by Justin Madore
From the December 2015 IssueIn 2012, director Sam Mendes did the impossible for the 23rd entry in one of cinema’s most iconic franchises. With Skyfall, he proved that interesting and innovative stories could be told in the Bond universe, beautifully presenting a surprisingly human narrative with the perfect mixture of action, humor and nostalgia. Immediately heralded as a classic Bond movie, it put Daniel Craig on a pedestal that only Sean Connery had stood on before.
Following this massive achievement, the newest iteration in the Bond franchise had a lot to prove. With Mendes back to direct, Spectre chooses to ignore the serialized past of the series and continue the story of Craig’s Bond. MI6 is in shambles at the beginning of the film. A new government agency aims to unify the world’s intelligence and utilize the technology of the era, turning to digital surveillance and effectively killing the Double O program. Bond, sensing danger, has started operating beyond his jurisdiction, hunting secrets exposed in the aftermath of his battle with Silva. In typical Bond fashion, Spectre opens with an incredible sequence taking place in Mexico City during the Day of the Dead celebration, with everyone decorated skeleton costumes. From the atmosphere of mystery to the epic helicopter fight, it tops the excitement of the previous entry’s opening in spades. Unfortunately, nothing else in the film ever seems to come close to topping it.
Spectre is classic Bond in the worst ways possible. While it continues the story of Craig’s Bond, it never quite feels like the other films of Craig’s tenure. The franchise has been moving towards a darker, more realistic narrative, but Spectre is campy, light and, occasionally doesn’t make sense. Bond makes huge leaps of logic that somehow work out in the end and physics just happen to accommodate his needs most of the time. It’s humorous how often coincidence works in his favor. It’s also decidedly old school in its portrayal of the “Bond Girl.” Léa Seydoux, while crucial to the story, is surprisingly reminiscent of Agent Kensington from the Austin Powers series, which parodied the very nature of the role she’s in. As a love interest, she makes no sense. She goes from repulsed by Bond to in love with him with almost no middle ground. It feels like a huge step back from Skyfall, which arguably lacked a character that fit the “Bond Girl” mold.
It’s not all bad, though, because classic Bond also has serious style. There’s a myriad of cool gadgets on display here, from exploding wrist watches to double barrel pistols. Bond also crashes his fair share of exquisite cars while wearing expensive suits and fighting enemies with his usual finesse. There’s also two dangerous new bond villains for him to best: Dave Bautista’s hulking Mr. Hinx (think the Mountain from Game of Thrones) and Christoph Waltz’s shadowy Franz Oberhauser. Oddly, Hinx ultimately overshadows Oberhauser, who turns out to be underwhelming. Waltz is incredibly underutilized in a role seemingly meant for him. The man known for giving us the haunting Hans Landa from Inglourious Basterds struggles to conjure up any of the same fear with a script that does a poor job of explaining his motivations.
However, the script manages to admirably build off the events of the last three films to craft one with a real sense of finality. Spectre takes their unanswered questions and nicely wraps them up in one grand narrative. The problem is that the stories of those movies ultimately overshadow Spectre. It’s like Mendes and company are insistent on constantly reminding you that there are better movies in this franchise you could be watching.
One thing Spectre doesn’t skimp on is action and when that element takes center stage (which is frequently), it’s glorious. Just as the opening sequence sets the bar high, the rest of the action mostly maintains that level of intensity. It’s full of fist fights and explosions, all captured beautifully by cinematographer Hoyte van Hoytema, who seamlessly matches Roger Deakins’ impressive camera work from Skyfall. From claustrophobic traincar fist fights to sprawling chases down snowy mountains, the choreography is fast paced and top notch, rivaling other action movie classics. When the shit isn’t hitting the fan, it just feels like the film is buying extra minutes in between set pieces, drawing the runtime out too long in the process.
Spectre’s problems are a product of the franchise’s past. The idea to draw on the events on the last three Bond films is more interesting in premise than in execution. Coming off Skyfall, Spectre pales in comparison, carrying none of the danger or emotional weight of its predecessor. Instead, Bond is given back his superpowers. Still, as a straight up action film, it’s a step above the rest. For those seeking more classic Bond thrills, Spectre is undoubtedly satisfying. But if you’re looking for a worthy successor to Skyfall, you won’t find it here.
3 out of 5 stars