Daniel Craig’s tenure as James Bond has been mostly positive after some initial concern when he was originally cast. But the Blonde Bond has defied the early criticism. His previous three movies have gone down a different route than many of his predecessors, taking cue’s from more recent spy franchises like The Bourne series in order to create a more cohesive and grittier world. The Craig series tend to link together, as we enter his fourth movie at the helm of the famous British spy, we see aspects of Bond’s past come together, highlighted in the opening credits’ visuals as we see former love interests and foes. With director Sam Mendes returning as director, Spectre aims to build upon the events of Skyfall and push Bond to his limits.
There are really two main stories at play here, Bond’s and MI6’s. For Bond, after receiving a request from a longtime friend now passed away, he begins to investigate several shady individuals, slowly unravelling the mysterious group led my Oberhauser (Christoph Waltz). MI6 meanwhile is undergoing change, as a new top dog considers the 00 program obsolete and inefficient, looking to replace it under his watch. These two stories interweave with one another at points before coming together in the endgame, but it serves to keep all of the main players occupied with their own drama for much of the movie. Bond’s story, as you would expect, is far stronger, both in depth and impact. There are some good ideas in the other plot but it feels underdeveloped and doesn’t have the weight to make it interesting enough alongside Bond’s fairly personal arc.
The action scenes are all serviceable, some of them were definitely more entertaining than others, but none of them stand out. There’s no ‘tank through Petersburg’ type moments ala Goldeneye (or even the opening scene with the train in Skyfall) that will stick with you long after the movie has finished. And while there shouldn’t be a requirement for some overblown action scene that tops everything we’ve seen before, for an action movie to have no memorable scenes is a little disappointing, especially since Spectre feels more action packed than the previous Daniel Craig Bond movies. Much of the action feels more like the earlier Bond’s, ticking through the typical car/boat/aerial scenes that you’d expect. The action scenes are at their best though when Craig and ex-wrestler Dave Bautista are squaring off. Bautista says about one word in the entire movie, but he’s quickly established as a take no prisoners tough guy to test Bond at every turn.
Sam Mendes did a fantastic job directing Spectre. In fact some of the best parts of the movie come from how he frames everything and presents the movie. It is beautifully shot, from the angles to the lighting, and this is demonstrated right from the very first scene in Mexico. The way Cristoph Waltz’s character is introduced is brilliant – the use of shadows and the suspense of the scene immediately cements him as the lead antagonist and someone you shouldn’t mess with. The acting across the board is good too. Craig is as always a solid Bond, although we see him treading back into more traditional aspects of the persona after subverting a lot of these quirks in his three previous outings, and Lea Seydoux is an entertaining ‘Bond girl’, and a character who is given enough depth to avoid the classic shallow love interests of some of the earlier movies.
Which is good, but much of this development comes during the slow second act. The movie clocks in at two and a half hours, and you do feel that time ticking by. Some longer movies seem to fly, but you notice the length of this one, especially as it slows to a crawl at times. This is compounded by wasting Cristoph Waltz somewhat as the main antagonist. He’s enjoyable when he’s in the movie, even beyond the introduction, but there simply isn’t that much of him to develop his character, especially for how integral he becomes to Bond’s arc. Part of Skyfall’s strength was off of Javier Bardem’s performance as Silva, who had enough screentime to be that constant looming presence. With Waltz you’re told that he’s a constant force, and while not always being on screen makes sense if he’s meant to be in the shadows, you can only be told so much about him through side characters before it gets a little redundant. You’re left wanting more from him.
There are some good tense moments here. The scenes with Bautista and Craig are fun and solid action scenes, and their interactions say a lot without a word being verbalised. Ben Whishaw and Naomi Harris return as Q and Moneypenny respectively and add a lot to the team dynamic on either side of Bond, although I found it difficult to see past Ralph Fiennes role in Harry Potter to really enjoy his role as the new ‘M’ (not his fault though). There’s plenty of good things about Spectre, but ultimately it ends up being very mediocre, weighed down ultimately by its script more than anything else. It’s better than Quantam of Solace, but it fails to reach the heights that both Casino Royale and Skyfall achieved. Spectre will likely just end up being one of those Bond movies that are neither here nor there, which would be a sad way to send off Daniel Craig if it is going to be his last outing as the famous spy.