Review: Spectre

Over the past few weeks leading up to the release of Spectre, the 24th installment in the James Bond franchise, star Daniel Craig has broadcasted his strong opposition to returning for another installment. After stating that he would “rather slit his wrists” than return for another adventure as Bond, Craig has finally likely reached the end of a journey that saw an overwhelming amount critical and commercial success. Unfortunately, these very sentiments of boredom and apathy permeate throughout his latest outing in Spectre, a massive disappointment that leaves a lingering sour taste in the mouths of many fans if indeed this is the last we see of Craig as 007.

Spectre, directed by Sam Mendes (Skyfall, American Beauty), opens on a high-note, and unfortunately never again reaches the heights of its breathtaking opening scene. We are initially shown a wide shot in the midst of the Day of the Dead parade in Mexico City, and are then offered a brief glimpse of a mysterious man who we assume to be a villain. Cinematographer Hoyte van Hoytema (Interstellar, Her) then focuses on the man as he crosses a street with a woman, enters a hotel, up the elevator, into his hotel room and only then reveals himself as Bond. Mendes and Hoytema build up the tension and marvel by continuing the nearly five minute tracking shot as Bond exits through the hotel room’s window, walks onto the roof, and places a rifle in sight of his target. What follows is a wildly entertaining sequence where, in classic Bond fashion, he completes his task with a substantial amount of collateral carnage. Yet, as exhilarating as the opening is, it’s brought to a close by Sam Smith’s mediocre rendition of “Writing’s On The Wall” - and the film never recovers.

After the opening credits, rife with odd octopuses and women with claws, the rest of the movie plays like an all-too familiar spy feature. The 007 program is in jeopardy and Bond must operate as a rogue agent in order to take down an organization called Spectre, an an anti-MI6, international terror group. If this all sounds familiar, you likely recall back to this year’s more engaging spy feature, Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation. While Rogue Nation highlighted Tom Cruise’s charm and the entire cast’s strengths, Spectre underutilizes the majority of its cast. Daniel Craig seems uninterested throughout the film, and the various role-players, from Ralph Fiennes as M to Naomie Harris as Moneypenny, do little to advance the story.

Perhaps most disappointing is Christoph Waltz. When Waltz signed on to play the villain Oberhauser in Spectre, it seemed as if the franchise would finally have a villain that would be able to face Bond toe-to-toe. While Mads Mikkelsen as Le Chiffre gave bond an apt mental challenge in Casino Royale and Javier Bardem as Silva showcased a zany and flamboyant villain in Skyfall, neither were considered as the highlight of their respective films. However, with the two-time Academy Award winning Waltz in therole, it seemed as if things would change. Unfortunately, they did not, and rather, a huge step back was taken. Severely underutilized, and playing a milder version of his character from Inglorious Basterds, Waltz fails to showcase Oberhausen as a force to be reckoned with. Instead, we are given muddy character motivations and revelations that do little more than to invoke yawns and jeers from the audience.

No Bond movie is complete without the “bond girl” and in Spectre, we have ‘two’, both of which cannot be considered more than cardboard cut-outs. Italian star Monica Belluci has an extended cameo that serves truly no purpose but to have a completely unnecessary and steamy (for PG-13 standards) scene with Craig. Blue is the Warmest Color star Lea Seydoux has the larger role of Madeleine Swann in Spectre and while originally portrayed as a strong and skillful woman, later easily succumbs to Bond’s cringe-worthy charm. The romance angle between Bond and Swann in Spectre is so poorly written that one wonders how none of the four writers realized how ridiculously the relationship developed. You could hear audible laughs when Swann preposterously whispers to Bond “I love you” in an already risible scene featuring Oberhauser and Bond.

Ultimately though, the film’s fatal flaw is its lack of flare. In essence, Spectre is boring. After a promising start, the film devolves into a generic and overly long ‘action’ film, with few action pieces that we haven’t seen before. While the story does conclude with several loose threads left hanging, it seems that Craig’s time as Bond is indeed complete. And while the end is bittersweet, perhaps it’s better to end here and remember Craig’s run as one of the greatest Bonds to grace the screen, regardless of his lackluster last outing.