I’m not going to sugarcoat this review. Spectre was both underwhelming and disappointing, and as a major Bond fan (who until recently had the whole collection on VHS) I was totally saddened by this. Totally. I put the blame on director Sam Mendes. A big chunk of it anyway.
Most known for directing drama (hi American Beauty), Mendes was an interesting choice for 2012’s Skyfall. Skyfall, the most introspective of Bond films (as much as one can say that Bond is self-aware) is a beautiful film full of the absence of sound. I absolutely love this technique—the void of sound where the audience is left to fill it in. It becomes tense and full and merged wonderfully with Bond going back to his family home and all the unseen ghosts conjured there. The script also offered a director loads of material to work with in fun ways—the introduction of Miss Moneypenny, the new Q!, Bond’s sad orphan childhood, and his relationship with M (old and new). Let’s not forget delicious Bond girl / femme fatale Séverine (played by actress Bérénice Marlohe), and of course Javier Bardam as the evil Raoul Silva. My god, the sexual tension.
However much I enjoyed all of those directorial elements in Skyfall, they were lost on me in Spectre. It was as if everyone was given the direction to assume a flat affect. Even most excellent Christoph Waltz as the indomitable baddy Blofeld was only half as bad as he could have been. He played the role of psycho-terrorist Blofeld with all the emotional impact of your mom’s Facebook feed. Hugely disappointing, especially when compared with Bardam’s creepily enticing Silva. There was also a major lack of scenes with people in it. Beyond the opening scene in Mexico City during the Day of the Dead parade, every other scene was devoid of secondary and supporting actors. Where’s the intrigue? Where are the subtle looks exchanged across a crowded room? Where’s the damn martini? As viewers we are placed in a vacuum. This same vacuum is what created a feeling of intimacy in Skyfall, but in Spectre it feels decidedly like dissonance and places the viewer very much on the outside looking in.
Let’s also talk about how old Daniel Craig is to be playing Bond. At 47, he’s not the oldest actor to portray him—that honour goes to Roger Moore who was a whopping 58 years of age for the film A View to a Kill.
Aside: Despite Moore’s doddering age and mega-annoying Bond girl Tanya Roberts, A View to a Kill remains one of my favourite Bond movies because CHRISTOPHER WALKEN and GRACE JONES. So many good things about that combo.
In the grand scheme of things Craig is not so old, in Bond life he’s not even the oldest but geez does he ever look old in the opening action scene for Spectre. Like haggard looking old. Which makes the sex scene with main Bond girl Léa Seydoux (aged 30, looks 20) feel so embarrassing. Like watching a Tom Cruise movie embarrassing. Now, Craig’s sexy scene with Monica Bellucci (aged 51, looks mid-30s) was a pairing that didn’t send me into repeated eye-rolls. Why wasn’t she the main Bond girl? That would have been interesting. The writers probably couldn’t have gotten away with the usual insipidness of the typical Bond girl character with an actress like Bellucci playing the role. Who am I kidding—that shit is ingrained in the Bond canon. And usually I can ignore it for the sake of the history of the franchise but when they reboot Bond as a blond-haired, stocky, and craggy-faced brute, then they can bloody-well make their Bond girls have at least two brain cells to rub together. I mean Seydoux’s character Dr. Madeleine Swann, child of an assassin who knows how to handle weapons, doesn’t even get a gun at the final showdown! She’s relegated to hide behind Bond and scamper to safety. Ridiculous.
I went along with the new look and feel when Casino Royale came out (although it still bothers me that the big game had been changed to poker instead of baccarat as in the novel). Still, it was fun times. The nods to previous films (music, props), and the introduction of Bond at the beginning of his career (not quite so suave, not quite so practiced) was a really cool revelation that was entertaining to see develop. Following that up with Quantum of Solace where he doesn’t even bed Bond girl Olga Kurylenko? Brilliant. Great revenge movie that segued smoothly into Skyfall territory. We’ve seen Bond through the early years now let’s see how he came to be an assassin for MI6. Spectre is supposed to be the transition to the Blofeld years. Viewers are supposed to leave the movie theatre wanting to see how the future movies will play out; what kind of evil will Bond encounter and triumph over? And more importantly, what kind of new gadgets will he get to use while doing so?
Instead, a few weeks after seeing the film, I’m hard-pressed to even remember the plot of Spectre let alone feeling like I should care about what comes next. I’m not going to tell you not to watch it because c’mon, it’s a Bond movie and as a Bond fan I’m compelled to watch them (and re-watch them), but I will say that if you happen to fall asleep halfway through that’s okay. Don’t beat yourself up too badly for missing a few redundant car chases and shoot-outs. After all, Bond always lives to see another day, let’s just hope his next outing isn’t as apathetic as this one was.