James Bond is in a constant need to prove he’s still hip, current, and not obsolete. It’s not like anyone ever really thought that he was. But nonetheless, he has to prove to everyone that he isn’t. He’s already proved it to people who love poker, people who like deserts and shitty action sequences, and then people who love Javier Bardem chewing scenery and gay overtones in the relationship between Bardem’s Silva and Daniel Craig’s Bond. Now Bond is back to prove that once and for all, he’s with it, but now he has to tell it to Christoph Waltz and an unsubtle version of the NSA.
Spectre begins with another bang of an opening scene during the Day of the Dead parade. It takes place in what looks to be one shot, up to a point until we turn into an all out action sequence that ends in a flipping helicopter. Director Sam Mendes seems capable enough to know what Bond fans want out of their movies, he did direct 2012’s Skyfall, what was another rejuvenating kick after the atrocity that was Marc Forster’s Bond entry Quantum of Solace. Forster decided to mimic the Bourne franchise and Mendes was able to bring Bond back to what made Craig’s first entry as Bond in Casino Royale. So what happens after this sequence makes so little sense, Mendes takes all the bite out of Bond.
Now I haven’t given a rewatch to Skyfall since I last saw it in theatres, but there is a notable jump in narrative quality between the two. The action is still well shot. As I noted above, the opening scene features a superb set-piece in a helicopter, there is another great fight sequence in a train that noticeably rips off the Connery-era From Russia With Love, but it doesn’t take away from the excellence in the choreography and framing of the shots. That’s it, though. There are almost zero exciting action sequences left in the film. Spectre manages to create one of the most boring car chase sequences in recent memory. You’d think a chase sequence involving two extremely fast super-cars wouldn’t look like two drivers driving slowly, trying to show off to the seeming lack of pedestrians in the middle of a beautiful city, but it does. The end sequence of this film should have been explosive (I don’t exactly mean literally, but in that sense, it is), but instead we’re left with an uninspired chase through London.
The underlying problem with Spectre is how uninspired the narrative is. The technical beauty is still apparent within the films. Between Lee Smith, Chris Corbould, and Hoyte Van Hoytema, Sam Mendes manages to steal important crew members from Christopher Nolan’s latest masterpiece, 2014’s Interstellar, and it shows how great they all work together. The craftsmanship is never doubted throughout the entire movie, and after losing Roger Deakins, who shot Skyfall, we all had reason to believe it wouldn’t look as good, but it manages to, at least, meet those expectations. What should have been initially worrisome was the fact that there are four different screenwriters. Sure, each of the previous Bond films in the Daniel Craig era were written by three people, but it starts to get scary when there’s that many people present trying to make this character interesting. The last three Bond movies have stressed to us, how important 007’s past is to the ongoing story in these films, and it continues to do so here, but we’re left without anything else to hold onto. The movie holds on to dangling threads of the plot and without something to completely understand, we as an audience, let go.
Looking past the narrative issues, I must say how good Daniel Craig is at consistently portraying a broken man that’s at his best on these types of missions. Craig carries himself in such a brutish manner as Bond, that he feels lived in. Lea Seydoux is very good at imbuing what would be a boring Bond girl into something more, but what else can we expect from an actress on her level. Christoph Waltz is solid as always, but I feel along with Andrew Scott, is too noticeable as an obvious villainous character based on previous performances, that it’s too distracting from the rest of the film. It isn’t like Spectre is trying to hide the fact that Waltz is the central baddie, unlike Scott, but it takes away from his menace.
And I can’t forget Dave Bautista, one of the breakout stars of Guardians of the Galaxy, as the main henchman, Mr Hinx. Bautista is a violent force of nature in the film without portraying his character as really ever losing his cool. It takes a lot to do that, but it takes even more to do it with very few words of dialogue. While his car chase with Bond may not have many stakes, he can’t be faulted for that, but he is one of the many reasons why that train sequence works. His strength and further physicality push his performance to another place entirely. He may be the minor baddie to beat within the last fifteen years of Bond films.
I don’t want to call Spectre tragic. The 24th Bond film still has the attitude that made Casino Royale and Skyfall so entertaining, but it lacks the intensity and great action sequences. There is a lack of imagination here and that’s a damn shame. I really hope this isn’t Craig’s last Bond film. He is still a truly fascinating version of the iconic character and one that deserves a better film than this. Then again, this could be Quantum of Solace.