There’s a moment in SPECTRE, the 24th installment of the James Bond franchise, where our hero asks the main villain “Why are we here?” There is an answer to that question, a perfectly acceptable one in fact, but as an audience still buzzing from the greatness of SKYFALL it’s hard not to want something more. SPECTRE is not bad by any means, and in fact it’s a very good and fun James Bond movie. The problem is that it is a VERY James Bond movie. Whereas its predecessor took the standard Bond formula and flipped it on its head, SPECTRE sticks to the well-known script a little too perfectly. It’s plenty entertaining, but there’s not as much meat on the bone as one would hope.
The good news is that Daniel Craig is still the best Bond since Sean Connery. He’s still cool, he stills gets the girls, he still runs weird. He moves from scene to scene with the swagger and charm we’ve come to expect. The guy IS James Bond. Whether he’s punching bad guys, sweeping ladies off their feet, or throwing witty one-liners around, he fits the role perfectly. As the villain Franz Oberhauser, Christoph Waltz is, well, Christoph Waltz. He says very Christoph Waltz things in very Christoph Waltz ways. He’s not bad, per se, and his initial introduction is quite menacing. This just isn’t anything you haven’t already seen him do elsewhere. And while his motivations for antagonizing Bond are interesting and sensible, his ultimate evil scheme isn’t all that compelling or original. It’s all executed well, certainly, but nothing about his character or his promises of gloom and doom are especially gripping. This is a threat we’ve already seen in plenty of movies and TV shows for years.
That’s sort of the biggest problem with the movie as a whole: this has all been done before. SPECTRE may do it better given the bigger budget, advances in CGI and whatnot, but it’s still incredibly predictable. The twists are pretty obvious, there are no surprises here. There are two storylines at play here: Bond’s search for answers about SPECTRE and its mysterious leader, and M’s (Ralph Fiennes) struggles to keep the secret service alive in the face of a movement to shut it down spearheaded by the new Director-General of the Joint Security Service, Max Denbigh (Andrew Scott). It’s pretty obvious where the two stories intersect, you’ll figure it out almost immediately. But again, that isn’t to say this is a bad movie. Predictable, yes, but still quite entertaining. The action scenes are incredibly well done, Bond kicks as much ass as he ever has, but the story tying it all together doesn’t hit nearly as hard.
In standard Bond fashion, this film is beautiful to look at. It opens with a fantastic tracking shot that follows Bond through the streets of Mexico City. From Rome to Austria to Africa, each locale looks immaculate. There is some wonky CGI here and there, but most of the action scenes explode off the screen. Bond’s three battles with Hinx (Dave Bautista) are all fast-paced, edge-of-your-seat thrills as they race through the streets of Rome, hit the slopes, and demolish the interior of a train. In many ways, Hinx is a much more compelling villain than Waltz’s Franz Oberhauser. He’s a great throwback to the classic henchmen like Jaws and Oddjob. If a wrecking ball and a great white shark had a baby, that would be Hinx. Bautista does an excellent job of bringing silent menace to the role. Honestly, if the movie had just been 2 hours of him and Bond beating the s*** out of each other, I would have been totally ok with it.
As always, Bond doesn’t have to combat the threat of evil alone. The trio of Moneypenny (Naomie Harris), M, and Q (Ben Whishaw) all have significant parts to play here. In fact, this is easily the most action any of those characters have ever seen in a Bond film. Fiennes in particular excels as the beleaguered head (for now) of MI6. Trying to juggle Bond’s usual lack of respect for authority with the impending shutdown of the Double O program is no easy feat, but Fiennes’ M is mostly up to task. I mean, he’s no Dame Judy Dench, but who the hell is? Moneypenny and Q are invaluable (though slightly reluctant) assets to Bond in his pursuit of Oberhauser across the globe, and Harris and Whishaw are both fantastic. It’s nice to see all three characters given so much to do, this is a far cry from the limited roles they played in the Connery/Moore eras.
And, of course, we have the Bond girls. First up is Monica Bellucci in a glorified cameo who basically plays the “damsel in distress who sleeps with Bond 10 minutes after meeting him” role. It’s another example of this film giving us something we’ve already seen plenty of times, but I’m certainly not going to get mad at anyone for putting Monica Bellucci in their movie. Where this film fortunately deviates from the norm (at least at first) is the character of Madeline Swan (Lea Seydoux). Initially immune to his charm, she proves herself to be just as dangerous as her suave counterpart. Granted, this is still a Bond movie, so of course he eventually gets the girl, but the tension between the two is pretty electric at first. She does have one bone-headed moment near the end of the film that’s a little infuriating, but overall she’s a worthy addition to the pantheon of Bond girls.
If I have one serious gripe with the film (aside from the fact that it’s too long, but what blockbuster isn’t these days?), it’s the fact that for a film called SPECTRE, it doesn’t really involve much of, you know, SPECTRE. It gets off to a good start, building the mystery of this shadowy organization and all that, but once Christoph Waltz shows up he becomes the focal point and could really have been any generic villain with vast resources. Sure, the organization is used to tie the events of the previous three Bond films together, but overall the idea of this group that is the antithesis of MI6 isn’t fleshed out as well as it could have been. There’s nothing that really separates SPECTRE from any other evil cabal that we’ve seen countless times in film and TV. That their ultimate goal is control rather than destruction also diminishes the threat a little. It’s just not as compelling as I think we were all hoping SPECTRE’s modern-day debut was going to be.
Overall, SPECTRE is perfectly enjoyable. If you enjoy James Bond films and the formula that they have followed for over 50 years, you will have no problem with this one. It’s beautifully shot, the action scenes are fantastic, and Daniel Craig is as dynamic as ever. But anyone who was hoping that Skyfall was the beginning of a reinvention of the Bond franchise will be sorely disappointed. This film is classic James Bond through and through, and while that’s never a bad thing, it still feels like a missed opportunity.
Spectre will hit theatres this Friday, November 6th.
Make sure to keep checking back for more updates — right here on GeekNation.
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