Before 2006, it might have seemed unreasonable to list a slew of gripes and grievances over the convenient scripting and utter ridiculousness of a Bond movie. This is a character who’s faced invisible cars, bagpipe flamethrowers, underwater jet-packs, cigarette rocket darts, deadly hats, and nigh unkillable nemeses. He once even fought a giant on the moon. Historically, Bond is an over-the-top super agent less grounded in reality than the WWE (emphasis on the word ‘historically’). But upon taking up the mantle in 2006, Daniel Craig has ushered in a new era of Bond; a super-serious, no-BS generation of the beloved super spy, 007. Craig’s a Bond more comfortable with a kill than a quip; an alcoholic outsider with rage issues, and yet someone who legitimately grapples with his license to kill. His Bond has been called gritty and callous, and for good reason. He’s been equal parts savior and butcher, still reeling years after the death of Vesper Lynd (Eva Green) and regularly drinking himself into moody reticence. This modern Bond is more character than caricature; a believable emblem of super-spy badass whose cloth more closely resembles Bourne than Batman. It should come as a major disappointment then that Spectre, the 24th onscreen iteration of the infamous British agent, is a monumental slip backwards into a 00-Stone-Age of yesteryear’s lackluster Bond.
Weighing in at 148 minutes, Spectre is the longest James Bond film to date. Amazingly, it’s also one of the slowest entries of the past few decades. With a full Die Hard-and-a-quarter of run time at its disposal, Spectre still dismisses character development almost entirely, making for some of the underwhelming double-oh relationships to exist this side of Die Another Day. For most of its run time, Spectre sits there, engaging infrequently and peripherally, almost wholly failing to deliver the high highs of Casino Royale‘s parkour chase, Skyfall‘s train fight or even Quantum of Solace‘s tight quarters fisticuffs. While Skyfall won fan and critical adoration by casually reintroducing the more classical elements that made up the pre-Craig era – the Quartermaster gadgetry, a capable but sexy secretary, souped up watches, pens and cars – Spectre goes overboard with the nostalgia, piling it on for its own sake and its own sake alone. You can almost feel director Sam Mendes‘ finger jabbing at your ribs, “See what I did there? See what I did there??!” We get it Mendes, you’re riffing off earlier properties; now go home, you’re drunk.If the latest Bond feels like an amalgamation of other Bonds, that’s because Mendes fails to distinguish homage from originality. The film feels stitched together from previous Bond film moments – the snowy chase, the high-flying beat down, the gravity-defying car chase, the personality-deprived henchman (Dave Bautista plays consummately forgettable henchman Hinx (Get it?! Hinx? Like Jinx?)), the out-of-left-field, life-reaffirming flame – with very little in terms of narrative glue and storytelling ingenuity. After the soaring critical and commercial success of Skyfall, Mendes became the first ever to get a second shot at Bond and with it has produced the sloppiest entry in Craig’s even-keeled run. Scenes seem included only because they are “Bond-ish.” Senseless dialogue seems born out of little more than screenwriters trying to sound “Bond-like”. Saying the script is a mess is an insult to messes because the isn’t really anything beyond the clutter. It’s one big clusterfuck of “See what I did there?” Spectre is a Frankenstein’s creation of Bond moments, Bond slogans and Bond action and feels just about as lifeless and rigid as Mary Shelley’s monster (now there’s a character that Bautista could convincingly play.)
It should come as no surprise then that the script was written by a certifiable party of writers, with no less than four (John Logan, Neal Purvis, Robert Wade, Jez Butterworth) hacking out pages for the film. In theory, each could have been responsible for their own disparate 30-minute chunk since Spectre moves so gracelessly between acts, often even scenes, that it’s as if no thought was put into anything that proceeded them. For instance, Bond may be on his way to an arranged surrender to the enemy but the enemy’s henchmen attack him with intent to kill nonetheless. There’s no deconstructing the internal logic of Spectre because none exists. Worse yet, there’s so little inspiration, and even less attention to detail, to this newest incarnation of Bond’s iconography that it becomes difficult to parse the genuinely intriguing stuff from the grisly humdrum of it all. And that’s a damn shame. There is good to be found in Spectre, but it’s buried beneath three feet of potboiler muck and sandwiched in six inches of narrative grizzle.
Spectre even begins in promising fashion with a man (presumably James Bond) in a full-body skeleton costume gliding pointedly down the streets of Mexico City during their annual Day of the Dead celebration. Thomas Newman scores the scene with a sense of cool that escapes the film at large, burying the instantly recognizable Bond theme within a tangle of percussion and the stab of brassy horns. It isn’t long before Bond is armed, his sights set on an assassin with plans to ignite a stadium full of civilians. But as soon as Bond pulls the trigger, the frays of Spectre race to the forefront. As becomes a mainstay of this 007 outing, a single slug from Bond’s blaster is able to take out just about anything, sending it careening to the earth or exploding in absurdly excessive fashion. The new Q (a suitably stick-like Ben Whishaw) may as well have issued James a deus-ex-machina gun. From one fix to the next, Bond’s incessant hammering of that trigger solves any and every problem. By the time, the final act is in motion, his magic bullets become unforgivably omnipotent. If you’re not palming your face, consider your brain turned to “Sleep” mode.
What Mendes gets right with Spectre is the supporting cast – the ensemble element that has been missing from 007 since Craig’s first day. Naomi Harris impresses as Moneypenny – offering a much more 2015-friendly version of Bond’s un-beddable assistant – and Ralph Fiennes introduces finesse to M – almost making us forget the absence of long-time series regular Judi Dench – even if he is undercut by the script’s most careless tendencies. As the overbearing 144 minutes of film can attest too, less is often more. The script often confuses this fact with needless explanation and acts to snuff out jokes before they see the living daylights. Bond girls Madeline Swann (Léa Seydoux) and Lucia (Monica Bellucci) are not privy to the same breathe of fresh air that Bond’s closest confidantes are afforded. At 50, Bellucci has the distinction of being the oldest Bond girl but there’s nothing to celebrate about this character who is the equivalent of a bologna sandwich on legs. She’s as throwaway as a cocktail napkin and it wouldn’t be a stretch to believe all her lines could fit on one. Seydoux is equally thwarted by the script. She plays the daughter of a Craig-era Bond regular but the love angle that’s broiled up between them is as nonsensical as it is offensive to good taste and even the most average of intelligence. Over the course of her time onscreen, Madeline does a complete 360 turn; refusing to be with Bond because he’s an assassin, falling in love with him little more than a scene later, later pushing him away because he’s an assassin. Even in a reality where Jinx Johnson exists, Madeline Swann is one of the least compelling Bond girls to take the stage since the turn of the century and could easily be the most severely underwritten.
Christoph Waltz’ Oberhauser is not subject to the same level of mismanagement as the aforementioned Swann but some familial ties of his will most assuredly lead to heads being scratched…hard. There’s elements of Spectre that diddle with the canon and others that assault it outright. Waltz’ Oberhauser falls somewhere between the two. That being the case, he owns some of the film’s best and worst moments. As the cogs tick into place and the grand scheme comes into full view, you can catch Spectre gleefully jumping the shark, tipping its cap mid-air to its unsuspecting audience. Most frustrating is that the really bad stuff, the real cinematic BO, in Spectre is not essential to the plot in the least bit. Rather their inclusion is nothing more than lazy screenwriting and vast inattention to detail.It seems only right to then weigh Spectre in contrast to its discombobulating Sam Smith anthem. Compared to Chris Cornell’s instantly iconic “You Know My Name,” Smith’s “The Writing’s On The Wall” is almost too ironically titled to not snigger at. Indeed, the writing is on the wall. Craig, who has recently been caught lambasting the British spy series, may need to hang up his hat after such an underwhelming outing. That Smith’s song is all done in strained falsetto and sounds not dissimilar from a glossy American Idol audition tape adds to its general sense of nutlessness. Similarly, Spectre feels like it’s been creatively clipped, intellectually neutered and totally robbed of the vibrancy and spark that has made the Daniel Craig films such a glimmer of hope and breathe of fresh air. Even though I’ll admit to enjoying Quantum of Solace more than many, Spectre is without a doubt the worst film of Craig’s 007 tenure.
CONCLUSION: Overly long, terribly scripted and largely devoid of engaging action set pieces, ‘Spectre’ represents a definitive low point for the Daniel Craig era of James Bond. Alas, Bond is Bond and ‘Spectre’ is sure to be gobbled up by all 007 diehards, but that doesn’t mean they won’t be disappointed deep down inside.