If there’s one thing the Bond films have been striving for since Daniel Craig took over the role in 2006’s Casino Royale, it’s inter-connectivity. The older films never connected to each other much. Sure, there was the odd reference here and there, a recurring villain or two and in one particularly notable instance there was a direct sequel. But for the most part, the films stood by themselves. New Bond has veered increasingly in the opposite direction and with Spectre, it tries to wrap the whole endeavor together with a neat bow on top. It is unsuccessful.
After the events of Skyfall, James Bond (BAFTA Film Award nominee Daniel Craig; The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, The Golden Compass) finds himself hunting a mysterious target across the globe, going against orders and generally causing problems for the new M (two-time Academy Award nominee Ralph Fiennes; Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – Part 2, The Grand Budapest Hotel). After being placed on leave from MI-6 following a violent public spectacle in Mexico City, Bond doubles down on the search, which leads him closer and closer to a shadowy criminal organisation that seems connected to every mission he’s taken over the past few films.
Skyfall was always going to be a tough act to follow; it is an incredible film that gave Bond a history and vulnerability as well as featuring a ton of incredible action and an excellent performances by the supporting cast. Spectre had a lot to live up to and it never manages to free itself from the shadow of its predecessor. It tries to play against the usual Bond format like Skyfall did, but it struggles to achieve the same result, trying desperately to establish an epic, global conspiracy. Ultimately, it fails to give the plot the scale it warrants.
Don’t get me wrong, Spectre is an enjoyable film, but it’s clear at every turn that it isn’t hitting the marks it’s aiming at. The biggest problem is the idea of a secret criminal organisation that’s been pulling the strings behind the scenes for years.
It’s an awesome idea, one that could pay dividends if handled correctly, but Spectre‘s problem is that the previous three installments weren’t written with this outcome in mind. Casino Royale and Quantum of Solace hinted at something larger, but the script (written by three-time Academy Award nominee John Logan; Gladiator, The Aviator; BAFTA Film Award nominee Neal Purvis; Johnny English, Return to Sender; BAFTA Film Award nominee Robert Wade; The World is Not Enough, Die Another Day; and Jez Butterworth; Black Mass, Edge of Tomorrow) struggles to link it all together. It’s one thing to have a villain proudly announce that he’s the author of all Bond’s pain, but the film never actually demonstrates that.
The plot is supposed to be global, a threat spanning every continent, but for all that hot air the film feels small. There’s no real sense of scale here, with Bond bouncing from scene to scene with no real sense of that huge threat.
It also fails to succeed on the smaller, more personal levels. The deepening of Bond’s character from Skyfall is traded for a rushed, half-done love story that doesn’t ring true and a return to the more closed-off version of the character we’ve seen so many times over. It doesn’t help that the film is overlong, sagging heavily in the middle after one too many unnecessary detours.
However, the film does some excellent work at times. The opening sequence in Mexico City during the Day of the Dead celebrations is an incredible piece of cinema and the finale, while suffering from that ever present lack of scale, is excellent.
These bookends sweeten the sour taste of the film’s failings along with an excellent utilisation of the supporting cast. Two-time Academy Award winner Christoph Waltz (Django Unchained, Inglorious Basterds) is enjoyable though criminally underused and Lea Seydoux (Blue is the Warmest Color, Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol) does her best in an underwritten role.
Nevertheless, Spectre‘s true strength comes from New Bond’s tradition of bringing 007’s support team into the spotlight, with M, Moneypenny (Naomie Harris; Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End, 28 Days Later), Tanner (Rory Kinnear; The Imitation Game, Penny Dreadful) and Q (Ben Wishaw; Cloud Atlas, The Hour) all stepping up in a great thread of scenes that culminate brilliantly in the third act.
Of special note is Ralph Fienne’s M, who gets his first full film in the position this time around. Taking over a role from as venerable an actress as Judi Dench is no small task, but Fiennes handles it well and assumes the mantle with relative ease.
Helped by his introduction in Skyfall (the first M to have such a courtesy in a Bond film), Fiennes plays the part with great magnetism and no small of amount of physical presence. You get the sense that he’s a very capable man, one who perhaps used to do what Bond does, and Fiennes nails it.
Academy Award winner Sam Mendes’ (American Beauty, Road to Perdition) direction is nothing to scoff at either. Starting the film with a fantastic extended shot that spans several minutes, the director instantly stamps his own style on the proceedings and his work in the action sequences is exemplary. The film looks great as well, boasting a wide range of gorgeous environments and plenty of visual spectacle, especially in the final half an hour.
Perhaps I’m too hard on Spectre. It’s an enjoyable film certainly, but there are so many faults and failures that I’d be remiss if I excused them. There are too many jagged edges and missed opportunities. It’s a fun enough day at the cinema but it certainly won’t be remembered as a top notch Bond film. There’s plenty to like here, and if I weren’t analyzing it for review, I’d probably be a lot happier with it.