one last mission for Judi Dench’s M (who has the honor of having the world’s worst cameo), killing a bad guy who has ties to a secret criminal organization that might be behind the brand new surveillance initiative that would render the 00 program useless. The head of this organization appears to be someone that Bond knows from his past and for some reason Madeline Swann, the estranged daughter of Mr. White (from CASINO ROYALE and QUANTUM OF SOLACE), gets caught up in the mix after Bond pays White a visit to find out more about SPECTRE.
The movie doesn’t really have much in the way of a story. Characters act and move only in service of getting them from set piece location to set piece location. The argument could be made that this is what all Bond films do, but the last couple have done this with such intelligence, charm, and excitement that it renders the screenwriting invisible. SPECTRE doesn’t benefit from these same characteristics. Bond and Swann are attacked by Mr. Hinx on a train taking them to the villain’s secret base, but when they arrive at the base they are
picked up by a car and taken there. The villain explains this has been the plan all along. Then why attack Bond on the train? How did he lure Bond to the base? Mr. White had detailed files in a secret room in his safe house that tell them where to go. How does Bond find out that
this secret villain is behind the events of the past three movies? He has the DNA of all his SPECTRE members embedded in each of their membership rings. Oh, and the villain tells him that he was nearly thirteen times.
The movie abandons all the meticulous and wonderful character work they’ve done thus far and eschews the carefully crafted tone of this rebooted Bondverse. It was a thrill hearing Bond say that he doesn’t give a damn about how his martini is prepared in CASINO ROYALE. In
SPECTRE, however, he is back ordering them shaken, not stirred. SKYFALL ended with a wonderful promise that Bond would return to the status quo he enjoyed during the Connery years, but would return a changed man. A Bond built for the modern era. Yet, this script could
have been made in the Brosnan era and you wouldn’t bat an eye. The men are in charge, the women are eye candy, and it’s all in service of empty spectacle.
Apart from Craig’s Bond, the characters are very thinly sketched. The women in the movie suffer the worst. Daniel Craig is as great as ever finally getting to have a little fun as James Bond, even if this turn is a bit out of character for his iteration of 007. Ralph Fiennes and
Ben Whishaw also get a few great moments as M and Q. The actor who manages to steal every scene he is in is Dave Bautista as Mr. Hinx. He gets to play the classic henchman character, which is a character type sadly missing from most of the Craig era Bond films. Hinx is a physical nightmare and has the best introduction you could possibly give a character like that. Bautista left such an impact that even after his character left the film, I kept waiting for him to make a grand return.
Lea Seydoux as Swann, Monica Bellucci as Lucia, and Naomie Harris as Moneypenny are all utterly wasted. Seydoux at least gets a decent amount of screen-time, but the script has no idea what to do with her after the halfway mark. They set her up to be a capably physical, but
in several moments where it would be organic to the story for her to step up to protect Bond, they just have him magically recover from whatever injury he’s sustained and relegate her to the damsel in distress. Bellucci gets to spend all of her six minutes of screen-time grieving her murdered husband and then immediately going to bed with his killer. Harris as Moneypenny isn’t much better, her entire job is to pick up the phone when Bond calls and stand behind Q in the final act of the film. There isn’t even a character there. It completely undid all the goodwill they built up with SKYFALL.
Worst of all is Christoph Waltz as Oberhauser.
Waltz is an extraordinary actor and when he is paired with Quentin Tarantino, he’s an unstoppable force. However, in SPECTRE he is just terrible. Let’s just get this out of the way. Oberhauser is Blofeld, the long running big bad of the Bond franchise. Well, his name is Blofeld, he’s got a pet cat, and he gets a pretty sick Blofeldesque scar towards the end… But that is where the similarities end. It’s not even really a spoiler. The name means nothing to any of the characters in the movie. The character just up and decides to go by that name for no reason whatsoever. Waltz doesn’t even get anything interesting to do. The backstory they give him with Bond is absolutely laughable. Having him become a super villain after Bond gave him a swirly in boarding school would have been a better character motivation. Here’s hoping that BOND 25 brings the character back and accidentally gives him a personality and menace.
END OF SPOILERS, I GUESS
But, Dave… Didn’t you say that the film was a fun, action-packed roller coaster ride? I did! And it is! There is a ton to like about the movie. Most importantly is Daniel Craig as James Bond. At this point you get the feeling that he could play this character in his sleep and still come across as ruthless and charming. This isn’t the best he’s been, but it doesn’t matter. He excels at playing this character and you can’t help but be thrilled by him when he is in action. There is a tracking shot in the opening sequence that perfectly captures everything there is to love about a Bond movie. The majority of the action set pieces in the movie are a lot of fun. One of the movie’s flaws is that it abandons the grounded tone that they applied in the last few movies. But it’s that same flaw that ends up making this movie watchable. If it didn’t have a plane with clipped wings tearing through an snowy Austrian mountain village… It would have been quite a humdrum affair.
This looks to be the last Bond film directed by Sam Mendes and I think that is just fine. It appears that his tenure should have been a ‘one-and-done’ situation. SKYFALL benefited from having a long-time fan finally getting a shot at helming his dream action movie. You can feel in SPECTRE that he exorcised that demon from his system and needs something different to keep him engaged. The same might be said for Daniel Craig. I hope we get one more Bond movie with him in the lead that will act as a better send off for the actor. They need to get it right, though. We don’t have all the time in the world.