I think a lot of people are going to like Spectre. It’s easily the most typical Bond picture that’s been done during Daniel Craig’s tenure, and I feel that most audiences will enjoy the film’s accessible nature as far as its tone and structure are concerned. It is filled with plenty of Bond staples and will satisfy anyone who has been longing for the franchise to return to form.
I am not one of those people.
Casino Royale was one of the best reboots of a character/franchise ever, and it put forth a James Bond that felt brand new and energized. By the time Spectre was over, Craig’s Bond felt old hat and exhausted. None of Craig’s signature abrasiveness is left in this film, and it feels like you could stick almost any Bond actor into this movie and it wouldn’t make an enormous difference. Spectre is that plug-and-play of a film.
Maybe “checklist” is a better way to describe Spectre. After crafting a series of films that, regardless of their individual merits or faults, felt like it was really trying to do different things with the character and world, Spectre feels like the filmmakers were given a list of necessary items they had to put into the movie. Again, some people may find these Bond staples enjoyable but it’d be for purely nostalgic reasons. There’s little to no substance to any of it in Spectre, and that makes all the action and intrigue completely lifeless.
Sadly, the return of Sam Mendes only exacerbates this problem. Where Quantum of Solace was an overly enthusiastic mess thanks to its director, Spectre‘s boredom is only enhanced by Mendes’ pristine direction. There’s this vapid aura that permeates nearly every moment in the film, and that emptiness only grows as the film trudges along to what might be one of the most sleep-inducing climaxes of the year. I was actually feeling drowsy during the last fifteen minutes or so of Spectre.
Maybe that’s because almost the entire cast is sleepwalking through this picture. The amount of Ambien being used between Craig and newcomer Léa Seydoux must account for a fifth of the film’s budget. It doesn’t help that the rest of our hero cast (M, Q, and Moneypenny) are utterly wasted in this flick. Ralph Fiennes’ M gets one moment of badassery, but its played in the same comatose manner as the rest of the film.
The biggest squandering by far is Christoph Waltz as Blofeld. Yes, I’m not considering his identity a spoiler because I refuse to play the game that movie marketing teams and actors have been playing with us for the past couple of years. After the dumbassery of Star Trek Into Darkness‘ Khan (and to a lesser extent Talia al Ghul in The Dark Knight Rises), I’m through tiptoeing around such obviousness, especially when these supposed big character reveals are in service of stupid iterations of said characters. Spectre‘s version of Blofeld is dumb. He’s given a cartoonish level of menace that backfires and becomes unintentionally humorous (especially in contrast to the seriousness of his evil doings), and he falls victim to everyone’s favorite writing trope, Everything is Connected. That’s probably the most heinous crime Spectre commits: it retroactively tarnishes the previous three Daniel Craig films by saying, “It was me all along!” Some may not find it quite as sacrilegious, but it’s the exact same storytelling mindset that led to Anakin Skywalker building C-3PO. So I bet you can guess where Blofeld gets his trademark facial scar in this flick? That’s right! It was James Bond’s fault! Blech.
This is my biggest gripe when it comes to Spectre: it wants to have its cake and eat it too. It wants to be a throwback to the more breezy Roger Moore type Bond adventures (I’ll give the film this: Dave Bautista’s henchman is the one Bond returning trope that works okay) but also capitalize on the ongoing story that the Craig era films have been cultivating. It attempts to please everybody (including the most broad appeal humor of any of Craig’s films, and it all falls flat) and ends up pleasing nobody.
And the worst thing about this whole endeavor? Spectre is clearly made to work as a sendoff for Daniel Craig. What a miserable and depressing way to possibly end his reign as James Bond. I really hope he comes back for one more outing (the opportunity is there. The film’s ending isn’t as final as it could have been) because Spectre is an immense bummer. It’s a soulless piece of obligatory cinema that undercuts everything that made Craig’s run with the character unique.
But, my audience seemed to really dig it. Even more than Skyfall (which still had some edge to it), Spectre is made for the most casual of film audiences. Its easy target humor and “that’ll do” action will bring a smile to the most non-discerning of viewers, but for those of us who have been digging the new direction that the franchise was taking, Spectre is a regressive entry for Daniel Craig and the franchise in general.