Movie Review: Spectre
By Matthew Huntley
November 10, 2015
One of the reasons Skyfall was such an overwhelming success, both critically and financially, was because it pushed the James Bond franchise in a new direction. It demystified the James Bond character and brought him closer to our own reality, humanizing him and providing him a less-than-romantic, yet still compelling, back story. We finally learned why Daniel Craig’s version of Bond, who’s headlined the last four installments, is the way he is - darker, angrier and meaner than his predecessors - and where he came from. In other words, Skyfall broke the traditional James Bond movie mold and the result was both refreshing and reinvigorating because it meant we could no longer necessarily anticipate how Bond and his world would develop. It made the series more interesting
It’s only natural, then, that our expectations for Spectre, the follow-up to Skyfall, would be exceptionally high. And while this 24th Bond adventure is exciting in its own right and delivers well enough on thrills and spectacle, it doesn’t continue on the same narrative path as Skyfall. Instead, it retreats into familiar territory and settles, more or less, on being a traditional Bond picture, and that makes it slightly disappointing. Ultimately, I’d say it’s still worth the price of admission and action-thriller aficionados will have little cause for complaint, but it doesn’t leave us with the same type of impression as the previous film.
The plot of Spectre essentially picks up where Skyfall left off, which, if you recall, ended with the death of M (Judi Dench), Bond’s superior and former head of MI6. In the event of her death, though, she sent Bond (Craig) a message to track down a criminal named Marco Sciarra (Alessandro Cremona), whom Bond finds in Mexico City and intends to assassinate, although he’s not exactly sure why. Following a stupendous opening sequence, which begins with an intricate crane shot and long take and ends with a rip-roaring fight aboard a helicopter, Bond returns to London, where the new M (Ralph Fiennes) reprimands and grounds him for acting recklessly and taking on a mission without going through the proper channels.
M himself is also under pressure from C (Andrew Scott), a smug, young hotshot who’s the head of the Joint Intelligence Service. C intends to shut down the “00” program entirely and replace it with a global surveillance system, although he’s not without other, ulterior motives.
To keep a watchful eye on Bond, M sends him down to the tech-savvy Q (Ben Whishaw), who injects him with “smart blood” so he can be monitored and located at all times, but this doesn’t stop Bond from enlisting both Q and Moneypenny’s (Naomie Harris) help in order to find out what Sciarra was up to, eventually learning he was part of a greater international crime organization called Spectre, which is responsible for several recent acts of terrorism.
More of the plot, I won’t reveal, but it works to connect all the Daniel Craig Bond pictures - Casino Royale, Quantum of Solace, Skyfall - together by asking us to believe each their villains was a member of Spectre, while the film’s current villain (Christoph Waltz), who reveals a personal connection to Bond, claims he’s the ultimate mastermind behind the network. But I don’t know, when I learned this about Waltz’s character, it felt like lazy screenwriting and too much of a quick and easy way to link the latest Bond pictures with a common thread. To think that one bad guy is responsible and would go to such extreme lengths just to seek revenge on Bond is too farfetched, even for a movie of this nature.
Once the screenplay sums up the villain’s, or perhaps villains’, motivations for being bad, not least of which involves world domination, the rest of the movie essentially falls back on big action sequences and all the standard-issue Bond movie characteristics. These include, but are not limited to, Bond dressing up in a tuxedo and schmoozing his latest love interest, Madeleine (Léa Seydoux), who has a face and expression that not only make her beautiful but also sympathetic; Bond fighting a very large mute named Hinx (David Bautista) who, like all baddies of this sort, seems impervious to pain; and the villain staging an overelaborate trap in which Bond must make a critical decision. Plus, there are all the usual action scenes we’ve come to expect from the genre itself: chase sequences by land, air and sea; huge explosions; and a ticking time bomb. Spectre basically features all the Bond traits Austin Powers eventually lampooned. We’ve seen them before, albeit not on such a grand scale (the movie’s budget is close to $300 million and it shows).
Perhaps “disappointing” was too strong a word, because Spectre isn’t necessarily disappointing, but rather traditional. Don’t get me wrong; it’s still fun to watch and the action sequences are highly energetic, innovative and pleasing, and we still care about Bond as a tortured character, but the substance and intrigue that Skyfall generated has been subdued. Whereas that film took the character and legend of James Bond a few steps forward, Spectre takes them one back. It’s a shame, too, because Daniel Craig has said this will be his last Bond film, and instead of going out on a high note, he simply goes out. I suppose it’s one of those cases of art imitating life when Bond says, “I’ve got better things to do.” What he leaves us with is a sufficiently entertaining action movie but not much else.