When Sam Mendes gave us the last James Bond film in 2012 with Skyfall, he set the bar very high. Of course, there have been many low bars set by this franchise (Die Another Day comes to mind), but in my opinion Skyfall is the greatest Bond achievement to date. So with this in mind I headed into my screening of Spectre repeating a mantra in my head: “This isn’t Skyfall, it won’t be Skyfall, forget about Skyfall.” And you know what? It definitely was not Skyfall.
Sam Mendes is back, Daniel Craig is obviously back, as well as new M, Ralph Fiennes, Naomie Harris’s Moneypenny, Ben Whishaw’s delightfully nerdy Q and Rory Kinnear marking his fourth appearance as the dutiful right hand man Tanner. Noticeably gone is director of photography extraordinaire Roger Deakins, instead replaced by Interstellar cinematographer Hoyte Van Hoytema and as good as he is, well, he’s no Deakins.
Spectre starts out with Bond roaming off the map from his MI6 duties, starting out in Mexico during the Day of the Dead parade. In a daring cold open, Bond interrupts a meeting between two men plotting to blow up a stadium. The resulting fight blows up the building they’re occupying, sending Bond in a foot race through the city, chasing the remaining man. The man eventually makes it to a helicopter where another fight ensues culminating with the man plunging to his death, not before Bond relinquishes him of his ring with an octopus insignia.
Now come one of my bigger issues with Spectre, the terrible and god awful theme song by Britain’s golden boy of the moment Sam Smith. His song “The Writing’s On The Wall” is not only a depressingly weak Bond theme but Sony decided that the advance screening audience needed to see the music video chock full of actual Spectre scenes peppered in throughout. Then we get to sit through the song again for the title sequence. I’d rather be tortured by a Bond villain, preferably Scaramanga with his superfluous third nipple.
After the dreadfulness is over Bond sits down for a meeting with M where he’s informed that he will be put on the bench, so to speak, for stirring up an international incident with his off the book activities. On the way out he is introduced to Max Denbigh (Andrew Scott, Sherlock’s Moriarty), the head of the Joint Intelligence Service. Leading the merging of MI5 and MI6, Denbigh (who Bond quickly nicknames “C”) is looking to create the “Nine Eyes” program, a co-operation agreement between nine countries for a global “Big Brother is watching” type crime prevention which will effectively make the “00” program obsolete.
Meanwhile, against orders Bond continues his secret mission which the former M gave him in a posthumous video she had recorded. With the solicited help from Moneypenny and Q, Bond treks across Europe to track down the shadowy organization that has been responsible for the events in his life since Casino Royale. This is where even more of this films problem arise for me.
It feels like a massive stretch of logic and circumstance to connect all of Bond’s villains from the last three films to one person, Christoph Waltz’s villain character but that’s exactly what Spectre aims to do. What’s worse is Waltz is pretty much absent from most of this film, getting a shadow filled monologue near the beginning of the film and then not appearing again until the third act. The nail in the coffin is the fact that he’s not really that strong of a presence when he is there, especially after Javier Bardem stole the show in Skyfall.
It also feels like Skyfall blew through all of writers John Logan, Neil Purvis and Robert Wade’s great ideas, so it was time to head back to the well of James Bond and start introducing the more iconic tropes of what makes Bond. Unfortunately, for all of Spectre’s attempts to make these work they just don’t. It ends up leaving the film looking a bit like it’s grasping at straws and kind of bloats up the run time.
The positive thing about Spectre is the film is still good enough not to plunge the franchise into a questionable depth like Lee Tamahori’s Die Another Day. Bond will still live to fight for another film, though we don’t know whose eye it will be under or if Craig will still be attached. There’s still things I enjoyed out of the movie, there are a couple fun action sequences, Lea Seydoux is a gorgeous Bond girl and Ralph Fiennes really seems to relish this M role but it wasn’t enough to elevate this film beyond being an OK at best. I sadly give Spectre a three out of five.