On opening night I saw Spectre, the 24 official film in the franchise. Two months later, I’m writing about it! Most of my friends know that I LOVE Bond films–I’ve seen every one, own every one on DVD, had read the Ian Flemming novels. I even love the bad ones–I was perfectly entertained by Quantum of Solace, and love how terrible the Rodger Moore era was. What’s more, I think I have a really healthy relationship with the films–unlike some fans I don’t think the films have to hit every cliché beat–Bond films should be about telling a story with the wide potential a suave secret agent allows, not limited by forced mentions of martini’s, Aston Martins, and misogyny.
So, Spectre. It’s the end of the Daniel Craig oeuvre, a high point in the franchise. Spectre ends his quarto of films–it’s a sequel to Skyfall, matching the duo of Casino Royal and Quantum of Solace. Occasionally Bond films have made note of past films, most memorably when Bond’s marriage to Tracy Draco in On Her Majesties Secret Service is mentioned in The Spy Who Loved Me, For Your Eyes Only, and License To Kill.
HOWEVER–and again, I try not to get to precious about these movies–I admire the quarto formula for Craig’s films. But part of what works about Bond films is that the formulaic immortality of the character–never learns, never ages, allows for some forgiveness of sins….
Wait, shit, before I get into my review I should probably do a plot summary.
The plot is basically ‘Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation‘
Which was a really fun, well paced, enjoyable, and good movie. Watch it.
Ok, Bond is left a message from beyond the grave by Judi Dench’s M, to kill a man. Following the target’s trail leads him to the Spectre organization, an evil cohort of terrible meanies, lead by Christoph Waltz bad guy supremo who’s actually Blofeld, the ‘author of all of Bond’s pain’ dating back to Vesper’s death in Casino Royal.
Oh wait–announcing that Christoph Waltz is Blofeld is a spoiler, but only if you know who Blofeld is. If you recognize the character’s name, you saw the spoiler coming. If you don’t, the name is meaningless. Moving on!
Bond follows the trail to Rome where he sleeps with Monica Bellucci, the first Bond girl of a mature age (51) which was treated by some as some marvelous break-through for our gender, which left me with the same un-enthused feelings as when a woman or POC would win a reality show like ‘The Apprentice’ in the aughts and some sad PR department would try to market this as a ‘reaching the mountaintop’ moment. She’s in the film for only a few minutes, has little agency, does little, and serves the plot less. High-fives all around ladies, am I right?
Bond further travels the globe, falls in love with a young french Psychologist played by Bri’s dream side piece, Lea Seydoux, is captured by Blofeld, defeats Blofeld, and rides off into the sunset.
There were a lot of things I liked about the film, but I’m going to focus on the problems, because what I liked about the film is rooted in the fact that it’s simply a fictional world I enjoy watching in whatever iteration is offered, and criticism is more fun to write.
Problem number 1–Lea Seydoux. She’s lovely, I’ll grant you that. But here performance had the air of camp without the fun that makes camp work as an acting choice. It doesn’t help that her character isn’t all that well written–she has little personality, goes from expressing disgust at Bond to professing her love of him within 48 hours, and just isn’t very fun, sexy, or engaging to watch. It’s hard to feel anything for her, and therefore hard to accept that Bond falls in love with her and seemingly leaves the spy game behind for her at the end of the film. At one point in the 3rd act of the movie, her character seemingly exits stage left, and I swear, when she reappeared, I’d nearly forgotten she was in the film at all.
Problem number 2–Christoph Waltz. The guy is undeniably talented, as one particular kind of role he has now played too many times. As a friend described recently, he’s very good at playing the genteel villain with pronounced diction who occasionally has psychotic bursts of aggression. But he’s done it before, and better. And I HATED HATED HATED the reveal that Bond and Blofeld were raised together as young men. It smacked of Stephen Moffet, who in Doctor Who or Sherlock always feels the need to tie every strand of a character’s back story with that of every new character so that what happens isn’t plot, it’s destiny! and fate!. It’s lazy writing is what it is. Blofeld was an impotent threat in this movie, and the reveal he and Bond used to ski together as teens did nothing to change that. I don’t mind if the villain has a personal tie to Bond–my favorite Bond film is Goldeneye, where the villain, Alec Trevelyan, was a former ‘double O’ and friend of 007–but that relationship is the foundation of the film, is written logically and believably, and enhanced by the well matched performances of Sean Bean and Pierce Brosnan. In Spectre, it just felt weak and uninspired.
Problem number 3–it was just too long of a movie. At 148 minutes Spectre is the longest running Bond film, and it had no need to be. Bond films should max out at 2 hours. Extra time is only permitted if you want to throw in some extra scenes for Eva Green to command. And in that situation, you can afford to lose a filler car chase. Also, small quibble, the fashion in Spectre was pretty uninspired. And as I hinted at before, the arrival of Bond and girl at Blofeld’s retreat, in safari kit, via a Rolls Royce driven by a Black driver, had a distinct and icky colonial Africa fantasy vibe that set a poor tone for the rest of the movie, which no reviews I read took to task.