Review: Spectre Completes Postmodern James Bond, Fails As Singular Movie


It’s nearly impossible to make a solid sequel. Most end in disappointment. Though they have occurred with the likes of Aliens, Terminator 2: Judgment Day, and Leonard Part 6 (just kidding). The James Bond series is no different; it has had its ups and downs. Pierce Brosnan had a smashing debut with GoldenEye but quickly succumbed to mediocrity with each successive sequel. Timothy Dalton only got to ask for two martinis before legal issues silenced the double-0 agent for years. And while Roger Moore had the most outings as “Bond, James Bond,” with eight, Sean Connery has been the standard when it comes to being Ian Fleming’s famous British super spy.

But Daniel Craig’s Bond has offered a unique interpretation of the famed spy. If you look at the series through the prism of Joseph Campbell’s “The Hero with a Thousand Faces,” you could view the actors that have portrayed Bond as being interchangeable, and Campbell’s hero’s journey as the adventure he takes. While James Bond “was a compound of all the secret agents and commandos [Fleming] met during [World War II],” started as a blunt instrument in novel form, he has been interpreted differently as the decades changed.

The four films that that comprise Craig’s time as Bond (Casino Royale, Quantum of Solace, Skyfall, and now Spectre) place the spy in a post-9/11 world where information is the most valuable commerce. Kicking off the series in spectacular fashion with a parkour chase that stands as one of the great action set pieces in the franchise, Bond contends with the terrorist financier Le Chiffre (Mads Mikkelsen). It’s a story arc that carries over in the sequels, either implicitly or explicitly referenced. The events of Skyfall offered a new wrinkle in the mythos of James Bond by having the name be representative of himself and not an alias he uses along with his double-oh-seven number.

So, James Bond is James Bond.

Now that may have always been the case, but I am of the belief that James Bond could be anybody. This implication bears greater importance for the series should the filmmakers use Spectre‘s ending as a way to have a new actor board the lucrative franchise. Though Craig may have said he’d rather “slash his wrists” than be Bond again, he is contracted for a fifth outing. Nevertheless, the conclusion is fitting for his overall stint.

Going in we all knew it was going to be tough to follow Skyfall, which brought the series to near-Goldfinger heights. Quantum of Solace had the misfortune of being rushed on account of an impending writers’ strike. Released two years after Casino Royale, the film kept things tight in terms of length and pace, but Marc Forster’s direction was shoddy, and the editing made it hard to watch unless you took Dramamine beforehand. Aside from Daniel Craig’s performance Quantum was a miss. Sadly, Spectre follows a similar fate.

Another rush job without a finished script resulted in a ballooning film budget. Sam Mendes’ direction has moments of brilliance, but it can’t mask the problems of the story. Spectre begins audaciously enough in Mexico on Dia De Los Muertos with a black and white title card that reads, “The dead are alive.” This is followed by an unbroken tracking shot that follows Bond through a crowd of masked revelers and entering a hotel with a soon to be sexual conquest before making a hasty exit to carry out a hit on an adjoining rooftop. From a cool and explosive beginning the rest feels like a routine Bond adventure minus a few flourishes by cinematographer Hoyte van Hoytema (Interstellar). Rewrites abound in a simple albeit convoluted plot that pits 007 against Christoph Waltz’s Franz Oberhauser, who presides over an Illuminati-esque organization (ahem, SPECTRE – though not all capitalized because why bother) that included the likes of Le Chiffre and Mr. White, a member of Quantum, itself a subsidiary of Spectre.

Traveling from Mexico to London to Italy to Austria to Morocco to north Africa and back to London again, the world locales just pack on the excess in terms of running time and expense. At 148 minutes, Spectre is the longest entry in the franchise and you start to feel every one of those minutes when Bond makes it to Oberhauser’s secret lair only to discover that there’s more to the story. Then again, the entire film plays like the culmination of Bond’s story arc, from when he first gained his license to kill to understanding that it is also a license not to kill.

Spectre isn’t without its share of highlights. Ralph Fiennes’ M gets his hands dirty in the late proceedings and Ben Whishaw’s Q continues to be the gadget guru and reluctant ally when Bond goes off the grid. Criminally wasted, though, is Dave Bautista. One of the big surprises (both literally and figuratively) about Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy, his super-imposing frame makes him perfect as the deadly assassin Mr. Hinx. I just wish he did more than grunt and throw Bond around like a rag doll inside a speeding train – easily the best showdown in the flick.

Retooling the series to the bare necessities before bringing back the hallmark charm of having mute henchmen, gadgetry, and ostentatious supervillain lairs, Daniel Craig’s Bond has come full circle of being blunt and reckless to still reckless but more flamboyant. The decision for familiarity instead of originality for the villain was a wasted opportunity. Not only is the enigmatic Franz Oberhauser introduced way too late to give him much of a personality, his machinations for revenge is far from sound.

Chistoph Waltz barely gets to chew the scenery that villains are expected to do. Oberhauser’s connection to Bond is clumsily handled and only serves to be self-referential to the rest of Daniel Craig’s stint as the secret agent. Oberhauser is the villain we’re given, not the villain we deserve.

Spectre is analogous to Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight Rises, a sequel that also had the daunting task of coming after The Dark Knight. Nolan’s interpretation of the classic superhero evolved over the course of three films, arriving at a finish that perceived Batman as a symbol of hope. Batman was bigger than a single person. Likewise, over the course of four films Daniel Craig’s Bond has evolved from blunt beginnings to finishing his journey as 007. The conclusion gives him the perfect exit to leave so that the next MI6 agent can assume his name and agent number. Change the face and the hero stays the same. Just like Joseph Campbell theorized.

Director: Sam Mendes
Writer(s): John Logan, Neal Purvis and Robert Wade & Jez Butterworth
Notable Cast: Daniel Craig, Christoph Waltz, Lea Seydoux, Ralph Fiennes, Monica Bellucci, Ben Whishaw, Naomie Harris, Dave Bautista, Andrew Scott

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