Directed by Sam Mendes
Starring Daniel Craig, Lea Seydoux, and Christoph Waltz
A Ghost of Its Former Self
When Skyfall was finally released in 2012, many Bond fans including myself were blown away. Not only did the action thriller continue to show a more raw and vulnerable spy than ever before, but it had been directed by a man who had barely shot an action scene in his life. I stand by my statement at the time, naming Skyfall the best Bond film only behind From Russia with Love. With that in mind, Spectre had a great deal to live up to. Not only was it following one of the best entries in the franchise but it had to move on from Bond’s interesting relationship with Judi Dench’s M. Unfortunately, Spectre does not overcome its grand predecessor, and while certainly fun, it leaves much to be desired.
Daniel Craig is back as the titular Bond, recovering from his failure to protect M in the previous film. Now he is off to confront a mysterious force from his past that is somehow connected to his previous adventures. At least, that’s what Spectre tries to make us believe. While the Craig series of Bond films have kept a faint line of continuity throughout, the way this entry tries to tie them all together feels haphazardly rushed and a little too convenient. Without spoiling too much, all of the previous villains from the previous films are somehow connected to the mysterious Spectre organization (despite that being the exact plot from the dreadful Quantum of Solace) and finally James has reached their center. The plot is interesting, but the final connections that it makes with previous films never feels fleshed out enough.
Craig himself works fine with what he is given this time around in a role that he could perform in his sleep by now. Perhaps it is because of this that he was found in an interview saying that Spectre would be his final go around as James Bond. That being said, he still pulls off the dynamic, rough sociopath Bond that he has become so successful with. He is as suave as can be until he isn’t and moves to drastic measures to get what he wants. There is one particularly interesting scene with Craig and Monica Bellucci (who set a record as the oldest Bond girl to traverse the screen as she’s actually older than Craig, so props to her) where he starts off playing the seductive Bond as per usual but his advances are denied. Bond suddenly drops his normal icy cool attitude and gets shockingly violent in order to get the information that he needs. If you thought that shower scene from Skyfall could have possibly constituted as rape then just wait till you see this. Of course, that’s not to say his swagger is lacking; Craig is the best to pull off the tux look since the legendary Sean Connery and always has a commanding air about him when he is at his smoothest.
When it was announced that the incredibly talented Christoph Waltz would be playing a Bond villain, I nearly peed myself with joy. To date, I do not think I have ever seen a better bad guy performance than his in Inglorious Bastards (sorry Silence of the Lamb fans). And yet, his villain feels lacking. Partly due to his lack of material and shockingly limited time on screen, Waltz never possesses the gravitas that Javier Bardem’s Silva did. He still brings that creepy childlike joy look at the thought of killing his enemies slowly and methodically but we are never really made to understand why. He has a past with Bond (again, overly convenient) which at the very least explains why he has apparently been behind most of Bond’s troubles but the only real explanation we are given as to why he has gone to such great lengths is “just trust us, he’s crazy.” That can be enough for some movie villains but a Bond villain played by such a dynamic actor can, and should be given more to go on.
Lea Seydoux is something of a revelation as a Bond girl. She does not instantly fall into his arms. She is not taken by his charm and barrage of advances. Much like Eva Green’s Vesper, she confronts Bond. She questions his actions and berates him for his obviously frivolous feelings towards women. She even kicks some serious ass when Bond is out for the count, particularly in one scene featuring Dave Bautista. Speaking of which, Bautista’s Mr. Hinx is downright terrifying. While he literally says no more than ten words for the entire film, his brute physicality he got from his old professional wrestling days is a definite force to be reckoned with when he goes toe to toe with Bond. He’s no Oddjob but he is definitely up there and makes a decidedly large impact in the movie world of good henchmen.
Spectre decided to bring Bond back to his classic roots a little bit by giving him the standard gadgets, car, and obvious drinking problem from previous iterations. This in turn makes the action a bit more fun, if campy at the same time. Punches contact with brutal force thanks to some expert editing and sound design and broken bones definitely look broken. The film does tend to follow a bit of a typical spy formula by beating up a bad guy, saving the girl, and then driving off in a gorgeous car, but to director Sam Mendes’s credit, it never feels too overdone. Sadly, there are no artistically shot scenes here like in Skyfall (that skyscraper duel scene though…) and the exotic locations change so often that they rarely feel entirely realized saved for the impressive opening sequence in Mexico City. Side note, Spectre does possess the greatest opening sequence and title credits of a Bond film to date, so at least it has that under its belt. An impressive one shot following Bond through the delightfully macabre streets of Mexico City during El Día de Muertes is easily one of the best shots of this year and later possesses some of the best action in the film including, but not limited to a barrel rolling helicopter. The pure adrenaline you feel from these first few minutes easily warrants seeing the film on big screen.
It’s not perfect, but it’s pretty damn fun. All the things Bond lovers want is here; cars, gadgets, action, Vesper martinis, Bond girls, you name it. I know that this review got super long but that’s just because I love the franchise and have been a huge fan of the Craig legacy. If this really is the last entry for him and Sam Mendes, they could have definitely left on a much worse note. You may not being the same sense of shock and awe as you did from Skyfall, but just because it can’t beat it’s big brother doesn’t mean that you should not go see it. A 7 out of 10.