Starring: Daniel Craig, Christoph Waltz, Léa Seydoux, Ralph Fiennes, Monica Bellucci, Ben Whishaw, Naomie Harris, Andrew Scott, Rory Kinnear, Jasper Christensen, David Bautista | Screenplay by: John Logan, Neal Purvis, Robert Wade & Jez Butterworth | Directed by: Sam Mendes
I really wanted to like Spectre. Truly and sincerely.
Although now I understand why Daniel Craig was acting a bit salty.
The Sam Mendes-helmed actioner begins in spectacular fashion with an extravagant celebration of Dia de Los Muertos. Bond is tracked across the rooftops of Mexico City with submachine gun in tow, seeking out his unsanctioned target. The entire sequence culminates in a turbulent action sequence that prepares the audience for the awesomeness we’ve been anticipating since the first teaser dropped earlier this year.
…but that’s pretty much where the coolness ends.
Visually, Spectre is a marvel that sweeps us away to exotic locales and extensive set pieces the series is renown for utilizing. That aside, nothing and no one makes sense in this damn film. All the gunfights, car chases, aerial scenes, tech do-dads and lovemaking are but empty gestures, full of sound and fury signifying not a goddamn thing. If any of you are expecting Spectre to tie up any loose ends from the last three films during its impressive two hour and 30 minute run time, you’re out of luck because all it does is open a Pandora’s box of troubles.
Logan et al. did haphazardly write in a retcon to make the previous organization Quantum an arm of the larger, far more pernicious shadow consortium known as Spectre. Led by Waltz, Spectre is a collection of financiers, assassins, traffickers and other ill sort that recognize combining efforts is a far more efficient manner in taking over the world. Meanwhile, a man codenamed C (Andrew Scott) somehow managed to shut down MI6 and the 00 program, and coerces various intelligence agencies to approve an universal spynet that would make Edward Snowden permanently lose bowel control.
There’s so much going on at once, it feels like three films that have avalanched into an unstoppable mass and everyone – talent and audience alike – have no other choice but to ride it out. Given the enormous buildup that began in 2006 with the release of Casino Royale, Spectre should be a film that writes itself, effectively exposing the global criminal ring and leaves Bond bloodied yet triumphant.
Although few Bond films have ever gone outside their signature motif – big bad, Bond Girl, colorful henchman – the hiring of four screenwriters with powerful and distinct tones in their writing only created a quagmire that’s as stagnant as it is tedious.
From the beginning, Craig’s Bond was intended to give the franchise new life. With a grounded approach and back-to-basics design, audiences were treated to a secret agent who was still earning his stripes and learning the consequences of owning a license to kill. However, the more ambitious the storytelling became, the more formulaic and incomplete the outcome.
The Bond films have introduced an indelible standard for many cinephiles that’s existed for over 50 years. I’m unsure if its elevated the overall quality of studio films over the years, but one thing’s for certain: audiences expect to be thrilled with these productions. I liken the Bond franchise as an old world restaurant that’s renown for improving traditional recipes by continually infusing contemporary techniques and ingredients. After all, one begins to lose customers if they keep preparing the same meals for decades. People’s palates have only become more sophisticated over the generations, more discerning in differentiating cuisine from slop. For all the care and preparation put into this opening week, Spectre should be a five-course meal for the senses, the apex of the cinematic experience.
Instead, we’re fed stale cheesy biscuits and “freshly caught” microwaved shrimp scampi.
What’s so frustrating is the Craig series has been imbued with possibly the greatest collection of talent the franchise has ever received. The addition of Christoph Waltz was an absolute boon and somehow, someway, the man who is known for masterfully unleashing intensity in even the most minimal of scenes is left impotent in Spectre’s languishing pauses and missteps. Believe it or not, there were a few moments when it was difficult to watch Waltz as he simply sat in the shadows, 10 to 20 seconds at a time, without uttering a word. Mendes was likely attempting to convey the importance of Waltz’s Blofeld (and he is Blofeld, we all know that) among the throng of evildoers, but the spectacle ultimately falls flat.
Moreover, as pieces of the simplest puzzle in the world are eventually put together, we’re given a “gotcha moment” that was portended much earlier in the film. The discovery made by James appeared too ridiculous to be taken seriously, yet they went with it and it ruins absolutely everything that has been built the last decade. Thanks to this revelation, the motivations and actions of every lead character now appear marginalized to the point of absurdity.
During a particularly underwhelming car chase, Bond is conversing with Eve Moneypenny on his phone and overhears a man’s voice. Asking why a man is in her apartment, Eve curtly replies “It’s called a LIFE, James.” After viewing Spectre, I won’t be surprised if many movie-goers ask where theirs went in the last 150 minutes.
After years in attempting to restore the luster of MGM’s signature series, Spectre creates more questions and headaches than it provides answers. Despite the additions of Christoph Waltz and Andrew Scott, the film lumbers along with awkward pauses and mild exposition broken up by the occasional explosion or gunplay. In a sense, Spectre plays out like an epilogue to a story that didn’t necessarily need one; its convoluted inclusion into the franchise could potentially disrupt the progression for bringing in new blood (if Craig chooses not to return… but please take your time).
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