BWW Review: SPECTRE is Bland, Paint-By-Numbers Bond Film
No matter how many times a spy has had to use his license to kill, or how many women half his age he's taken to bed, or how many times he's ordered a martini "shaken, not stirred," at some point it all begins to be too much to handle; he begins to question the greater existential point behind all of the shooting, all of the romancing, and all of the drinking that he's done over the past 53 years. He begins to hate everything that he has been for the past half century. Welcome to your mid-life crisis, James Bond; what's, waiting for you is SPECTRE, a joyless, paint-by-numbers Bond movie, where the colors are all beiges and greys, and nearly every form of familiar entertainment has been muted.
In Broadway alum Daniel Craig's fourth outing as Agent 007, and second directed by Tony-nominee Sam Mendes, the legendary MI-6 spy is still dealing with the fallout witnessed in SKYFALL. The emotional baggage surrounding the death of his beloved M (played by Judi Dench) has led 007 on a quest to bring down Spectre, a secret terrorist organization that hasn't been mentioned in a Bond film in 32 years (for various legal and copyright reasons).
In one of many moves to bring the series to a more grounded, realistic perspective, the film's screenwriters, including Tony-winner John Logan and nominee Jez Butterworth, have incorporated a plot line which has MI-6 helpless as the new C (Andrew Scott of TV's SHERLOCK and Broadway's THE VERTICAL HOUR), the head of the Joint Intelligence Service, pushing forward with a multi-national intelligence and surveillance cooperative that would give the governments involved access to nearly all of the world's information at the touch of a button. Neal Purvis and Robert Wade also return as co-screenwriters, but other than that Orwellian comment on governmental over-reach, I'm not sure what the scribes have done to build upon the basic Bond formula.
The narrative's outline is strong enough, if not compelling, but with so much money spent on explosions, extras, and location shoots, it almost seems as if they ran out of room in the budget for minor things like coherent storytelling and dialogue. One of the film's major villains, played by former WWE Champion and current Guardian of the Galaxy Dave Bautista, chases Bond for over half of the film, and only is allowed to speak one word. The film feels as if it is striving to blend Bond's traditional, preposterous action sequences with a sophisticated level of film noir mystery and intrigue, and the gritty, modern sensibilities of a Christopher Nolan superhero movie. Unfortunately, what results is a lifeless exercise in which 007 begins to question what comes next as he moves into a new chapter in his life.
If SPECTRE does turn out to be Craig's final installment in the series, the film does have the feel of a television "series finale." Gone is the character's charm and cleverness, what's left is the silent guilt of a man beaten-down by 50 years of espionage. All of that pathos leads Bond to the brink of abandoning his life as a spy.
Helping Bond's potential transition to a less death-filled life is French actress Léa Seydoux as Dr. Madeleine Swann, the daughter of a Spectre senior member from Bond's past. As is Standard 007 Operating Procedure, the two quickly fall in lust with each other; but will Bond's connection with this daughter of an assassin (potentially the only woman alive who could understand him) be enough to lure him (or at least the Danial Craig version of him) away from MI-6? Anything is possible, but I guess we will have to wait until the next film is announced to find out.
The film's peripheral characters are the things that feel the most like traditional Bond. Tony-winner Ralph Fiennes is stalwart and disapproving as the now full-time M, Ben Whishaw (who will make his Broadway debut as John Proctor in THE CRUCIBLE this season) is back as an underused Q, and Naomie Harris returns as agent turned assistant Moneypenny. While the faces change (especially as C, M, and Q are positions, rather than names), it is still nice to have these core characters play a small, but significant, role in assisting Bond.
Oscar winner Christoph Waltz is (or at least was) Franz Oberhauser, the son of the man that took a young James in when his parents died. Franz was presumed dead after his father was killed in an avalanche during a climbing trip, leaving Bond an orphan again. However, Oberhauser (with a new, more familiar name to Bond aficionados) turns out to be his adopted brother's arch-nemesis, having had a hand in all of the Craig-era destruction in Bond's life.
Waltz is, as always, wonderfully menacing, with just enough hints of craziness to make him unique. Unfortunately, he brings nearly all of the film's far too fleeting dashes of color. While Waltz could make nearly any movie more appealing, his evil-genius isn't featured enough to save Bond from his general mid-life malaise.
There are occasional moments of humor in the script, but nothing approaching the fun of classic Bond. While the out-and-out misogyny of the Connery-era films has thankfully been toned down, it feels as if the screenwriters thought that womanizing was the only way that Bond could be enjoyable. Therefore, they over-corrected, and, in an attempt to make Bond more realistic, they made him far less interesting.
Check out the trailer below:
SPECTRE, starring Daniel Craig, Christoph Waltz, Lea Seydoux, Rory Kinnear, Andrew Scott, Dave Bautista, Ralph Fiennes, and more, is rated PG-13 for intense sequences of action and violence, some disturbing images, sensuality, and language.
Did you think 007 was showing his age in SPECTRE? Let me know in the comments below, or on Twitter @BWWMatt. If you want to follow along with my "366 in 366" articles, you can check out #BWW366in366 on Twitter. Also, make sure to follow @BWWMoviesWorld on Twitter for all of the biggest news from the world of movies.
Photo and Video Credit: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios Inc., Danjaq, LLC and Columbia Pictures Industries, Inc.