It’s been such a long time coming. Not since the 1960’s has a (official) James Bond movie been legally allowed to use the name SPECTRE: the worldwide criminal organization that becomes the bane of Bond’s existence. Sure, Quantum of Solace attempted to resurrect Spectre with its own version of a shadowy criminal organization, but luckily the powers that be finally got the rights back in 2013, and balance was restored to the Bond universe for the first time in my lifetime.
Picking up almost immediately after Skyfall, James Bond (Daniel Craig) disobeys direct orders from the new M (Ralph Fiennes) and follows hand-me-down clues leading to this new type of criminal underground that is somehow tied to his past. But he soon finds himself in over his head as these people were not only expecting him, but they seem to know everything about him. From there it’s the usual world-travelling action-adventure we’ve come to expect from Bond movies both old and new. Sam Mendes returns to direct, recreating (or rehashing?) the style used in Skyfall. While that movie didn’t succumb to the traditional action movie formula, this one sadly does, shoehorning action scenes into the narrative rather than using the action to drive the narrative forward.
The entire MI6 cast from Skyfall returns, and is used to their fullest extents all the way to the climax, which creates a very different dynamic that these characters have with one another. No longer is Bond at the forefront of the mission, but rather just another cog in the collective machine that is MI6. I’m not saying it isn’t good, but having Q escape armed goons and giving M a personal villain so that he can partake in shootouts and fistfights makes one wonder if they were really trying to make the James Bond version of The Expendables. The new Bond girls barely leave their mark, with Monica Bellucci having little more than a cameo, and Léa Seydoux’s Madeleine Swann merely being under Bond’s protection because of a promise he made to her father. Mr. White’s (Jesper Christensen’s) return is probably the best dramatic scene in the movie, and worth it for any fans of the first two of Daniel Craig’s movies.
But what of the writing? Surely it’s up to par with Skyfall? Sadly, it’s not even close. Most of it is good, but too much of it is predictable. And while they do try to build Spectre up to be this evil, manipulative, world domination-seeking organization, they make the mistake of tying it too closely to Bond to be believable. The events of Casino Royale and Quantum of Solace I can understand; they actually started this whole thing. But Silva, Javier Bardem’s villain from Skyfall, was working for Spectre too? That doesn’t seem right. His motives were so personal against Judi Dench’s M; he had his own agenda, not once acting like he was following someone else’s orders. And then there are the links to Bond’s childhood, which I won’t give away here. But by retconning Silva’s involvement and making Spectre connected to every facet of Bond’s life, the whole thing feels just…less. I don’t know what it is. It’s just…less than what it should be. It’s both too big to be that personal, and too personal to be that big. I know they want to bring Spectre into the 21st century, but they neglected to see that bigger is the new smaller in the 21st century.
Without giving too much away, I will say there is a sense of finality in the closing moments. If this is to be Daniel Craig’s final turn as the character, then he’ll be the only Bond in history whose movies have a proper beginning and ending. And this could have a dramatic impact on future Bond actors, where each new turn ushers in a new reboot like so many superhero franchises. Nevertheless, the end credits, like all the movies before it, still leave Bond fans with those four comforting words: “James Bond Will Return.” But now that Spectre’s out of the shadows, maybe they should stop trying to top themselves and follow their own advice from the last movie: “Sometimes the old ways are best.”
3 out of 5