If it is believed that Spectre will be Daniel Craig’s last outing as Bond, then his time as the legendary character has gone out on a low note. Spectre is a disappointment on multiple levels.
The James Bond franchise is one of many highs and lows. It seems like with each generation of Bond the new direction starts off with good intent and full of potential, only to end up running out of steam, ultimately referring to cheap thrills for entertainment. The overblown spectacle of 2002’s Die Another Day became Brosnan’s swan song, a representation of everything that had gone wrong with the franchise, and not for the first time. The solution was, once again, to start over with a blank slate. A new actor helped, and a more gritty and darker approach re-invented Bond for the 21st Century. More so than ever before, the Bond franchise diverged from its traditional formulas to bring audiences something new and exciting. This approach was maintained through two more films, and it seemed like finally we would have a generation of James Bond that didn’t run out of steam. Unfortunately, Spectre has ruined that hit streak. It is the embodiment of the dilemma that such a massive franchise faces with each new addition.
Skyfall promised that a new level of Bond films had been realized. We saw details from a back story; no more was Bond just the smooth-talking killing machine that was easy to root for. We were given a set-up that suggested things were starting over. Those characters who had traditionally been in the background became part of the action. The past was referenced by name only. Spectre fumbles away this potential. Instead of building upon the foundation laid in Skyfall, the film inexplicably ends up cycling back around to revisit the series’ galavanting past, except that Bond himself is still stuck in the serious present. It’s a confliction that is made even more perplexing by the film’s decision to throw in a sloppy subplot about obsolescence rather than Bond finally achieving a newfound normalcy. Sure, it’s meant as a conclusion to events in the previous three films, but those events seemed to have already been concluded. Loosely connecting everything for the sake of going out on a big bang feels gimicky. We were cheated out of what could have been. The film tries to smoothly reveal this bigger secret hiding behind it all, as if to explain the abrupt change in direction. Yet the connotations will be familiar to even the most amateur Bond fan, which spoils the mood and sets up 2 hours of borderline tasteless pandering. It is simply unfathomable to me for a franchise that has had so much success over the last 3 films going in a new direction to suddenly veer back towards familiar territory. Time for (yet) another new direction.
Entertainment Factor: Spectre may not be overblown in terms of spectacle when compared to other past films, but it is just about everywhere else. With the story, dialogue, and even the production, one word comes to mind; cheesy. Having been through three deathly serious Bond films, the tone of this new film will be difficult for audiences to accept. If it had been completely over-the-top, it would have at least felt like it held nothing back, but instead it stays grounded. Some of the action moments are more exciting than others, but, besides the opening scene, they all pale in comparison to what we’ve seen before from the franchise, especially from the previous three films. Many of the film's sequences are in fact stolen from other, better Bond films. The idea was to create a new James Bond film that tipped its hat to the old ones. It was an interesting idea, but it simply pushes too hard towards that goal. Furthermore, audiences ultimately want new favorite moments with Bond, not to relive the old ones. Okay (3.0/5.0)
Story: The efforts of Skyfall to reboot the franchise with classic characters returning was both a blessing and a curse. A blessing because it was interesting to see the familiar set-ups return for a new generation, but also a curse because in doing so the franchise is simply redoing what it has already done. With Spectre, it is apparent that the decision to return the franchise to some resemblance of “normality” was a mistake. Casino Royale sped Bond in a new and interesting direction, one that the following two films maintained. Now that we’re back to a “base” mode for Bond, it feels boring, uninspired, and predictable. There’s nothing new in this film that fans of the franchise haven’t seen before. More importantly, because it stays within the lines, it is extremely predictable. The film tries to link the plots of the previous three films with an overarching theme, but that too feels gutless and predictable. It relies heavily on nostalgia to create the emotions that are required to make the whole thing work, yet never gives up trying to convince you that this is not the old Bond. The intent is just baffling. Spectre needed to commit one way or the other. Okay (2.0/5.0)
Acting: Right out of the gate we knew that Daniel Craig would make an interesting, and different Bond. His performance in Spectre is consistent with the other films, although he seems more relaxed, and comfortable in the role, which could be a good or bad thing. Christoph Waltz plays the main villain, and although we know what Waltz can do, the film just doesn’t allow his villain to stand out the way he should have or give Waltz any opportunity to use his wit. Ralph Fiennes returns as the new “M”, and, as in the previous film, his character has an expanded role. Fiennes does a great job balancing the seriousness the role requires with the softer tone of the film. Lea Seydoux plays the Bond girl with more fortitude than most, as Madeleine Swan. Monica Bellucci has a few scenes and really steals the show in those moments. The other major newcomer is Dave Bautista, who plays the silent henchman Hinx. He is physically imposing in the role, which works. Naomi Harris and Ben Whishaw return as Moneypenny and “Q”, respectively. They also work well in the less-serious moments of the film. Good (3.5/5.0)
Direction: In Skyfall, Sam Mendes gave us many fabulous shots. He single-handedly made James Bond artistic and stylish, something that the series had previously not had much success with. He gave it a sophistication that worked alongside the toughness. Spectre is less successful. It has plenty of “wow” moments, even though they are not as memorable or amazing as those in Skyfall. The opening sequence consists of a long tracking shot, which is interesting in that it hadn’t been done before, and fitting, as we see the character in stride. The rest of the film is less immediate, but interesting nonetheless. The setting of a mountaintop clinic framed in glass finds Mendes playing with reflections, shading and angles for a complex, but beautiful look. In Rome, Mendes plays with lighting, creating impressive auras and beautiful shadows. It’s too bad the story and the production are so distracting. Good (4.0/5.0)
Production: Spectre won’t be remembered for any of its action sequences, most of which are meant to invoke a better-executed moment in past Bond films. Since we’ve already seen so much of what this film has to offer, those action sequences have less impact (read: boring). A car chase sequence should not be boring. One of the worst aspects of the film is how over-produced it feels. A lot of this has to do with the cinematography. Roger Deakins’ work on Skyfall was breath-taking. Hoyte Van Hoytema’s work on Spectre leaves a lot to be desired. The image never feels real. The lighting never sparkles as it should and the special effects aren’t as impressive as they could be. It feels over-scrutinized and makes the film seem distant. The music also fits into the over-produced theme. Spectre is a departure for the franchise, partly by intent, partly by oversight. It attempts to be a bridge between new and old Bond, with neither the excitement nor the engagement that such a combination should yield. People who enjoyed the new films want more of the same, and long-time fans of the franchise don’t want to see their favorite Bond moments crammed together on a sample plate. Spectre is an unfortunate end for a great era in the Bond franchise. Bad (1.5/5.0)
What's Bad: Retreads on familiar territory rather than pushing the franchise to new heights, predictable, production needs to be toned down, weak story, inconsistent with the previous films, ill-fitting tone, very liberal use of nostalgia, lacks creativity on all levels.