Sky(fall)’s the limit.
James Bond’s 24th outing reputedly had more than a few troubles in production, ranging from creative differences to total last-minute rewrites of entire sections. This happens far more often than you’d think, and often a movie can come together in spite of its problems. Spectre, though, isn’t so lucky; it’s a ticklist thematic retread that feels stretched and tired, where even the leading man looks like he’s had enough.
Storywise, we’re treated to another convoluted trip around the world, where the slightest of overheard conversations can lead 007 to a bar in Tunisia, or a whisp of a hunch can deliver our protagonists to a dusky desert base. The sheer convenience of the plot developments stands out like a sore thumb, only adding to the sense that the rotating team of writers had all watched the boxset with pen in hand. Linking the trip together is yet another story that delves into Bond’s past and tries to uncover yet more secrets about the spy’s early years in an attempt to go behind the curtain of what makes him tick. However, we’ve been behind that curtain so many times now and there’s not much left to explore; not just in every one of direct Sam Mendes’ films, but Brosnan’s entries also gave it a good stab (in the most eye-rolling, least effective way possible). At some point, the Bond producers are just going to have to accept that Bond, in all his iterations, is just a highly-educated hired killer who uses sex and bullets as equal weapons.
There are moments in Spectre where you think these interesting elements might actually be explored, usually when you’re trying to justify some crass behaviour from Bond that no actual person would ever tolerate, but it’s not to be. A case in point is when he first meets Monica Bellucci – a woman so perfect for a Bond Girl that it seems ridiculous to think this is her first entry – and throws himself at her. At this point, she’s literally just explained two things: 1) Bond’s removal of her assassin husband has now made her a target and she hates him for it, and 2) They have maybe five minutes before another wave of hitmen try to take her out. So does Bond grab her and run, leaping into his Product Placement Car and speeding away just as danger arrives? Of course not. Champagne first, then a seduction that’s so fast it leaves burn marks. In the blink of an eye, she goes from hate to lust. Maybe this is just the Bond effect. Maybe the two hitmen arrive and just politely watch as the film completely squanders this amazing actress (she’s absent for the rest of the movie). Then the sun comes up and it’s on to the next setpiece. Tick, tick, tick.
Léa Seydoux’s character comes closest to giving Bond a run for his money, and it’s in her performance that Spectre occasionally shines. She’s the daughter of one of Bond’s previous enemies (because of course she is, everything has to be linked to Bond’s past) who’s now in hiding after her father’s betrayal of the super-secret evil organisation (that has public meetings). When he tracks her down and tries his unique method of suave persuasion, she rejects him outright and continues to push him away even after he saves her from henchman Dave Bautista and his goons. There is even a brief moment – again, all too brief – where Bond’s veneer cracks and he demands to be told the information that she carries. Just for a second, we’re treated to a unique glimpse of a Bond who is frustrated and out of options, but then it dissipates with her sudden submission and is never seen again. She then follows Bellucci’s lead; I hate you>leave me alone>let’s have sex>I love you. The fact that this isn’t a spoiler says everything.
There is tantalising glimpse of her character’s full potential during a mid-train fight on an African train, an expert moment of surprise gunplay that definitely makes you wish she was the focus of her own entire movie. This feeling is exacerbated by Daniel Craig’s constant weariness about the whole thing, and I think it stretches past just Bond’s growing feelings of walking away from the spy life. It’s no secret that Craig’s used the Spectre press tour to tell anyone who’ll listen that he’s done with Bond, and doesn’t even like the character (a sentiment shared by Sean Connery); he was (apparently) originally contracted to make five appearances as Bond, Spectre being his fourth, but his post-film attitude does give cause to wonder if there are plans behind the scenes to refresh and restart. This is definitely Mendes’ last turn as a Bond Director, leading many to speculate who could take over the mantle.
Spectre isn’t a total dud by any means though, with enough reality-breaking escapism to stay focused on its entire (slightly inflated) runtime, but the problem here is Skyfall. Craig and Mendes’ previous film kept enough of the Bond characteristics to be familiar while exploding into new, original territory, and it was a formula that I loved. Skyfall had revelations and action that eased up slowly into a beautifully-directed finale; in comparison, Spectre starts spectacularly with a single-shot assassination attempt through a Mexican Day Of The Dead festival (which must have been a total nightmare to coordinate) but then the rest of the film deflates as it struggles to keep up. The cast is underused and character twists utterly unsurprising, so the story’s twists have no impact at all on the viewer. By the time the credits roll after a final moment of utterly tacked-on nostalgia, you’ve deflated with it, so when it says JAMES BOND WILL RETURN, it’s not the celebration it should be.
Still, if you’re you’re after a Bond movie that is better than Quantum Of Solace and floats quality-wise somewhere around the mid-range of Roger Moore’s run, then there’s far worse ways to spend fifteen dollars and 150 minutes. Just don’t expect Bond to leave you shaken or stirred this time.