By Jake Winwood (United Kingdom)
Expectations for Daniel Craig’s fourth, and possibly final, Bond movie could not have been higher after the global sensation that was Skyfall. Spectre has a lot to live up to, after its predecessor grossed $304,360,277. 2012’s Skyfall came on the back of the disappointing Quantum of Solace, which made the task of raising the bar considerably easier, however Sam Mendes has no such security this time around. Indeed, Spectre becomes a victim of its predecessor’s success as it tries but ultimately fails to recapture the glory of Skyfall.
Spectre begins solidly enough as we find Bond in Mexico City on an off the books mission. It is the Day of the Dead festival and 007 is attempting to prevent a terrorist attack on a stadium full of people. Craig looks as suave and confident as ever as he saunters across the rooftops in order to get eyes on his target Marco Sciarra. Bond is acting on posthumous orders from the deceased M to kill Sciarra. Though Sciarra initially evades Bonds, by detonating the bomb that would have been used for the attack, the British agent tails him through the crowded streets. The pace is slow in comparison to the opening of Skyfall, but it quickly picks up upon the arrival of a helicopter. Bond engages in some mid-air combat with Sciarra as the crowds scream in terror. Though some of the editing is somewhat suspect, it still makes for quite a spectacle.
As ever the opening sequence leads nicely into the opening credits. This is where we have the first signs of trouble. For most films, it would be unfair to criticize it too much for its soundtrack, but Bond theme songs are a big deal. Sam Smith’s ‘Writing’s on the Wall’ may be a good song in its own right, but it doesn’t quite work as a Bond song. I’ll admit that it grew on me a bit listening to it on the big screen but it still wasn’t powerful enough and was noticeably weak in comparison to Adele’s ‘Skyfall’. There are some nice visuals in the opening credits, showing characters from Craig’s previous three films, enough to whet the appetite ahead of this fourth appearance.
As the title suggests, the movie centres on the mysterious organisation known as Spectre. Early on in the move, we see Bond gain access to one of their meetings. This is when we get our first glimpse of the films main villain Franz Oberhauser (Christoph Waltz), the head of Spectre. Quite obviously this scene was meant to have an aura of mystique about it, however any shock value is lost due to the fact that this key scene featured prominently in the trailer. An entertaining car chase then ensues as Bond is chased out of the gathering by Mr. Hinx, a Spectre henchman.
The rest of the movie features plenty of globe-trotting as Bond tries to find Oberhauser, who he previously believed to be deceased. It’s apparent from the start that there is a connection between them, but this information is withheld from the audience for much of the movie. Bond is accompanied on his ventures by Madeleine Swann (Léa Seydoux) who is the daughter of an old nemesis, and the films main Bond girl. The relationship between Bond and Swann is unsurprisingly underdeveloped, one moment she doesn’t trust him, the next they are making love, its typical Bond stuff.
Unfortunately the movie suffers with some pacing issues throughout, in particular during the middle section. Spectre seems to get stuck in a cycle of all-out action, followed by extended periods of dialogue. At times I found myself bored with the prolonged conversations between Bond and his love interest. The film also seems to have somewhat of an identity crisis at times and seems unsure whether it wants to be dark and serious or light-hearted. There are numerous instances when the movie tries to draw a laugh from the audience, such as various references to 009, and on occasion it works but for the most part the humour falls flat. In truth some of it feels awfully forced and out of touch with the otherwise serious Daniel Craig era.
What is perhaps most disappointing about Bond’s latest outing is how underdeveloped the plot and the characters are. While this fourth film does tie all of Craig’s movies together, it does so in a less than amazing way, in fact if you’ve seen the trailer then you’ll already know what connects nine years of Bond films together, there is nothing more to it. Spectre is 150 minutes long, and boy does it feel it, but it still had me asking ‘Is that it?’ There are clearly some great ideas in place, but they are simply not explored in enough depth. For instance, the main villain is criminally underdeveloped. Without giving too much away, it’s amazing how little the connection between Bond and Oberhauser was acknowledged let alone explored. One would imagine that Oberhauser featured only briefly in order to make the grand reveal more of a surprise, however his identity is withheld from the audience for song long that they will have already figured out who he is, and what he’s up to long before that point. In short, it’s far too predictable.
So what saves Spectre from being a complete write-off? Well, despite its flaws it does have some things going for it. Thankfully the action scenes provide the trademark excitement of the series and it’s at these moments that Spectre really shines, it’s a shame then that these scenes are broken up by largely uninteresting dialogue. Dave Bautista also deserves a mention as he is thoroughly convincing in the role of Spectre henchman Mr. Hinx. He really is an imposing figure and a face-off between him and Bond, on board a train, stands out as one of the best moments of the movie.
It was also nice to see returning characters Moneypenny (Naomie Harris), Q (Ben Whishaw) and M (Ralph Fiennes), feature more prominently by getting involved in the action. There are a sufficient amount of locations to keep the audience interested and even during periods of prolonged dialogue it’s by no means walk-out stuff. The conclusion to the two and a half hour flick also papers over some of the earlier cracks. Though it was a rather generic final act it was still undeniably cool and exactly what you’d expect from James Bond.
Spectre has some quite obvious flaws but fortunately its good points are just about enough to promote it from total flop, to average Bond film. It’s still a major disappointment though, possibly the biggest of the calendar year. Like many, I had high expectations for Spectre but unfortunately it came a long way short of them. Perhaps it was always fighting a losing battle to match Skyfall and if my expectations were not so high maybe I would not have such a dim view of it. In truth, Spectre simply feels like it is trying too hard to match its predecessor and this leads to all manner of confusion.
In the end what could have been a fantastic movie, ends of feeling totally out of sync with the Daniel Craig era. Ironically, if you have not been a fan of the Craig era then you may find you quite enjoy Spectre, as it feels more like the Bond of the 1960s and 70s than of the 2000s. However for fans of Craig, especially those who have grown up with, Spectre takes the character in the wrong direction. This movie should have left me feeling disappointed that Craig was vacating the role but as the credits rolled I found myself pondering whether the time was right for a new Bond to take the franchise in a new direction.
M: You have no authority. None. Mexico City, what were you doing there?
James Bond: I was taking some overdue holiday.