Scott F. Evans
There seems to be a fourth entry curse on the 007 franchise. Four actors have played the super spy at least four times. Each fourth outing is problematic as that fourth film usually follows a highly successful third entry. Sean Connery’s Thunderball, bowing in 1965, set the standard with that film working overtime to top Goldfinger, released the previous year. Thunderball is good, but at 130 minutes, this is where we get that “Bond Bloat”. 1979’s Moonraker, Roger Moore’s fourth, follows his series best The Spy Who Loved Me, released in 1977. Mooonraker, while enjoyable, really pushes your disbelief by ending with a Star Wars inspired laser gunfight on a space station. In 1999, The World Is Not Enough was released. Like most of the Pierce Brosnan films, it’s at best, a mixed bag. Producers decided to “fix” the problem by following it up in 2002 with Die Another Day. It’s telling that this film ended the Brosnan era and recast the lead. 2012’s Skyfall is considered by many, especially if box office is any indication, to be the best James Bond film ever made. It was Daniel Craig’s third outing as the iconic character.
The Sam Mendes directed Skyfall was a resounding success, bringing in over a billion dollars worldwide as well as garnering critical acclaim. In response, franchise producers Eon Productions lured most of that film’s creative team back for Spectre, the 24th Bond film. Mendes, Craig, and the writing team of Neal Purvis, John Logan and Robert Wade are all back with Jez Butterworth being added to the writing team. Eon also doubled the budget of Skyfall, making the rumored 300 million dollar Spectre one of the most expensive films ever made.
The money’s all up there on the screen. Spectre has an abundance of exotic international locations, grandiose sets, designer wardrobes, spectacular stunts and explosive effects. That’s not the problem. Spectre’s problem begins and ends with the story. In a nutshell, the writers, for some wrongheaded reason, are trying to connect every thread from all three of the Craig films. Every adventure that this Bond has gone on since Casino Royale is tied into a vast terrorist network called Spectre. That’s fine as a comic book storytelling device. MI-6 needed an evil organization to fight, I suppose. But it makes everything that has happened since Craig rebooted Bond feel too small and personal. Instead of a British secret agent fighting tirelessly against various international dark forces, now Bond feels like a cop fighting crime in a medium sized city. And it doesn’t help that Spectre has a superfluous midpoint twist that only makes Bond’s world even tinier.
And it’s Spectre’s story problems that cause the film to run out of gas a little more than halfway through. There’s a showstopping fight on a train between Bond and Dave Bautista’s main henchman Mr. Hinx that should’ve been the climax. It’s the best action bit in the entire film and stands up next to the parkour chase in Casino Royale. But Mendes and company decide to keep Spectre limping along for almost another hour delivering not one, but two tedious shootouts that end with massive explosions. One of the shootouts is so lazily executed that it’s literally Bond walking directly at a small team of Spectre thugs and calmly shooting every one of them with monotonous accuracy. It’s the most half-assed action scene I’ve seen in a mega-budgeted feature film since the climactic shootout in The Dark Knight Rises.
Mendes’ direction is solid for the first hour and change. He starts the film with a beautiful tracking shot that seems to go on uninterrupted for almost five minutes. There’s an exciting sequence on an out of control helicopter and the aforementioned train fight is exceptional. Mendes also gets good performances from most of his cast, but he’s unable to pull it all together. Again, I can only blame the half-baked script.
Cinematographer Hoyte van Hoytema, while no Roger Deakins, still delivers some satisfying work. Compared to Skyfall, Hoytema’s work is almost pedestrian. There’s a lengthy film vs digital argument being had in Hollywood right now. Traditionalists still prefer film, arguing that video is just unable to capture images the way film does. Well, add the latest Bond film to the pro-video argument. Spectre was shot on 35mm film but the visuals are nowhere near as beautiful as the digital imagery from Skyfall.
Daniel Craig is solid in what may be his final appearance as 007. He’s contracted for one more, but the role has taken a toll on the actor. His Bond has been more rugged and physically demanding than previous takes so it’s understandable that he may be ready to retire from Her Majesty’s Secret Service.
Leya Seydoux plays the female lead Madeleine Swann. She’s serviceable. It’s not that Seydoux is bad in the role, it’s just that she looks too young for Craig and the two have zero screen chemistry. This is a serious problem because the story wants you to believe that Swann might be Bond’s true love. Suffice to say it doesn’t work at all as the two actors actually look bored with one another.
Spectre introduces us to Bond’s latest arch villain Franz Oberhauser. Christoph Waltz is terribly miscast in the role. Oberhauser is the head of this huge, sinister organization and Waltz plays him like the CEO of a candy company. He’s too lightweight for the part. He’s not intimidating physically or mentally and you wonder if he just bought his way to the top of Spectre because he certainly couldn’t have earned the title.
Naomie Harris, so great as the re-imagined Moneypenny in Skyfall, is reduced to little more than an extended cameo in this one. Instead, Spectre decides to give the much less interesting Ben Whishaw’s Q more screentime. The story struggles to find reasons to get him out of his lab and into the field. With his foppish hair and comically fastidious ways, he feels like an awkward response to Simon Peggs’ Benji Dunn in the Mission Impossible series.
If you’re a Bond completist, go see Spectre. It’s fairly entertaining for at least half of its overlong run-time, so catch a matinee or on discount night. If you’re more of a casual fan, pop in Skyfall and wait for Bond 25.