The James Bond franchise is an extraordinary one, not just due to the longevity of the series, but in the type of escapist fare it provides viewers on a regular basis. They are fun, turn off your brain movies, and are the best of this type of film. The thrills and spills that are delivered in a Bond film are of the bigger is better variety, and whilst the majority of these films are incredibly enjoyable, it is rare that a Bond film is called a “great movie”. The best of the series always seem to come with that caveat of it being a great “Bond” film, rather than being a great movie in its own right. However, in my eyes “Skyfall” changed all of that because that film transcended the Bond genre, making it not just a great Bond film, but a truly great film. It just felt complete and worked out perfectly, with the theme of old versus new threaded throughout the film brilliantly, as we found out whether an analogue spy could survive in a digital world. Performances were first rate, Javier Bardem created a memorable villain, and Roger Deakins photography was the highlight of the film. All of this was overseen by the steady hand of director Sam Mendes, who brought a weight to the franchise, whilst not losing the lightness of its main character. So when Sam Mendes decided to return to the director's chair for the next film in the franchise, “Spectre” immediately become one of my six most anticipated films of 2015. So did lightening strike twice, or did all we get was just another Bond film?
So I do not spend too much time waffling on about the actual plot of the film, I'm just going to steal the synopsis of “Spectre” from imdb: “A cryptic message from Bond's past sends him on a trail to uncover a sinister organisation. While M battles political forces to keep the secret service alive, Bond peels back the layers of deceit to reveal the terrible truth behind SPECTRE”.
Right off the top I'm going to say, that “Spectre” is a very entertaining film, however it is one that has a lot of frustrating flaws. Since the re-invention of the character of James Bond in the Daniel Craig era, there has been a considerable effort to pare back the campiness of the franchise and to make the films exist in a world that is much closer to reality. “Spectre” is the first step to abandoning this, with the campiness just starting to creep back in. We are not talking anything close to the feel of those silly Roger Moore films, but it is easy to say that in regards to “Spectre”, it is the closest of the Craig films to resemble the traditional Bond format. In saying this, it is in no way a total negative, as it is great to see some of the old Bond fun reappear in this new film. Before I start talking about what went wrong with “Spectre”, lets explore its highlights first.
The film's opening, set in Mexico during the “Day of the Dead”, is simply stunning. It has been conceived as a very long single shot, that starts in the streets of Mexico during the festival, (with Bond in full skeleton make-up) and ends with Bond running across the rooftops above to first spy on a suspected criminal and then assassinate him. Whilst I am not sure if the shot is a true single take (I saw at least three places a hidden cut could have taken place), it doesn't matter because the execution of it all is breathtaking and builds considerable suspense as we watch Bond stalk his prey. Once the scene moves onto the helicopter for an airborne fight scene, it becomes a little predictable, although it is still an impressive moment of stunt flying that leaves you wide-eyed. As I have alluded to though, it does start to bleed into the realm of the unrealistic, which is what a lot of the action scenes (albeit all very impressive) in “Spectre” are guilty of.
I mentioned above that Roger Deakins photography in “Skyfall” was the highlight of that film, but sadly he did not return for “Spectre”. However he has been very ably replaced by the highly talented cinematographer Hoyte Van Hoytema and once again the look of the “Spectre” is the highlight of the film, although it looks considerably different to the previous film. It has been immaculately photographed and Van Hoytema exploits all of the stunning international locations to perfection. Compared to Deakins, who seems to prefer very sharp lighting, Van Hoytema creates a softer and hazier look to the film, and personally I loved the scenes he shot in the snows of Austria, they are simply gorgeous.
Right from Daniel Craig's first Bond film, “Casino Royale”, the filmmakers have constantly nodded their head and tipped their hats to the Bond films that came before them, but it is no more explicit than it is here in “Spectre”. Good old fashioned Bond troupes return in earnest as we see Bond tied up at the villain's lair and tortured, more Bond gadgets, and even classic Bond lines are being re-delivered with a wink (“Hello, pussy”), not to mention the re-introduction of the criminal organisation, SPECTRE, that is huge in the world of classic Bond. However my favourite Bond element that I loved in this film was the evil (and silent) henchman that chases Bond for the entirety of the film. Dave Bautista plays the intimidating Mr. Hinx, the henchman of our main villain, and he is superb. He is so large and menacing that you actually feel fear for Bond when the two clash, and they have a stunning and very brutal fight scene on a train that is reminiscent of a similar scene in “From Russia With Love”. Mr. Hinx never speaks (actually he may have a line or two early on, my memory is failing me) but his presence is always felt and Bautista does a fine job of making the character memorable. The other character I want to mention is Moneypenny. She was re-introduced in “Skyfall” and whilst she is nothing like the character of old, I have to say that I love Naomie Harris's portrayal of her and her interactions with Bond. Its true that this is Moneypenny of the new millennium, and whilst I hope she isn't in the field all the time, I do hope that Harris stays with the franchise for as long as possible.
Now onto the negatives, and the biggest flaw to “Spectre” is its screenplay which can only be described as lazy. There are so many instances when things just happen in this film, and it does not make logical sense. An example is the reason why Bond is in Mexico at the start of the film is because he received an e-mail from “M” (the Judi Dench incarnation) soon after her death, telling Bond to chase down this man. To me, that explanation makes no sense, but it gets worse when it comes to the main villain of the film. Most people already know that Christoph Waltz's evil character is someone big from the Bond franchise past, and even though it isn't hard to work out who, because the film is still so new I refuse to reveal his identity. However I will not hide my disgust at the fact that the screenwriters want us to just accept the fact that this master villain was actually the mastermind behind all the previous bad guy's actions from the three films that came before. It is just ridiculous and an insult to the fans of the series. It once again makes no sense, and we only know it to be true because Waltz's character said so. This actually made me furious, because it just treats the viewer with utter contempt. But hang on, it still gets worse. The ultimate misstep taken with the film is when it is revealed that Waltz's villainous character actually has a personal connection with James Bond, and it is this connection that is the catalyst for all his evil doing. You cannot be serious! That is just dumb, dumb, dumb and I do not understand the recent fascination with connected everyone personally to James Bond, it just does not work, but unfortunately we are stuck with it forever now.
The other big negative is actually Christoph Waltz himself. The man is a phenomenal actor, but is just all wrong here. He gives the flattest, most bland performance of his career here, which is especially pronounced since he is playing a classic villain from Bond's past. It is such a shame too because his casting was cause for celebration, as he seemed like a perfect choice to play a Bond villain, and was one of the main attractions to see the film, but ended up being the biggest disappointment. In regards to disappointments, the complete waste of Monica Bellucci as a Bond girl has to rank right near the top also. She is a stunningly gorgeous woman and seem destined to be a Bond girl, but she is only on-screen for no more than ten minutes, in a role that is a total throw away one.
My final negative also has to do with the other Bond girl of the film, Lea Seydoux, and the love story that follows. I should state that I have no problem whatsoever with Seydoux herself, I think she is great in the role of Dr. Swann and she looks amazing, bringing the required beauty needed to make the main Bond girl memorable, but she is just far too young to be any kind of love interest for James Bond. I know it is an old and regular argument when it comes to Bond film's and the girls that he beds, as they are almost always much younger than him, but it is so pronounced here, no doubt due to Seydoux's baby face (she looks much younger than her actual age of 30). However when he is with Bellucci, it just seems right. The other problem though is there is no development of the romance between Bond and Swann, it just happens because the screenwriters need to to move the plot forward. You never once feel that there is a connection between the two, and when you compare it to the relationship between Bond and Vesper (in “Casino Royale”) who were obviously so in love, it just comes across as false.
Overall, whilst I have a lot of problems with the film, “Spectre” is actually a very fun ride for most of its running time. It is full of pulse pounding (if a bit unrealistic) action and moves at a rapid clip, and at times it is actually quite funny. Whilst it looks amazing, particularly due to the number of exotic places Bond visits during his journey, it is let down by a plodding and lazy script. At the end of the day, this is an entertaining flick but not a great one, however I have no problem describing it with the caveat that it is a good “Bond film”.