Synopsis: A cryptic message from Bond’s past sends him on a trail to uncover a sinister organization. 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. (From IMDb)
Review: A few years ago, right before Daniel Craig debuted as Bond, the Hallmark TV channel dedicated the month of August to James Bond. One Bond film a night and the Peter Sellers 1967 parody. Naturally, I watched every single one. On Her Majesty’s Secret Service remains the most boring installment in the franchise, I fell asleep after thirty minutes. Poor George Lazenby’s take on Bond was dead on arrival. While Quantum of Solace did not live up to the bar set in Casino Royale, it still beat Lazenby’s film. At least Solace had some excitement. Spectre, while a solid entry in the Bond franchise, lacks the polish and strong narrative from Skyfall. Having also read the books, I feel quite connected to the Bond series and always enjoy watching, or cringing over, the newest take on England’s most brazen spy.
In Spectre, 007 uncovers connections between all his past adversaries and a vast international terrorist organization. MI6 faces an internal threat from a surveillance-obsessed and freedom curtailing bureaucrat. In order to take out the shadowy Spectre, Bond must disregard orders and strike out on his own. Of course, Bond manages to drag in Moneypenny and Q to assist him. Q nearly has an apoplectic fit at the thought of going rogue, but the suave Bond wins him over. Throw in a sensual doctor with a dark past and connections to Spectre, and you have M’s greatest nightmare. Bond loose on the world hell-bent on putting Spectre down once and for all.
To begin with, I believe the movie struck the wrong tone with the opening credit song. Sam Smith, the British singer famous for his song Stay, wrote and performed the opening song. He became the first male singer to introduce a bond film and I think he was the wrong choice. The song comes across as a generic, dreary, and melody-averse pop song that everyone forgot once the credits ended. Also, if they wanted someone to reach those painfully high soprano notes, a guy singing falsetto was not the best option. I think Adele wrote a superior song for Skyfall. Nothing against Sam Smith, he does have some musical talent. But everything about his song and performance seemed slightly off.
Unlike the opening credits, the opening scene started off strong by depicting the Day of the Dead festival in Mexico and informing the audience that “The dead are alive”. This gimmick serves as some slightly heavy-handed foreshadowing for some events later in the narrative. However, the scene is great. A skull-masked Bond stalks his way through Mexico City with a beautiful woman on his arm; dressed appropriately in a sultry silk dress. This becomes on tracking shot that is quite impressive. Bond walking confidently across precarious rooftops and ending with an out-of-control helicopter climax was a great way to open the film. With such an explosive opening, you would expect the rest of the film to maintain the pace. Unfortunately, the pacing falls a little flat. There are three major plots going on: Bond trying to root out Spectre, Bond rescuing Dr. Swann/fighting off assassins, and M trying to keep control of MI6. The three subplots do not converge until the last fourth of the film. This results in some unnecessary scene jumping.
Speaking of M, Ralph Fiennes has his work cut for him. Judi Dench is a tough act to follow, especially after the events of Skyfall. Fiennes does get his fair share of screen time. Poor M has to control Bond and fight off the surveillance loving bureaucrat in charge of MI5; played by the perfectly slimy Andrew Scott (Moriarty from Sherlock). Fiennes does fit the part and is believable as an old school spymaster. Though it is weird seeing him play a normal character with a nose. Both Fiennes and Craig have brought the grit and action back into the franchise.
One major negative for the film rests in the depiction of the villain. Christoph Waltz, an excellent character actor, villainous character was disappointingly underdeveloped. Compared to Javier Bardem’s character from Skyfall, Waltz’s role came across as a one-dimensional stock villain. Wentz made his name playing the malicious Col. Hans Landa in Inglorious Bastards; a role that earned him an Oscar. He is capable of playing a multidimensional villain. His character in Spectre just came across as wooden. The villain is supposed to be this calculating megalomaniac with worldwide tyrannical ambitions. But his threats only spark instead of inflame. While he plays wonderfully off of Craig, he just does not seem that threatening or intimidating.
Though he is not the only one to suffer. Dave Bautista, Drax from Guardians of the Galaxy, portrays the brutal henchman and is granted one line of dialogue. Bautista is no Laurence Olivier, but he is capable of delivering believable lines. Driving around in a car and looking menacing is not quite enough to make him villainous. Overall, both Waltz and Bautista come across as old-school stock Bond Villains. And are completely indistinguishable from the baddies who have come before.
Other problems include the hype around Monica Bellucci’s role. She was lauded for being cast as a Bond girl; especially since she is older than Craig. But she only has two scenes and one brief soliloquy delivered on a bed. Otherwise she behaves just like all the other Bond girls. Only she looks more appropriate standing next to Bond. Lea Seydoux portrays the much younger Dr. Madeleine Swann. Most of her part consists of telling Bond that she does not need his protection and lounging around in silk teddies looking seductive. So a typical Bond girl portrayal. At least her character is given some brains though.
Everything just seemed slightly off with this film. The dialogue waffles on for little too long and the conversations last thirty seconds too long. Bond manages to wiggle out of tough situations just a little too easily. I left the film feeling satisfied; it is a standard Bond film. But I was expecting something just tab more exciting and polished. The narrative just does not quite reach the frenzied climax it was building towards. At les the cars were as flashy as always. I would rate this film as better than Quantum of Solace but not as polished as Skyfall.