Let’s get one thing clear here: no matter what I say, it’s Spectre. It’s a James Bond film. You’re going to see this regardless of what follows because, well, it’s James Frickin’ Bond. However, it’s not without issue that I give my recommendation to Spectre. Here’s why.
For the last 9 years, we’ve seen James Bond evolve with Daniel Craig. He’s gone from naïve and unpolished in 2006’s effective and gritty Bond reboot Casino Royale, to frivolous and a little vainglorious with 2009’s uneven Quantum of Solace, with a layover in matured and emotional territory in 2012’s Skyfall. Now, with 2015’s Spectre, we’ve arrived at a place where Bond is shown to have caught up with his faculties and is comfortable in his own skin. Stylish and suave, we now see Craig’s Bond self-assured and confident, with nary a second guess or a false move.
All of this growth, combined with the way Spectre plays out, leads me to believe that we’re in for a hell of an epic finale when Craig makes his final bow as Bond in the 25th Bond film. But what does that say about Spectre? The best way to look at it would be to see it as the first part of a two-part film – a 148-minute establishing shot, if you will. The film reestablishes the villainous cabal known as Spectre (not defined as the Special Executive for Counter-intelligence, Terrorism, Revenge and Extortion) from earlier Bond films, but doesn’t do much with them; instead, we’re only given enough to follow Spectre’s leader, Franz Oberhauser (Christoph Waltz), and his henchman Mr. Hinx (Dave Bautista).
What we’re given is that Oberhauser and Spectre have been responsible for the machinations of the previous three films – the Quantum organization’s small-scale terrorism from Casino Royale and Quantum of Solace, Raoul Silva’s cybercrime and revenge plot in Skyfall – all to destroy James Bond’s life. This part of the plot baffles me a little, when you take into consideration Spectre’s vast network which contains so many international members, it needs to hold its meetings which occupy both floors of the grand salon of England’s Blenheim Castle (although this scene was to have taken place in Rome). Spectre’s reach seems to go beyond mere espionage, with dialogue demonstrating their influence on our everyday financial lives. All of this… to get at James Bond.
Of course, the deeper-seated reason for Oberhauser’s villainy gets revealed during the film’s third act, which is where Spectre seems to devolve into a hokey little bit of the been-there-done-that. Honestly, if you’ve seen Star Trek Into Darkness, you know what’s coming, but there’s a little bit of a twist put on it, as is wont to happen in Bond films. It’s established far too late for it to be anything but a lead-in to the film’s somewhat meandering climax, setting the stage for the next Bond film. Then again, a lot gets thrown at us in passing moments, almost as if the outline for the film had specific bullet points of plot and devices that were crossed off as they were dropped into the film.
The fine line between compulsory Bond staples and those which feel dropped in almost perfunctorily is gone, with most of Spectre’s big moments feeling a little forced and glossed over too quickly. Italian film goddess Monica Bellucci is given a role so inconsequential, we wonder why we spend time with her other than to get her down to her bustier and stockings. Bautista’s Mr. Hinx looked like he was going to be a memorable henchman along the lines of Odd Job or Jaws, disabling a target’s eyes with chrome thumbnails before brutally breaking his neck. However, he soon gets relegated to being a virtually nondescript baddie, a hulking machine sent to literally and figuratively loom high over Bond and Bond Girl Madeleine Swann (Léa Seydoux), a woman with ties to a former Bond villain.
Speaking of which, the way Swann was written was the most confusing of the film, starting off as standoffish and dismissive of Bond and his oath to protect her, then executing an almost WWE-like heel turn in her feelings toward him. At one point in the movie, she’s heard saying “I love you” to him when she couldn’t even stand the sight of him two days prior. Similar to the way Mr. Hinx was written, her character is ill-defined by her actions; she seems to only represent a life Bond could possibly have outside of the intelligence community, without giving her the guts or the depth to go with it.
My goodness, you must be saying to yourself, was Spectre a misfire? Not at all. The action scenes are well worth the big-screen admission fees. Moreso, Spectre contains some of the most gorgeous photography in all of the Bond series, thanks to cinematographer Hoyte Van Hoytema, who shot Spectre with a combination of 35mm film and digital cameras, the latter of which (I think) provides a beautiful, long, unbroken shot which starts the movie and lasts for just over three minutes. Also, seeing the whole gang – Daniel Craig, Ralph Fiennes as Gareth “M” Mallory, Naomie Harris as Eve Moneypenny, Ben Whishaw as Q, and Rory Kinnear as Bill Tanner – working together is always a joy.
The reason they’re working together, though, seems straight out of a similarly-themed spy movie released earlier this year called Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation. The double-0 program is being shelved by Max “C” Denbigh, a member of the British intelligence community played by none other than Andrew Scott, most known for his role as Moriarty in the 2010 BBC “Sherlock” reboot. Scott plays C almost as slippery-eerie as he does Moriarty, with an ethereal slyness that belies his true motives. Yet he suffers the same fate as Bautista’s Hinx, being thrown at us for an all-too brief amount of time in hopes that we’ll believe he means more to the plot than he does. Indeed, he’s dismantling the double-0 program in favor of a cooperative called the Nine Eyes, with representatives of the larger intelligence communities sharing all of their information for the sake of world protection.
Spectre’s main fault – besides the awful Sam Smith song which completely saps the film of all the energy the traditional cold open so carefully packs into the first ten minutes (thankfully, Thomas Newman’s thrilling score more than makes up for this transgression) – is that it’s dismissive of almost everything except James Bond himself. Nothing matters in Spectre except predator and prey; everything else is window dressing. Set pieces and characters alike are gone through and discarded without much thought, almost as if the filmmakers themselves can’t wait to get to the next movie, which – if they follow through on every bit of Spectre’s setup – should be an absolute blast. Consider Spectre the calm before the storm.