James Bond is definitely a unique property within the world of film, and while certain elements are key to creating a “Bond experience,” the exact nature of the franchise’s components has transitioned over the years. Daniel Craig‘s tenure as the spy has seen some changes, as Bond moved into a new era of spy story, and had to occupy a world that Sean Connery’s Bond would hardly imagine.
Skyfall saw Sam Mendes take the reins, and it wasn’t something that all fans of Bond films were happy about. The previous two films moved a bit away from the Bond norm, but you could at least go along with the idea that it was a kind of natural transition for a franchise that had been around for fifty years. Mendes went quite a different direction, stating flat out that he, more or less, didn’t want to make a Bond film out of his Bond film, and otherwise wanted a Bond film that was as de-Bondified as possible. Your Bond checklist was going to be left unchecked, and apart from the fact that it had the lead-in action scene, and the trippy, opening song sequence, that was what Mendes delivered.
The film was followed with much rumor and discussion about whether or not Mendes would return, and when he took the helm again, many long-time Bond fans weren’t happy, but those who liked the new vision rallied in support of a different future for a Hollywood icon.
Spectre isn’t particularly going to please either group, and where Mendes’ first effort seemed openly irritated at itself, his second is almost the film version of his anti-Bond point of view. In this go around he opens with a thoroughly old school Bond, and finishes by making fun of it.
The film’s opening sequence sets the stage for the entire movie, as one of the better, classic action chases in years devolves into nonsensical helicopter acrobatics. “If this is what you want,” Mendes says to the audience, “this is what it’s going to lead to.” Thanks.
We soon learn that Bond is in a lot of trouble, and just as the previous film had Q telling us, basically, that gadgets were stupid, this one lets us in on the idea that the double-0 program is outdated and useless at this point. Bond is working on his own, tracking down a lead for his own reasons, and with the information age bearing down on him, he doesn’t know who to trust.
As the first act solidifies, and leads us into the second, we get Bond “seducing” a widow to her up to be in awkward, but sultry poses in saucy lingerie, ordering martinis, racing a car with some extra buttons, infiltrating a seriously creepy villain’s lair, driving a half-destroyed plane in a chase down ski slopes, and otherwise just Bond-ing the hell out of things in scenes so classic that you can hardly believe you’re watching them. There’s something about them that hints at a half-hearted commitment, like the inherently awkward, and just plain weird “seduction” scene, but fans of the Bond that was get just about everything they could want.
Then the movie switches gears, and no matter how much Ralph Fiennes‘ M protests that he really likes Bond films, it can’t save the experience from feeling that we’re just bringing down the hammer of Mendes’ curious effort at convincing the audience not to like Bond films.
Christoph Waltz‘ Blofeld, who opens the film as perhaps the villain to end all villains, turns into a psychotic clown who cannot possibly fit in with the position he holds, or the massive infrastructure he has created. Loopy psychopaths with an ax to grind might occasionally make for a workable nemesis, but they don’t run what is essentially the biggest company the world has ever known.
The dominoes fall in boring fashion from there. Bond has no plan, and stumbles his way on through on his wit and skill, ultimately escaping based on the fact that we started the film by giving him the one gadget he will magically need. That’s a rundown of classic Bond wrap-ups, but Mendes would like to show you what that means to him, and why you’re stupid for ever enjoying such a thing, and has he got a show for you.
The film still manages to deliver a lot of fun through about the first 90 minutes of the massive 148 minute runtime, which means you get a decent show for a full feature-length run, and that has to count for something. Most people will probably just let the negatives run off their back anyway, and won’t care about things like plans that only work out if they don’t work out in just the right way (like Bond’s walk down memory lane only ‘being a thing’ if he kills the people bringing him there), but however much you manage to like it, it will still leave something of a bad taste in your mouth.
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WritingJohn Logan, Neal Purvis
CastDaniel Craig, Christoph Waltz, Ralph Fiennes
Image CreditSony Pictures
SynopsisA cryptic message from the past sends James Bond (Daniel Craig) on a rogue mission to Mexico City and eventually Rome, where he meets Lucia Sciarra (Monica Bellucci), the beautiful and forbidden widow of an infamous criminal. Bond infiltrates a secret meeting and uncovers the existence of the sinister organisation known as SPECTRE.