Warning: This review refers to significant spoilers from the previous Bond installment, “Skyfall”.
James Bond is at it again in the latest installment of the iconic Bond franchise, Spectre. Following the death of the beloved leader of MI6, M (played by Judi Dench) at the end of Skyfall, Bond receives a final mission from her from beyond the grave: find and kill a man named Marco Sciarra, and be sure to attend the funeral. This starts Bond on a winding path down to the depths of the criminal underworld, where a massive organization known as Spectre waits to take Bond down once and for all.
Daniel Craig, making his 4th appearance as James Bond, still strikes me as one of the more convincing actors to play the role, despite the fact that he recently stated in an interview that he’d rather slash his wrists than be in another Bond film. I get it. Actors are supposed to tell a story with emotion, and Bond is a character who is defined by his detachment from such burdensome things. Whether he’s hanging out of a helicopter door in the middle of a drag-down knock out fight or seducing the wife of an enemy, you never see Bond’s emotion. Love interest gets shot in front of him? A shame really, but nothing to mourn. Bodyguard twice his size coming after him? No problem. Even when he’s in a collapsing building and falls, he lands on a sofa…because of course he would. As I said, I think that Craig is probably one of the better Bonds in the franchise, but his exhaustion at playing the Bond role comes through in this movie. He doesn’t seem calm and collected; he seems bored, and it’s contagious.
His female counterpart, Dr. Madeleine Swann, adds a little more depth than his usual arm-candy in that she was steeped in the world of spies and assassins by her father, Mr. White. However, even her backstory can’t save her from falling into the entrenched role of Bond’s second fiddle.
Then there’s Bond’s rival in Spectre: the infamous Ernst Stavro Blofeld, played by Christoph Waltz. Blofeld continues the theme of technology and consolidated information being mankind’s greatest threat by manipulating a vast information network designed to counteract intelligence agencies around the world. With the assistance of moles planted throughout the various agencies, Blofeld plans on uniting their data streams and having complete control over the world’s ability to repel terrorist attacks. Waltz plays his role well, a jilted shadow of Bond’s past reincarnated to wreak havoc and destruction in his life.
While the story attempts to crack open the aloof and distant Bond by integrating another element of his childhood, it lacks the emotional impact and intrigue of Skyfall. The newly christened “M” is doing his best to keep the 00 program intact, with Q playing the ever-reluctant accomplice to Bond’s renegade shenanigans. While the classic Bond team is strengthened and further developed, you still don’t leave the theater really feeling that much more connected with the characters or invested in their success going forward.
The cinematography in this movie is the standout star. The action sequences leave you breathless as the camera swings, pans and zooms down city streets and through the air. Even in its quiet moments you can appreciate the thematics of a hollowed-out building or the crumbling ruin of an old European hotel. The cinematography lends action and engagement to scenes where the acting may have fallen short, and helps to craft an entertaining and thrilling adventure.
From death-defying fights and high-octane car chases to exploding time-pieces and beautiful women, Spectre is a characteristically Bond film…however, this might be its fatal flaw. It has the unfortunate timing of following Skyfall, which is arguably one of the best films of the franchise, and earned its reputation by breaking the Bond mold. By returning to the formulaic and the predictable, Spectre unfortunately sends the Bond franchise back to its previous reputation as reliable entertainment, but not much more. Despite its title, Spectre is ultimately haunted by the higher standard its predecessor set back in 2012.