When I got my hands on a copy of Daniel Craig's fourth installment of his James Bond portrayal I was ecstatic. The trailers painted a gritty tale with several callbacks to past films such as Mr. White. Christoph Waltz's casting as a Bond villain seemed like a match made in cinema heaven. Sam Mendes would also be returning as director on the heels of fabricating one of the greatest Bond films to date: Skyfall. I even had Sam Smith's stunning ballad, "Writings on the Wall", on repeat in preparation for the movie. But I was astonished at the heaping pile of disappointment that Spectre really was. While I must give credit to Sam Mendes for crafting a visually stunning film, the movie missed the mark on its identity and writing. To understand exactly how this film failed we'll be comparing it to its predecessor and to the simple elements that make a great action film. So let's delve into the most recent James Bond renditions... but first I'd like a medium dry martini, lemon peel. Shaken, not stirred.
While I did enjoy seeing a childhood hero of mine, Dave Bautista, hunt Bond down his character was just a beefed up henchmen for Blofeld. This wouldn't have mattered if he didn't receive so much screen time. I would go as far to say that I saw more of Bautista than I did Waltz. Also his hilarious ONE WORD of dialogue before he died had me rolling on the floor from how out of place it was. Then there was the totally useless Max Denbigh who was attacking MI6 from a more political spectrum. This character was so boring that his subplot with M and the other agents made the movie just drag on. His entire storyline should've been cut out from the movie.
Both films follow the Bond formula: James is tasked with taking down a supervillain, journeys to beautiful landscapes and cities, runs into beautiful women along the way, and kicks some serious butt. But the plot for Skyfall is leagues ahead of the one written for Spectre. In Skyfall, the film begins with Bond disappearing into a life of seclusion after nearly dying in the middle of an operation. He then returns to MI6 after a bombing takes place in their headquarters and it is clear to him that M needs his assistance. Still not fit to return as an agent, Bond is still cleared by M to pursue the lead on this hidden enemy. He finds himself captured and introduced to his eccentric antagonist, Silva. The rest of the film plays out as a constant game of cat and mouse, where Silva seems to be a step ahead of Bond. Had Daniel Craig ceased to star in any more Bond films after Skyfall, viewers would've felt satisfied with the ending. The action throughout had weight and tension due to Bond's vulnerability from the start. He took the job far from being at his peak. Moments such as Bond falling into the frozen lake and the pursuit of Silva through the railways of London had me on the edge of my seat. The story was rich and entertaining. However, the same can not be said for Spectre.
Spectre's plot is wonky and boring. The film begins with Bond performing an unauthorized mission to capture a terrorist leader, Marcos Sciarra, who he kills and steals an odd ring from. After seducing Sciarra's widow, Bond finds out the octopus engraving on the ring symbolizes the ultra-secretive organization known as Spectre. He infiltrates a meeting for the group and is exposed by its clandestine leader Blofeld. The rest of the film is Bond being chased by Blofeld's assassin Hinx and trying to uncover exactly what the organization is with the aid of Mr. White's daughter, Dr. Madeline Swann.
But I almost forgot... there's a second plot line occurring throughout the entire film. It's also no coincidence that I forgot because it's extremely boring. While Bond is out on the ground, M and the secret agent program (00) are at risk of being terminated by the government to fund a new global surveillance project that is in tandem with Spectre. Every time we cut back to London, it took me further and further away from the primary storyline of Bond and Swann. I can understand that this was put in place to make Spectre feel like a global threat but it really dragged the movie down.
Back to the Bond story arc: I felt that the attempt to tie in all four Daniel Craig films was forced and unnecessary. Mendes tried to create this almost ultra villain who had been the supposed architect of all Bond's misery in the previous films. They also discuss how Blofeld was actually Bond's adopted brother, his father taking the orphaned Bond and raising him. Blofeld was jealous of the attention James received from his father and killed him. This could've made for an epic confrontation and rivalry but it had zero setup. Blofeld didn't feel half as intimidating as Silvia or Le Chiffre in prior films. The 5-minute explanation of their family history felt tacked on and lacked the substantive build-up needed for such a reveal. While we received hints of Bond's childhood throughout the three films we never heard of this brother he had or the grief he felt when his father was mysteriously murdered. The plot twist was poorly executed and made the film feel more over the top and hollow.
Another very forced theme in the film was the relationship between Bond and Swann. Casino Royale created a very genuine love between Vesper and Bond that audiences could really feel. When she drowned, Bond's agony was clear and believable. But the relationship between Bond and Swann did not have that same connection. How they practically hated each other throughout the whole film and then suddenly start making out after Hinx's death literally made me laugh out loud.
Let's face it, every Bond film has some amazing action scenes. What I love about the Daniel Craig movies is the more "realistic" take on the franchise. For example, there are no laser beams, silly gadgets, or a motorboat skiing through the Antarctic. Again I must commend Sam Mendes for crafting well-shot action scenes in both films... but there's one key difference: Spectre is filled to the brim with tension-less action. Scenes such as the fistfight between Bond and the sniper wielding assassin alongside the final battle at the Skyfall mansion feel intense. You hear every grunt, the punches leave marks, and it feels realistic. You worry over Bond's safety as well as M's because they are vulnerable.
In Spectre the action is ridiculous. From the opening scene in Mexico City, we see Bond flying a helicopter that twirls in midair (on top of a crowd of thousands of people). Another scene in Switzerland has him flying a massive plane through wooden buildings (which he leaves practically unscathed). Lastly, his escape from the Satellite Base where Bond is sniping people, who are hundreds of feet away, with his 9mm pistol seems more in line with Schwarzenegger's Commando. The fact that the action isn't realistic just makes the poor writing feel even worse. The only scene where I actually worried for Bond was the fight in the train between him and Hinx. But that cinematic battle ends with a hilarious final word and an extremely awkward love scene. Spectre lacks the sense of tension and vulnerability Skyfall thrived on.
The last issue I have with Spectre is Bond's character. For a movie that really aimed to tie each past films together, they failed to build upon the character arc Daniel Craig's Bond had been building since his introduction in Casino Royale. Each of the past three films had a different theme: Casino - Romance, Quantum of Solace - Revenge, and Skyfall - Loyalty (to M). Spectre has a mixture of all three and it makes Bonds intentions feel out of place sometimes. Skyfall really capitalized on a broken Bond at the start who regains his footing by the end. Bond is clearly broken and after returning to MI6 due to his injury and time away from his job. By the end of it he is back as cunning as ever, ready to serve the newly appointed M. In Spectre, Bond is the same character in the beginning as he is in the end. The only difference is his new found love for Swann, which is meant to signify Bond's acceptance of Vesper's death. But it falls flat since their relationship feels forced. So Spectre fails in a basic form of storytelling: a character arc.
I don't hate Spectre. It's still an enjoyable action movie and Daniel Craig has cemented himself as the best Bond only rivaled by Sean Connery in my opinion. But its flaws are clear to see by any viewer. Poor writing and storytelling are the main components holding back a film that had so much potential. While Skyfall isn't a perfect film, it embodies everything a great film should have. The only thing these two films stand toe-to-toe on is their theme song (Spectre gets a slight edge).