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Categories: Movie Reviews

Spectre pales in comparison to the films it builds off of. Bland, derivative, and a tonal mess, it’s one of the most disappointing editions of the James Bond franchise. 

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Skyfall redefined the Bond franchise, but its successor, Spectre, seems to prefer the old definition. Clumsily trying to mash together every bit of Bond fanservice it can muster without finding a way to tonally, aesthetically or thematically connect it all together, the latest installment of Daniel Craig’s tenure as 007 is a bit of a double-0 mess that seems as if director Sam Mendes was unsure whether to stick with the Dark Knight-esque depth and introspection of Skyfall, or throw back to the simpler times of the older Bond films. In the process, it ends up all dressed up with too many places to go. 

The plot is eerily similar to Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation. Bond is in pursuit of a mysterious organization – Spectre – that is committing terrorist attacks around the globe, but he’s had to go cold because the 00 program has been disbanded. It’s old-fashioned and technologically inferior, says C (Andrew Scott), the leader of the Joint Intelligence Service that has taken its place. Bond, with only his own ingenuity and M (Ralph Fiennes), Q (Ben Whishaw) and Moneypenny (Naomi Harris) on his side, has to race against the clock to take down Spectre before they take over the world right under the Joint Intelligence Service’s nose. 

The rest is pretty self-explanatory for a Bond film: beautiful women, fast cars, exotic locales, vodka martinis, maniacal villains, and a whole lot of action. All of these elements are fine in concept, and absolutely expected from the average 007 adventure, but they don’t ever seem to find a overarching meaning beyond the obligatory a to b: drive the cars, save the day and get the girl.

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In this case, that girl is Léa Seydoux, whose role itself is a bit of a spoiler related to Spectre’s attempt to connect the last three Bond films together. Let’s just say she’s a smart, skilled “psychologist” who serves as Bond’s sidekick and main love interest. Another Bond Girl (or, as she has rightfully said, Bond Woman) is Monica Belluci, but her role is short and insignificant. She’s first used as a plot device to lead Bond to Spectre, and then there’s an uncomfortable love scene in which she serves as Bond’s oldest-ever on-screen conquest. That’s about it.

Christoph Waltz is also underused as the film’s main villain, Franz Oberhauser, playing the role in the same way he has played villains in countless films at this point. He doesn’t go to any level we aren’t used to from a Waltz villain, and is underwhelming in comparison to the best Bond villains from the Craig era, Casino Royale’s Le Chiffre and Skyfall’s Silva. Waltz gets the best dialogue, but most of it was in the trailers, anyway. 

One positive element of the cast is Bond’s team back at MI6, which is given more expanded importance as has been the trend in Craig’s era. Ben Whishaw provides the film’s comic relief as Q, and even gets a few scenes in the field which are some of Spectre’s most entertaining moments. Ralph Fiennes also excels as M, though it’ll take a bit more than excelling to fill Judi Dench’s shoes, and he’s got a long way to go before that happens. But though these characters bring some life to the film, they’re still on the service of a dull and derivative plot.

Part of the reason Spectre never seems to gel is the tone, which doesn’t ever manage to find its footing. At times, it’s one of the funnier Bonds, at others, one of the more serious. I like Sam Smith’s theme tune, “Writing’s On the Wall”, more than most, and am kind of sick of people still raving about Adele’s “Skyfall” (that’s not to say I don’t like Adele). That said, the hyper-emotional, dark song doesn’t really fit in with the overall feeling of Spectre, which is half “let’s be a bit dark, like Skyfall” and half “let’s not be too dark, the fan’s won’t like it”. The film never chooses between the two, resulting in a very mismatched experience. 

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In attempting to hold together the arc that’s been riding through the Craig era, Spectre’s plot is interlaced with thin references to Bond’s past and the other Craig films, which eventually leads to a “twist” for the sake of a twist that feels forced and contrived. Most of the important bits of the narrative (besides, obviously, the action scenes) are told through dialogue rather than shown, and so at the end when we’re expected to be moved by this revelation, we’re instead left feeling confused and empty, because there was such little effort in the foreshadowing that the twist just seems lazy. 

The action is, at least, relatively well put-together, but besides a riveting opening set in Mexico City during the Day of the Dead festival which beautifully utilizes the now-ubiquitous long-take technique, most of it feels empty and obligatory. This one has everything – a car chase, a boat chase, a train fight, a plane fight, a struggle in a helicopter – but none of them are as notable as their comparative sequences in earlier Bond films. There isn’t a moment comparable to the sequence in Skyfall when Bond straightens his tie after fighting his way onto a moving train, or the ridiculous car chase on ice from Die Another Day. Yes, the action is there, but where’s the charisma? The energy? The patriotism? I just didn’t feel it here. 

Spectre isn’t necessarily a bad film, but it is a bad Bond film. It’ll please most fans well enough, but there’s nothing that we’ll be remembering two or three films from now. Almost every element in the film has been done in another Bond film, and the rest has been done in Mission: Impossible. The atmosphere is bland – cinematographer Hoyt van Hoytema can’t find the colors and angles quite like Roger Deakins did in Skyfall – and the tropes are getting old. If Skyfall was the Bond martini shaken and revitalized, Spectre is it stirred into a new combination of the same old, same old. And if you know how the man himself likes his drinks, you’ll know which film he would’ve preferred. 

Spectre is out now in UK cinemas. 

Cameron Johnson

Cameron Johnson is a writer and filmmaker born in England, based in Michigan, USA, and currently living in Enniscrone, Ireland. He writes about all things entertainment with a speciality in film criticism. He has been working on films ever since middle school, when his shorts "Moving Stateside" and "The Random News" competed in the West Branch Children's Film Festival. Since then he's written and directed a number of his own films and worked in many different crew jobs. Follow him on Twitter @GambasUK and look at his daily film diary at letterboxd.com/gambasUK.

Posted on Oct 30, 2015

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