Sam Mendes follows up the perfect Bond movie with an impressive but unremarkable new adventure.
Following a multitude of films self-proclaimedly parodying and homaging the 007 franchise (Kingsman, Spy and- let’s be honest- The Man from U.N.C.L.E. and Mission: Impossible 5 too), the latest 100% official legitimate real James Bond film is here! Yes, Spectre has arrived! We’ve seen it! …. Can we have the mediocre parodies back please? Naah… we’re only kidding. Spectre ain’t bad, but it’s indisputably a massive step backwards from the Bond-y perfection that was 2012’s Skyfall. Skyfall was the ultimate Bond movie: fast, sharp, slick and sexy; bearing as much emotional weight as delightful gravitas. It was, without a doubt, as good as Bond will ever get, and following it up was never going to be an easy task for director Sam Mendes. We should, if for nothing else, be thankful that Mendes has returned to Spectre. Without his wise and imaginative mind, it’s hard to imagine how poor this film could have been. Even with he and Skyfall‘s screenwriting team, plus composer Thomas Newman and cinematographer Hoyte van Hoytema- two of the most reliably brilliant talents in Hollywood right now- on board, Spectre suffers in comparison to its brilliant predecessor. Spectre tries to be Skyfall turned up to 11, but the speakers implode fairly early on, and the rest of the film has the unpleasant musk of an empty-shell project.
Daniel Craig, it is universally agreed-upon by now, is a very good James Bond. He has soul, he has subtle charisma and there’s a sinister edge to his handsomeness. Spectre‘s single greatest boast is in discovering the female counterpart to Craig’s Bond: Léa Seydoux’s Madeleine Swann. Spectre is the fifth Bond movie of the 21st century, but it’s the first to update the “Bond girl” role to anything close to what a 21st century female character should be. Madeleine is aggressive, independent and, most importantly, waits a few days to sleep with Bond. 007, the pesky rogue, who can’t keep his hands off any adult of the female variety, gets an amusingly peculiar “proper romantic storyline” with Madeleine, this being the basis for this film’s particular area of “Bond Soul-Searching” (if Skyfall was “Mortality”, Spectre is “Family”). Seemingly to balance out the surprisingly taste of Seydoux’s role, Monica Bellucci shows up in a thankless part: providing a snatch of exposition before- you guessed it- having sex with Bond. Naomie Harris’ Moneypenny and Ben Whishaw’s Q are relegated to exactly the generally-minor-but-momentarily-important roles one expected from their characters 40 years ago. Ralph Fiennes is New M. He sneers. Andrew Scott is an untrustworthy surveillance manager. He cackles. All is as it should be. Nothing is surprising, or particularly interesting.
What Spectre has in notably greater quantities than either Kingsman or Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation, two films with significantly more fun and originality up their sleeves, is flare, bombast and a sense of situational scale. The locations feel real, the sets feel big, and the film feels substantively superior as a result. The dream team of Mendes, van Hoytema and Newman create an atmosphere of suspense that few of their contemporaries- we’re looking at you, Chris McQuarrie- could equal, allowing Spectre room to breath amidst the endless product placement, glamour shots and tiresomely repetitive action scenes that “make a Bond film what it is”. Similarly to Skyfall, this adds an unexpected fourth act to the typical Hollywood three-act thriller structure, yet Spectre‘s last half-hour is combatively unwelcome: dull, predictable and not high-stakes enough to warrant the added running time. Much of the blame for the mess that is Spectre‘s third and fourth acts can be laid upon Christoph Waltz’s character, who may or may not be a famous character from the Bond archive. Waltz’s shtick has lost its charm, his grinning and over-annunciating now a nuisance. His character is set up throughout the film, yet he only appears 40 minutes before the end, and provides little in the way of dramatic heft or memorable villain-ing. Dave Bautista faces a similar problem as silent thug Mr. Hinx, and- in all honesty- should have been left on the cutting room floor.
Spectre is a fine film, on a par with Casino Royale, a Bond movie adored by all upon its release in 2006. However, since then we’ve seen the marvellous Skyfall, and- just like Ghost Protocol and The Avengers before it- there ain’t no going back from Skyfall. We’ll just have to live with the fact that the perfect Bond movie already exists, and everything else is on a slightly lower level of quality. In such a world, Spectre does its job just fine.