Spectre opens with, quite possibly, one of the most fun, brash, and intense sequences in all of James Bond’s onscreen adventures. It’s a shame the rest of the film doesn’t live up to that standard. Heading into this movie I wasn’t entirely sure if this iteration of MI6’s most famous secret agent would be a more direct sequel to Daniel Craig’s previous films, or simply another standalone adventure in the spy’s long gestating cinematic history. Let me tell you now, this movie heavily leans on Daniel Craig’s Bond legacy. If you want to fully appreciate all that ‘Spectre’ has to offer repeat viewings of the three previous Craig films would do you well (Although it would be understandable if you skipped ‘Quantum of Solace’).
Now, you might ask, with the 007 series reaching 24 films long, is ‘Spectre’ worth the price of admission? Overall, I say yes. There is enough the film accomplishes here to merit it a success within the terms of what people come to expect from Bond films. That being said the biggest shadow looming on ‘Spectre’s horizons is ‘Skyfall’. ‘Skyfall’ reshaped Bond’s world in a way that was unprecedented in the series’ history. What made ‘Skyfall’ a standout was that it continued what ‘Casino Royale’ started in adverting expectations and wowing us with a Bond for the new millennium. More visceral, grounded, and gruff yet still suave and classy. ‘Spectre’ has a problem though, its not entirely sure what kind of Bond film it wants to be. The film relishes in larger set pieces, more visually captivating locales, and a host of other well trodden established Bond tropes. Bond reverts to the more Sean Connery style of persuasion with women, he exhibits far more reckless behavior than past Craig offerings, and black turtlenecks. Which I might add, I thoroughly enjoyed purely out of my adoration of the cartoon, ‘Archer’. So you might ask, ‘do any of these aspects weaken the overall experience?’ Well, that depends on what you expect out of a Bond film. Were there car chases? Did Bond have/drive/crash an expensive car? Did Q and Bond have an argument/moment? Was there a torture sequence? Did he get the girl? Did Bond go fist to fist in a brawl with an overly large henchman? The answer to all of these questions is ‘Yes, most definitely’. If that is enough for you as the viewer, then it is enough, just don’t go into ‘Spectre’ expecting a reinvented wheel. This film is in love with its own past, and it seems to be racing to check off all the boxes of Bond’s world so quickly that it doesn’t even realize that the audience can feel the expectation of the plot as it happens. Every time a box was checked I was happy that it was, though it felt as if we’d all been here before. ‘Skyfall’, again, looms large.
Speaking of Henchmen, Dave Bautista’s ‘Mr. Hinx’ is one of the truly standout performances of the film. The bulky and brooding heavy hitter barely utters a word his entire time onscreen, but this doesn’t mean he isn’t an unrelenting challenge for every second of his time with us. Mr. Hinx will definitely be remembered in the long line up of Bond baddies for his introduction alone, forgoing eloquence for complete brutality in the juxtaposition of the orderly and organized ‘Spectre’ boardroom that the scene takes place in. The organization at the heart of the film’s title is one that largely rests its image on the shoulders of Christoph Waltz’s Oberhauser. I am at the same time both content with, and let down by, this performance. It has nothing to do with Waltz’s acting ability, I think he was fine, I was just expecting a bit more out of it. This may have been unfair of me to do so because of my comparing the character of Oberhauser to that of Hans Landa, Waltz’s infamous Nazi from Quentin Tarantino’s ‘Inglorious Basterds’. Oberhauser is a far more restricted, internal character of sorts, in short, I simply had brought a different level of expectation to the role than if it had been a different actor. The slow burn of his introduction in ‘Spectre’ is handled enticingly well in my opinion though. Oberhauser is however part of the film that, in my opinion, asks almost for too much from us.
THE WORST SPOILERS
‘Spectre’ attempts, and ultimately succeeds, in asking the audience to retcon the last three Bond films into one cohesive piece of storytelling. Partly in building the mythos around the shadowy organization ‘Spectre’ the film constantly throws us little reminders of villains of Craig’s past as bits of evidence tantamount to the tentacled group being, as Oberhauser himself describes it in one particular line, “I am the Author of all your pain James Bond”. But is he really? Oh and the big reveal that Oberhauser is actually ‘Blofeld’ shouldn’t have been all that much of a surprise to anyone knowing the history of the organization in the film series’ past. I think the idea at face value is a bit of a stretch, though they handled it effectively enough in the film, but the less time you spend analyzing it, the more you will enjoy it. If they had gone further with the idea I think it would have been too much, but done as it was, it is acceptable.
It is also worth mentioning that from ‘Skyfall’ to ‘Spectre’ there was a change in the guard of cinematographer from Roger Deakins to Hoyte van Hoytema. It might not be the most apparent change from film to film but the loss of Deakins style can be felt throughout. The use of Q and his relationship with Bond was also more fleshed out than in ‘Skyfall’ so that was a welcome addition. There was also the subplot of Andrew Scott’s ‘C’ merging both MI5 and MI6 operations while simulataneously nixing the double O program in its entirety. He is also the link between ‘Spectre’ and MI6 as he hurries to get international approval for a new global initiative of blending cutting edge technology with George Orwell’s worst nightmares. Hey, a dash of ‘Winter Soldier’ never hurt, right? The film also tries, ever so briefly, to peel back more layers of Bond’s childhood past and psychology, but again, ‘Skyfall’ did this better and in a more compelling fashion.
All in all, this is a fine James Bond movie. If all you are looking for is a competent, rousing, and entertaining action spy movie, then you’re in luck, because ‘Spectre’ was made for you. If on the other hand you wanted just a bit more from Daniel Craig’s latest, and possibly last, outing as the double O, then you might be left wanting more.
Final Score: 8/10