Spectre Review

For more on Spectre, check out this week’s That Bond Show.

Spectre, Daniel Craig’s fourth James Bond film, is just as fascinated by the idea of the end of things and an older James pondering his place in the world as the prior film in the series, Skyfall,. Yet, where Skyfall did this with a masterful slow burn and a nice subtlety in its themes, Spectre can’t seem to get out of its own way. 

Again and again the weakest elements of Spectre are when it feels this need to over explain everything. Every character, appearance, and Daniel Craig era event must all mean something in the context of the larger universe. Nothing happens by chance or accident. It’s all part of a larger MCU-inspired design. It also fails pretty much across the board. 

With nearly seven years hindsight from Spectre, the most baffling thing remains this MCU-ifcation of the Bond series: going so far to tie in Raul Silva – a man very clearly not a part of a larger organization – just for a cheap, “see, this all makes sense” moment. 

Christoph Waltz is a wonderfully-talented actor who I typically adore but is tasked with a thankless role. To bring back the character of Blofeld after a 44-year wait carried with it a certain level of excitement and pressure. Yet Spectre went the route of trying to obscure the character’s origins and not make it immediately clear that it was indeed Blofeld. This is a modern film trope that needs to promptly end. Whether it’s Khan in Star Trek, Blofeld here, or countless other series that lie about who a given character is for a big reveal. It never works and ends up feeling flatter than if it had just been revealed from the jump.

Spectre suffers from a final act that just spins away. Bond and Blofeld’s connection and past relationship is a truly baffling and awful decision that feeds back into this film’s insistence on making everything connect. It also undoes some of the great work Skyfall had done in weaving together and diving into the youth and mythology of James Bond. 

It’s all the more unfortunate too because there are good elements of this movie to enjoy. Its pre-title sequence is a joy to watch. I particularly love its opening panorama through Mexico City and Bond just walking across rooftops. This is the first film since Casino Royale that has these moments of levity and lightness to them and it feels refreshing on the part of Craig to see him be able to smile. Of course, even here the film flashes some warning signs with the pre-title sequence ending on a bit of a let down for me with the helicopter fight sequence.

Dave Bautisa is fantastic as this wordless brutal henchman, a throwback to so many other great classic Bond sidekicks like Oddjob or Jaws. His fight with Bond in the train car obviously draws parallels with the Connery era Red Grant fight in From Russia with Love

Spectre wishes to evoke these memories and images of the classic era Bond films yet misses at least as much as it connects. Even the idea of Spectre is all just sort of a wash, as can be seen by this film’s follow up knocking out the entire organization in one fell swoop. 

The humor works but honestly isn’t given enough room to breathe. Madeleine Swann is supposed to be Tracy or Vesper, but is given no time to develop a genuine connection with Bond. I feel like Kara in The Living Daylights had a far more genuine and real connection with that Bond than what we get from Dr. Swann here. 

For a film that is the second longest Bond movie ever made, it seems absurd to suggest it doesn’t have enough time to just breathe and let things linger but it really doesn’t. The fact that Swann and Bond don’t even meet until late into the film and don’t make any sort of impression on the other until the train car sequence just leaves us no time to feel like a real bond is formed. Certainly not one that would lead to the two falling in love and exchanging “I love you”s. 

And that’s a shame because I actually like the idea of James turning in and finally getting to walk away with a woman he loves, I just wish there was more time to actually feel that connection and see it form; to see their love for each other. 

Andrew Scott as C is a disappointment and yet again confirms we don’t need multiple villains in Bond films. The movie has no clear idea of how to end his character arc so out the window he goes. 

Ralph Fiennes delivers a great performance and I love how exhausted and run down his M feels but also how true to this spy world he is. The safe house exchange between him and Bond is just great and his darkly smart understanding that Bond is actually more safe without any of their help is delivered well. 

This is a meandering film.. To borrow a phrase from the movie, it is a bit like a “kite dancing in a hurricane.” It is just constantly getting swept aside by the legacy and weight of the series, its own ideas, and with trying to keep pace with what Marvel is doing. 

Ultimately Spectre fails because it has very little original to say and all of its homages and references to Bond’s past feel hollow or overdone. Whereas Skyfall wears the James Bond legacy with a lightness and a deft touch, forging an essential chapter and statement on the character, Spectre feels heavily burdened by it. I almost would rather they had just tried to make a generic Bond film not trying to say anything larger about the character because there is a fun mid-level Bond film in the vein of Tomorrow Never Dies buried in this thing. Sadly, though, that’s not what we get. 

Spectre is the worst film of the post Roger Moore era of 007. Indeed in many ways it’s among the Bond movies I would least want to watch. It’s a slog with few moments that truly pop and shine. Its action sequences are fine but few and far between and, except for the Mexico City sequence and the train fight, they are rarely excellent. It’s just a disappointing film that gives Craig’s Bond a good send-off and farewell at its conclusion. His second good sendoff in fact. Sadly, it wouldn’t be allowed to last. 

Best Moments: 

I mean the Mexico City opening is really great stuff. The building collapse, Bond landing on the couch, the mixing of humor and action is all done great and in some ways, the film peaks here. 

The train fight between Bond and Bautista is also brutally great. A turning up to 11 of Connery’s Red Grant fight scene. While the intimacy and intency of that scene is lost some, this just has a balls to the wall fury to it and is a perfect showcase for Bautista.

Finally, while I do not like the last act, really at all, I do like the ending itself. With James and this new love driving off in the DB5 into the sunset together. Really wish this was Craig’s last movie. 

The Villain: 

Man, Daniel Craig suffers from a bit of the Roger Moore problem of just not having great villains I think. Le Chiffre is very good but also really only in like a 1/3rd of the film. Silva is an all-timer, but Greene is bland, Waltz as Blofeld is just…not good. Even Rami Malek will be very fine. Waltz’s Blofeld being the “author of all of James’ pain” is just dumb, saddled with a confused and blah backstory and for a man who spent 3 decades getting revenge on James. Not particularly clever. What a waste of an actor and character. 4/10

Q Lab: 

Movie’s got a real fun Bond car though. Love James having to slowly figure out on the fly what all the gadgets do. The smart blood thing is, like, whatever, just a way for the MI6 team to keep track of Bond. This movie’s gadget is the car and the car is pretty great.  8/10 

Final Review: 

Spectre feels like a movie made by committee, without any of the excitement, boldness, and care of Skyfall. Whereas that film sought to rebuild the idea of who and what James Bond is, helping to complete the job that Casino Royale had started of crafting a modern James Bond and delving into the character’s history and mythology in shockingly bold, innovative, and brilliant ways, Spectre is wedded to the past, unable to ever really move on. It feels like a film that had a checklist of references, homages, and Bond tropes it had to hit. 

In the film’s biggest break away from the series, the decision to have James let go of his anger, spare Blofeld, and decide to be with Dr. Swann succeeds. I just wish more of the movie could have been done in that vein. 

Spectre is just such a letdown from Skyfall and has none of that movie’s finesse. It also is docked points because it forces No Time to Die to clean up the Spectre organization mess for a third of its runtime.  Despite its efforts to craft an MCU story on top of Craig’s Bond it actually ends up feeling the least connected and most apart from the larger Daniel Craig Bond story. 5.5 / 10

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