It’s hard to figure out what to do with Bond these days. The first three films in the Daniel Craig era of Bond were an exploration of all the signature elements that made up the franchise to that point. The luminous evilness of Spectre was the only thing that hadn’t been unveiled yet and the latest Bond film, titled Spectre, begins the descent of the greatest villain in the franchise’s long and storied history onto the scene. And with Daniel Craig’s seeming disillusionment with the role coming out very publicly in the run up to the film’s release it seems like perhaps it could also double as a send off for the most financially successful of the men who’ve played Bond.
When we run into Bond now he’s hot on the trail of an assassin as a final request of M (Judy Dench). What he discovers is a secret terrorist organization with close ties to his childhood. Pairing up with a beautiful scientist (Léa Seydoux) with ties to Bond’s past, this version of Bond marks his first encounter with both Blofeld (Christoph Waltz) and the organization known only as Spectre.
It would be difficult for any Bond film to follow the creative or commercial success of Skyfall and the one thing Spectre does well is that it doesn’t try to. It’s trying to further the story arc of James Bond, not recreate Skyfall, but it suffers from a couple of major problems that overpower the film’s strengths.
It does have a terrific heavy in the brooding Dave Bautista, perhaps the best heavy in the franchise since Richard Kiel played Jaws. With only a handful of lines of dialogue it’s up to the former pro wrestler and scene stealer of Guardians of the Galaxy to use his physicality almost exclusively. There’s an air of menace whenever he’s in the film; while we know Daniel Craig is going to survive the film you’re never quite sure whenever Bautista is on screen. Sam Mendes maximizes Bautista’s size and powerful build while taking away any chance for us to not take him seriously because Bautista isn’t the strongest of actors. Mendes maximizes that fear factor that Bautista can bring and plays to his strengths.
It keeps the film rolling strong to have a good heavy because Bautista pops up throughout the film to battle Bond. It’s also part of the film’s problem because the film’s middle act is long and plodding, only broken up by appearances by Mr. Hinx (Bautista). The film opens, and ends, with terrific action sequences but getting from the beginning to the end is a chore. The film is near three hours, as well, and feels more indulgent than anything else. A good editor could’ve made this closer to two hours and much more smooth in that regard; the middle is so plodding in comparison to the slick, aggressive pace of its opening and closing acts.
Hinx is also used more than Christoph Waltz, who seems to have been born to play the greatest Bond villain of them all. Waltz is good in the moments he’s used but he’s shockingly underused throughout the film. There is no big moment for Waltz, no great movie stealing moment that ever great Bond villain gets. If he’s going to be used in the next film it’s a great setup film for it, of course, but Waltz’s prominence in the marketing vs. his prominence in the film is not the same.
Easily the worst film of the Craig era, Spectre also has a significant problem in that its actively trying to not be a Bond film. It feels more of a spoof of the excesses of the franchise at times as this feels more like an adapted sequel in the Bourne franchise than a proper Bond film. If a film can actively troll its fanbase while still being an entertaining film it seems like Spectre is trying to do so.
Bond isn’t the sort of alpha male spy that he’s been in the past; his flaws are exposed and it seems like Mendes and Craig want to soften the edges of what makes Bond the character such a mainstay in cinema. Bond doesn’t go off and cry … but Bond is a damaged, flawed human being and it’s exposed. It’s an interesting take for the character and Bond is allowed some vulnerability as a person for perhaps the first time ever. He’s pitiable at times; you don’t get wired out of the womb to be someone like James Bond. All the mental damage he’s taken over the years has seemingly taken its toll as Bond is being developed into something more than the character he’s traditionally been. Throw in the film’s finale and it’s odd to leave a Bond film wondering about where the character is going rather than the spectacle that Spectre properly is.
It is such a departure from for the franchise to give a super happy ending to everyone that one of two things seems to be happening. Either Daniel Craig is going to walk away from this franchise and wants to set up someone else taking over the role … or the next film in the franchise is going to channel On Her Majesty’s Secret Service for the beginning of a great character arc that brings out something more from Bond.
It’s hard to tell but it leaves one more curious than anything as Craig’s Bond seems to be firing on all cylinders as a franchise.
Director: Sam Mendes Writer: John Logan and Neal Purvis & Robert Wade and Jez Butterworth Notable Cast: Monica Bellucci, Ben Whishaw, Naomie Harris, Dave Bautista, Andrew Scott