Now Playing : Spectre

Nick Blank

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=z4UDNzXD3qA]                                                Video courtesy of Sony Pictures Entertainment

When I took notes during the film, I noticed I’d written the word “absurd” several times. Like most Bond action scenes or even the gags, most of Spectre was amusing. But it’s a step back.

Daniel Craig reinvented James Bond and defibrillated the franchise with Casino Royale. Then Skyfall set a benchmark for the series–it was heartfelt, chilling and ridiculous. Craig’s Bond has a detailed and moving background, and he’s easily experienced more personal trauma than of all the other Bonds combined. But director Sam Mendes made Spectre a Bond movie that’s too much like an older Bond variation. In Eon Production’s 24th Bond film, you get the feeling that Spectre tries to compete with other action sequels Mission: Impossible — Rogue Nation and Furious 7.

Graphic by Caitlyn Broyles
Graphic by Caitlyn Broyles

After M’s death at the end of Skyfall, Bond has to track down an assassin and infiltrate the evil organization of SPECTRE. MI6 merges with MI5 and the 00 program is considered for closure. MI5 has a shiny new building, meant to represent a changing world or something. We get the exotic locales and outrageous situations like most glossy action movies. Are action movies legally obligated to include a fight scene involving every mode of transportation? The opening is exciting as always, taking place on Mexico City’s Day of the Dead celebration, with a dizzying fight inside of a helicopter. Bond drag races through the conveniently empty streets of Rome–and don’t forget a train fight in Tangier with Dave Bautista playing a brutish Mr.Hintz, who may rank among the series’ best henchmen.

There are times when the Bond girl feels forced, and this is one of those times. Bond rescues Dr. Madeleine Swann (Lea Seydoux), said gloomy Bond girl. There’s decent chemistry there and she adds emotional heft, though still nowhere near Vesper Lynd from Casino Royale. Bond’s other helpers include holdovers from Skyfall: Ralph Fiennes is the new M, secretary Eve Moneypenny (Naomie Harris), MI6 chief of staff Bill Tanner (Rory Kinnear) and Q (Ben Whishaw). Not a ton to see there, other than Bond’s always-entertaining petty feud with Q. There seems to be a Judi-Dench-sized hole in the supporting cast. She’s not only missed because of her compelling character of M, but she added a depth of seriousness and extracted a intimate relationship with Bond. Mendes and the screenwriters unsuccessfully try to fill that void with Blofeld.

Christoph Waltz plays iconic Bond villain Ernst Stavro Blofeld. Waltz almost pulls it off, but it’s apparent that the movie suffers around him. Waltz’s acting pedigree is practically tailored for the role of Blofeld.  It turns out he’s the character from Bond’s past who’s been pulling the strings of SPECTRE the whole time. There is a torture scene that almost rivals Le Chiffre’s traumatic ball-whacking scene in Casino Royale. This one involves Bond strapped to a chair, drills the size of a toothpick, and lots of screaming. Unlike Javier Bardem’s bleach-blonde, sexual, revenge-driven lunatic villain Silva, Waltz isn’t really given a chance to breathe. As an effect, his personal connection to Bond in the film’s big reveal seems cheapened.

Then, in a failed attempt to stay modern, Spectre toils with the issue of surveillance. The head of MI5 is a scheming bureaucrat named Max Denbigh, or C (Andrew Scott). C constantly berates the methods of MI6’s use of agents, and praises the NSA-like global surveillance and the use of drones. C’s character is too awkward, exaggerated and forced to be a Bond villain. I’ll never dismiss a film for discussing a current event, but at some point you start to ask yourself why a Bond movie is grasping for cultural relevance like this.

Daniel Craig’s run of Bond films has been a thrill. Built like a Greek god, Craig is a manifestation of sex, steel and British luxury. In Spectre, Craig has a dash of Roger Moore’s aloofness. Sure he can try, but Craig can’t do camp; he’s just too rigid. Mendes tossed the dark anti-hero model of Bond out the window. Spectre is a conventional Bond film that takes no risks, in a Bond catalogue stuffed with similar mediocre films like Tomorrow Never Dies, or License To Kill.

If Craig’s bizarre, profane interviews are any indication, this might be his last Bond film–although he is contracted for a fifth. The standard for the next Bond actor will be held up to Craig and Sean Connery equally. Craig has served the Bond franchise that well.

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