“I always felt that the old Bond films were only as good as the villain. As a child, I rather fancied a futuristic colorful megalomaniac.”
-Harry Hart (Kingsman: The Secret Service)
2015 has been the year of the action film. Mad Max: Fury Road, Furious 7, Rogue Nation, and now Spectre are just a few of the explosion-centric movies released this year. Spectre also falls into another genre that has had a successful year. Of course Spectre is a spy film. Unfortunately, it only succeeds in one of the genres. The traditional Bond themes are alive and kicking in Spectre. 007’s womanizing and lone wolf syndrome are at the heart of this film, but as a spy film Spectre feels trite. Christoph Waltz is a prototypical villain with a lair in the middle of nowhere. Lea Seydoux as Madeleine Swann is a slight diversion from other Bond girls and falls close to Eva Green’s Vesper Lynd. The strange thing about this latest addition into the Bond filmography is that all of it seems half-hearted.
The 24th edition of James Bond (Daniel Craig) sends him on a globe trotting adventure to uncover a sinister organization. While M (Ralph Fiennes) battles political forces to keep the secret service alive, Bond peels back the layers of deceit to reveal the terrible truth behind SPECTRE. It should go without saying that the usual Bond allies Moneypenny (Naomie Harris) and Q (Ben Whishaw) are in the film, but they also play expanded roles in this iteration. Q is heavily involved in the action twice in the film, which is definitely a step out of the normal Bond flow. Whishaw is great so it doesn’t hurt the film to have more of him, but it does seem like an odd choice to make Spectre into a team film.
With so many great actors it’s really hard to have a bad performance, and there really aren’t any to be found. What can be said though is that nothing is particularly great. Waltz is woefully under-used and doesn’t show up in full force until the third act. His character of Oberhauser is one of the most poorly conceived Bond villains of all time. Andrew Scott as C should have really been the villain, but the writers care so little for this character that he only gets screen time when it involves team Bond. C has the only clearly written role in the film. We know why he wants what he wants, and it seems like a plausible thing to fight for.
Sam Mendes as a Bond director has always seemed like a strange choice. Mendes is known for intense dramas like American Beauty and Revolutionary Road. The closest thing he’s made to an action film is maybe Jarhead or Road to Perdition. But Skyfall showed that Mendes has an eye for action set pieces, and Spectre is no different. A wonderfully shot street race between Bond and Hinx (Dave Bautista) is a highlight of the film. The hand to hand fighting is some of the best in the series. Mendes has also brought his flair for the dramatic to the spy franchise. The ending of Skyfall has by far the best acting done in any of the films. Mendes and The Dame Judi Dench make a marvelous duo. Spectre has little of that.
Sadly for Mendes, he is filming a horrible script. The script for Spectre went through at least five revisions by five writers. Even though he isn’t credited, it has been reported that Daniel Craig tweaked the script. In the much talked about “Sony leak” it was revealed that execs at the company weren’t happy about the script. It is, however, unclear what improvements were actually made. The dialogue is at times extremely cheesy and completely forced. The motivations for characters are confusing. Oberhauser hates 007 and is a villain because of jealousy? Waltz’s character is so out of touch with the rest of the film. The script tries so hard to connect the previous films to this one that it makes the story an incoherent mess. The relationship between Swann and Bond is forced. It feels like a retread of Casino Royale, and they fall in love only because the finale needs it.
The most impressive thing about Spectre is how gorgeous it looks. Hoyte Van Hoytema’s cinematography was on par with anything shot this year. The action is shot perfectly, and the wide shots of land are breathtaking. Mendes has an expert eye for getting establishing shots. This film could easily play as an advertisement for Hoytema. The fairly new cinematographer will undoubtedly be heard from again very soon. As beautiful as the film is to look at, the CGI is absolutely horrendous. I’m always surprised when a film that has a budget the size of some countries’ GDP looks this bad. At this point it isn’t hard to make CGI look good. Unless you’re trying to pull off the special effects on the scale of the next Gravity or Avatar, your film should have no reason to look this bad.
Spectre was anticipated because of all the talent involved. Daniel Craig as James Bond is as natural as it gets. The excitement after Skyfall left us all wanting more. The addition of Christoph Waltz as a Bond villain made everything seemed poised for a landmark entry. Unfortunately though, that is not what happened. Waltz’s talent is wasted. What could have been a legendary role now seems mediocre. Mendes assembled a great team to shoot this film and it looks majestic, but the CGI is subpar. The first act is exciting and fun, while the rest of the film feels like the amalgamation of every bad Bond film. Corny dialogue piled onto one of the worst scripts in the franchise will leave you frustrated. It seems as though the curse of alternating between bad and good Bond films remains true. Spectre is about as memorable as the last time I had fast food.