“Spectre” opens with an extended take that cranes down over a crowd of people embellished in Day of the Dead ceremony to single out a masked James Bond in the crowd. The camera follows him into a hotel, an elevator, and then a bedroom; he flings a woman onto the bed, changes swiftly into a perfectly tailored suit, and climbs out the window to walk along the rooftops of Mexico City and perform an assassination while the parade continues below.
The amazing single shot is like nothing else ever seen in the franchise and makes for a gorgeous, foreboding, and incredibly tense sequence that has you on the edge of your seat. It’s the single greatest shot in Bond film history, and it sets extremely high expectations for the duration of the film. It’s almost unfair to ask it to live up to them.
I don’t remember ever feeling more excited for a Bond film than I was for “Spectre.” After finally gaining the rights to bring back the menacing criminal organization from the Connery era, the film was bound to be a compelling origin story for the organization and its mastermind, and provide Craig’s Bond with his first real mission. Instead, the film feels like a rehashed attempt at trying to bring together what worked so well in “Casino Royale” and “Skyfall” along with the vibe of one of Moore’s 70s installments; only for Craig, the jokes aren’t the problem. It’s the story.
After the pre-titles sequence, we have the title sequence, to the tune of Sam Smith’s somber pop ballad “The Writing’s on the Wall.” It’s a song that doesn’t quite tick with the feeling of Bond, whose themes have always been influenced by rock and jazz. Bond isn’t meant to be wretched or despairing. He is poised and confident. The sequence is built around octopus imagery, with tentacles weaving their way around a shirtless Craig and scenes of the upcoming movie. The whole thing is unintentionally ridiculous, but things only get stranger from there.
After the titles, we fall into a linear narrative of twists and deus ex machinas to further advance the plot. Bond goes from location to location on a trail of breadcrumbs in his attempt to uncover the shadowy organization known as Spectre. The locations are beautiful and provide the perfect settings for Bond to take on Spectre, but ultimately each location provides just more easy escapes and name mentioning to keep Bond on the tracks of Blofeld. The film sadly doesn’t spend much time exploring how Quantum dissolved or what its purpose was as a precursor to Spectre. That should have been an integral part in linking Craig’s outings together.
Craig is fantastic as Bond, turning in his most classic Bond performance. One of the most exciting things about the Craig era has been watching Bond grow into the character we knew and loved prior to “Casino Royale.” The supporting cast turn in good performances as well, but many of their characters are far from interesting. Dave Bautista plays Hinx, an intriguing throwback to a classic henchman, yet he doesn’t have a single line in the film. His body mass and stoicism are intimidating in their own right, but they don’t make him into a memorable character. The Bond girls are the most underwhelming of the Craig era. Monica Bellucci is completely wasted in her role, and her character is especially weak for this day and age. It would have been nice to have seen such a talented actress do more than simply provide Bond with some short-lasting intimacy and the next clue to continue his mission. I’m not sure that I believe that she would be so willing to lay down with Bond shortly following her husband’s funeral.
Later on we are introduced to Madeleine, played by Lea Seydoux. Her character was touted to be revolutionary, yet the direction of her role feels completely forced and unnecessary. Her relationship with Bond starts off cold and interesting, but grows into an unbelievably contrived romance that feels totally out of place. Is it possible to fall in love with someone in just a matter of days? To suggest that Bond would fall for yet another woman when previous entanglements all ended in tragedy is absurd. Not only is the writing reminiscent of something George Lucas would pen, but Bond and Madeleine also never really exude any sort of special chemistry throughout the course of the film. Instead of propping up feminism by attacking Bond’s misogyny, the writers should have simply written Madeleine to be a strong, one-off character and a paramount force in the plot.
The subplot in “Spectre” is carried on from “Skyfall.” The 00 program is under scrutiny, and the heads of MI6 intelligence are up against the bureaucracy of full government surveillance. This idea has also been featured in other (recent) spy films, making it feel like a bit of a cliché at this point. It’s also handled quite incuriously, and feels more like a distraction from the weak screenplay than something to be truly invested in.
The most inexcusable problem with this film becomes apparent at the end of the second act. Christoph Waltz is an amazing actor, and he could have portrayed the greatest incarnation of Blofeld yet. Sadly, Waltz brings nothing new to the role, and his limited screen time is taken up by shallow menace and pointless monologuing. “The author of all your pain.” It’s a cool line, but seriously far-fetched. It would have been more interesting had Blofeld explained the origins of his own organization. How did he become the mastermind behind it? What is Spectre’s true mission? His monologuing continues into a most odd torture sequence, where Blofeld begins drilling into Bond’s skull to continue to cause him pain and deprive him of his identity. Not only does it feel completely out of place, but it’s during this sequence that one of the most ludicrous twists in cinema history is revealed.
Franz Oberhauser is Blofeld. That was obvious since before the film was released, but the marketing team must have really wanted to market “Spectre” with the same strategy as “Star Trek: Into Darkness.” What no one was expecting was for Blofeld to end up having familial ties to Bond. Neal Purvis and Robert Wade have made some mistakes in their lives (i.e. “Die Another Day” and “Quantum of Solace”). This, however, was not only completely idiotic but totally diminished Blofeld’s character from a vile criminal mastermind to a foster brother trying to get over childhood jealousy.
Then comes the ludicrous third act, where Blofeld is supposed to climax the pain he has caused Bond by locking up his damsel in distress in a building rigged to blow. It’s a terrible cliche. What’s even more ridiculous are the pictures of people from Bond’s past pasted up on the walls of the building as Bond seeks out Blofeld. So, as I am to take it, Blofeld’s master plan is to stop by Office Depot, print out pictures of Bond, M, Le Chiffre, Vesper, and Silva, paste them on the wall to continue torturing Bond, and then wait in a bullet proof glass chamber that leads to his helicopter? It’s utterly ridiculous. What’s even worse is the final few scenes, in which Bond decides to spare Blofeld and walks away from the action holding hands with Madeleine. I felt physically ill.
There are other things about “Spectre” besides its writing that make it a dull watch. The cinematography has a brown tinge that gives the film a depressive vibe; a far contrast from the gorgeous cinematography produced by Roger Deakins in “Skyfall.” And Bond should have held Thomas Newman at gunpoint until he produced an original score, instead of recycling the same song repeatedly from “Skyfall.” The attempt at turning the Craig era of Bond films into a Marvel cinematic universe was pathetic. Trying to put one man behind everything that has happened in previous films seriously diminishes the other villains, which were far more interesting. The sad fact is, “Spectre” was all about outdoing “Skyfall,” and it failed miserably because of that. If anything, they should have gone for less and built up tension for Craig’s final installment. For $250 million, you’d think they could have at least had a decent script.