When Spectre first opens in Mexico City on the famed Day of the Dead, audiences will see a skull-faced secret agent and a Latin beauty gliding through the masses, and we’re expected to feel as if we’re about to witness something special. The following action sequence, complete with a helicopter duel above the crowd celebrating Dia de los Muertos, is vintage Bond material and a promising start to a cinematically beautiful film.
After James Bond (Daniel Craig) holds up a mysterious ring bearing the octopus symbol of the criminal organization SPECTRE, the classic Bond intro erupts with Sam Smith’s “Writing’s On the Wall,” which works well as a contemplative and melancholic ballad. At this point, you may think that Spectre is going to show a maturity unseen in most Bond films.
If anything remotely like that notion comes to your mind, then you’ll spend the next two-and-a-half hours regretting your lost time and money.
What follows the impressive opening is considerably less exciting and more of a contrived Roger Moore-era Bond film. The plot seems to ramble with no real direction, resulting in a convoluted mess with little to no pay-off. Director Sam Mendes (American Beauty, Road to Perdition) is no newcomer to the franchise, as he directed the acclaimed Skyfall. Neither are three of the four main screenwriters, Neal Purvis, Robert Wade and John Logan, so the real mystery is how Spectre could end up as listless as it is.
One smart-on-paper decision was to cast Christoph Waltz (Django Unchained, Inglourious Basterds) as the mastermind behind SPECTRE, a man named Ernst Stavro Blofeld but known to Bond as Franz Oberhauser. The Austrian actor is extremely talented, so the most disappointing fact of Spectre has to be his underdeveloped and lackluster character. Waltz could have made an amazing villain, even better than Casino Royale’s Mads Mikkelsen or Skyfall’s Javier Bardem, if it weren’t for his utterly dull and non-disquieting nature.
But it’s hard to place the blame solely on Waltz, considering that he doesn’t show up until halfway through the film and only shows his face in the third act. For a two-hour-and-30-minute film, that’s not a lot of attention to Bond’s foster brother, the son of the man who takes him in after his parent’s death. What’s even worse is the effect this lack of focus has on the mystery of SPECTRE, the organization that is supposed to tie together every villain since Craig’s tenure.
Ultimately what Spectre does is create an atmosphere of unimportance.
Nothing is ever fully realized, especially not the devastating impact of the global criminal organization, which seeks to gain intelligence by causing global catastrophes, or the people who are orchestrating everything. Even Andrew Scott (Sherlock) loses his characteristic edge as Max Denbigh, a member of the British government known by codename ‘C’ and a member of SPECTRE. His few pretty lines and insidious smirks to M (Ralph Fiennes) are almost the extent of his involvement.
Just as devastating as the lack of a strong villain, is the absence of a strong Bond-girl, because Léa Seydoux (Blue is the Warmest Color, Inglourious Basterds) is another smart decision gone wrong. Physically she fits the bill, and there’s no question that she, like Waltz, could have been memorable, but poor writing causes her to become a trope of the worst kind imaginable. Madeleine Swann (Seydoux) is a caricature of the classic damsel. In a particularly campy sequence, Bond must rescue her from a building that is rigged with explosives, and it’s the most utterly ridiculous part in a film full of ridiculous stunts, corny one-liners and all of the Bond tropes you can imagine.
If Spectre were made 40 years ago, we might forgive the formulaic plot and the constant near-death experiences that don’t quite feel as dangerous as they should. But this is 2015.
After the revolutionary Casino Royale, which featured Craig’s emergence as the new face of the British Secret Service, it’s hard to sit through a movie that feels more like a throwback or a tribute to older films. Mendes has confirmed his own departure from Bond films, and it’s been speculated that we’re at the end of Craig’s stint—but after Spectre this may not be a bad thing. It’s obvious by now that they’re both as tired and worn out as the entire series is, and whoever comes along next will have to clean up the mess.
Eve Moneypenny (Naomie Harris), a former agent and M’s assistant, says it best when speaking of Bond’s recklessness in Mexico: “They say you’ve gone too far. That you’re finished.” However, 007’s outlandish behavior is merely the tip of the very large iceberg that sinks Spectre. Unfortunately, what we’re left with is an incredibly disappointing film that is more like a slap in the face because it assumes audiences are willing to passively accept mediocrity, making it easier to sell tickets.
To contact Lifestyles editor Rhiannon Gilbert email firstname.lastname@example.org.