Starring: Daniel Craig, Christoph Waltz, Ralph Fiennes
While on an unorthodox mission, James Bond (Craig), discovers a cryptic clue that links to a sinister organisation. While M (Fiennes) battles extreme political pressure to keep the secret service going, Bond goes off the grid to uncover the dark truth behind the organisation known as SPECTRE and its unique links to his own past.
So after all the usual extreme hype and every other advert on TV seemingly being Bond themed, the wait is over for the release of the latest instalment, and despite him saying he would not return, Sam Mendes is once again at the helm. However can he recreate what made Skyfall such a success and what was, in my opinion, the best Bond film since Brosnan’s earlier outings?
Well, my answer to that would simply be a resounding ‘no’; the returning Mendes immediately sets the bar high with a superbly put together opening sequence all done in one single take (until the first bullet is fired) but after that is often all downhill from there. While there is most certainly plenty of enjoyment and thrills to be had from Spectre, its bloated running time and lacklustre storytelling certainly not only make it quite an effort to watch at times, but also highly forgettable.
The narrative sends Bond to a vast array of global locations, and though the varying geography of these locations certainly enhances the film’s visual spectacle, they do make the thing feel extremely episodic. This is especially the case as the plotting not only lacks discipline where the film could have easily been half an hour shorter, but also the extremely clumsy storytelling.
There are constant references to the previous three Craig films and there are continuous attempts to link those and Spectre together, and though this is a great idea in concept the execution is annoyingly lazy and feels way too forced. The fact we are constantly reminded of the supposed link of Spectre to these films not only helps to show up the clumsy storytelling but it gets irritatingly repetitive. This is a real shame as if done well, or indeed underplayed a little more, this could have made for a deeply enthralling film with serious emotional payoff. However the script by Neil Purvis, John Logan, Robert Wade and Jez Butterworth just never comes close to capitalising on this, or any of the elements that give it such great potential, making its failure to so all the more disappointing.
This lazy plotting also unfortunately leads to the main villain of the piece being highly forgettable with a motivation behind his actions that simply feels like a childish grudge. Compelling antagonists are in my view one of the most important (and of course one of the most difficult to get right) elements of a great action blockbuster, and the portrayal of Waltz’s character is very poorly written. This is also not helped by the supposed ‘twists’ and ‘revelations’ being built up so much that it actually makes them even more obvious and at time verges on clichéd and laughable parody. This of course could work, and Bond has always been about having a little bit of tongue in its cheek, and there are some entertaining nods to previous Bond films (especially a fight scene in a train (Live and Let Die), but these are moments when the film takes itself seriously and the delivery is sometimes misguided. In the few scenes he does get Christoph Waltz is wonderfully menacing, but his character is just so poorly written that it is a real waste of his obvious talent and potentially note perfect casting as real classic Bond Villain.
Without revealing too much, a far more interesting antagonist is Andrew Scott’s Max Denbigh (or known as ‘C’ in one of the film’s long running jokes). The always excellent Scott delivers his performance with obvious relish, but is again underused. In fact in between repetitive scenes of Bond charming women and blowing things up, back in London the whole subplot involving Denbigh, Ralph Fienne’s M and the future of the secret service is far more interesting and engaging than Spectre’s main plot. A huge part of me wishes this was the plot of the actual film.
It is just a shame more is not done with this plot as Fiennes gives a predictably excellent performance as M and the scenes he shares with Scott as they try out-thesp one another provide superbly electrifying viewing.
As for the two ‘Bond girls’, though their characters are both crucial to the plot and Monica Bellucci and Léa Seydoux give as good performances as they can, they are also very forgettable and there at the convenient mercy of the narrative. Though Skyfall was vastly superior to Spectre in pretty much every way, the one similarity is that Ben Whishaw once again steals every scene he is in as Q. While Dave Bautista follows up his excellent performance in Guardians of the Galaxy to produce a performance of magnetic screen presence in what is essentially an extremely generic character, in one expression (his character only has one line) he gives the genuine menace the actual script fails to ever bring.
Then there is of course the performance of 007 himself; because of all the comments in which Craig would apparently “rather slit his wrists than play Bond again” (no matter what the actual context) it is genuinely impossible to judge his performance fairly after all of this. He is certainly more than adequate in this film and once again most definitely looks the part, and for me the script fails to utilise his ability at comic timing. Craig has the talent to deliver great comic lines while convincing as a cold blooded killer, and there are too few moments where he gets to flex his comic muscles. I am of course not asking for Roger Moore style cheese, but it is yet more potential wasted. Ultimately a Bond film should be fun first and foremost, and Spectre often really is not.
The action sequences themselves are of course, due to their expense, well-staged; once the aforementioned opening sequence moves to the confines of a helicopter flying over Mexico City it feels genuinely dizzying and vertigo inducing, but after that other action sequences feel a little tiresome, especially the film’s finale, which lacks any real tension whatsoever. After Skyfall the demand for Mendes to return felt like a global campaign, well Spectre has proved that lightning does most certainly not strike twice!
The only thing particularly definitive to come out of the lazy plotting is to confirm that Spectre should not only be the last film for Daniel Craig’s bond, but the most successful franchise in cinema history is in need of a serious rethink. For the record; this is still the second best Daniel Craig Bond film in my view!
Despite the potential being there for this being the very best of the Daniel Craig era, Spectre is let down severely by lazy, complacent and ill-disciplined plotting to make for a watchable, but highly forgettable extreme waste of serious potential.