“Spectre” Review: A Crushing Disappointment
Despite its excellent score, boisterous action sequences, effective one-liners, and Daniel Craig’s solid performance, Spectre suffers from underdeveloped characters, forced connections to the previous films, and an anti-climactic final act.
One of the best aspects of Daniel Craig’s performance as James Bond is the humanity that he infuses into each of his performances. For instance, his heartbroken reactions to the deaths of Vesper Lynd in Casino Royale and M in Skyfall made it convincing that James Bond is a human being, rather than a mindless killing machine. Regretably, there are no great emotional moments in Spectre for Daniel Craig to shine in this manner. However, Craig makes it believable that his Bond is weighed down by the burden of his past, which makes some of the ideas in the final act make sense, even though they are poorly executed (more on that later). Craig’s delivery of several one-liners is effective, memorable, and humorous. In one scene, Bond points at a henchman that gets up and tells him to, “Stay,” which sent an audience of critics into uproarious laughter. Craig’s Bond is smooth with women, but he also sweats and reacts to danger in a way that Bond rarely does in the previous installments of this long-running franchise, and he is battered and overwhelmed by Mr. Hinx, a predictably silent and strong foe, who is portrayed by David Bautista, in an intense fist fight; in these moments Craig’s Bond is a human being as well as a killing machine.
Speaking of the action sequences, all but the last are particularly exciting, well-framed, and edited. There are ridiculous aspects to these sequences, such as the nose of a plane going into the back of a car without going through the back row of seats and a sports car accelerating into a smaller car and shoving it into a gentle crash (huh?). That being said, Thomas Newman’s infectious score and Sam Mendes’ energetic, frantic direction make these ridiculous action sequences worth seeing on the big screen.
Because of solid performances from Ralph Fiennes as M, Ben Wishaw as Q, Naomie Harris as Eve Moneypenny, and Andrew Scott as C, the storylines involving MI6 and the CSA are actually more engaging than the primary antagonist and love interest. Although C is a generic villain, a fact which is revealed early on so it is not a spoiler, that wants to eradicate MI6 in favor of more surveillance, he is surprisingly a better villain than Christoph Waltz’s Franz Oberhauser. Granted, this portion of the film deals with ideas that Skyfall already covered, such as the relevance of Bond and MI6 in a changing world. In spite of that, these scenes help raise the stakes slightly and keep things engaging in between the slew of action sequences.
In spite of Spectre’s many strengths, it suffers from a weak screenplay from screenwriters John Logan, who previously wrote Gladiator, The Last Samurai, and Skyfall; Neal Purvis and Robert Wade, who previously co-wrote The World is Not Enough, Johnny English, and Die Another Day; and Jez Butterworth, who previously wrote Get On Up and Edge of Tomorrow. Their worst misstep is that they force this film to connect to all of Daniel Craig’s previous Bond films without making this one matter on its own. The quintessential example of this is Christoph Waltz’s Franz Oberhauser, who is a clichéd criminal mastermind that stays in the shadows and claims to be the “author” of James Bond’s pain, but does surprisingly little in this film to make him interesting. What he does do, torture Bond and kidnap his love interest, is so horribly clichéd that it adds nothing to his character. Also, Oberhauser receives a facial scar from an explosion that occurs closer to his legs than his face (huh?). Despite the fact that Watlz, a 2 time Oscar-winner, tries to be menacing and deliver biting dialogue, the screenwriters did not give him enough to do and squander the opportunity to reinvent a “classic” Bond villain. Watlz’s Obenhauser stands in stark contrast with Javier Bardem’s Silva in Skyfall, who was both a megalomaniac and tortured human being, rather than a megalomaniac with a lackluster motivation, a childhood grudge against Bond.
The screenwriters also failed to decide what to do with Lea Seydoux’s Madeline Swann, whether she is a tough Bond girl or merely a clichéd one. Swann seems to be tough and different when she tells Bond that she will not fall into his arms and sleep with him and when she helps save his life in a fight with Mr. Hinx, but she becomes a damsel in distress and succumbs to Bond’s charm in a predictable fashion. To make matters worse, her motivations are confusing. In one scene, she confesses her love for Bond, yet within ten minutes of screentime, she tells Bond that she cannot be with him because of him being a killer.
In the final act, Swann becomes a deus ex machina for the conclusion of Daniel Craig’s Bond films. This conclusion is as hurried, chaotic, and unsatisfying as that of Iron Man 3, in which the filmmakers threw together a conclusion out of thin air. In fact, the final act of Spectre is so choppy that it leaves the audience wondering how much of this film was cut out. Because there needed to be more scenes of Franz Oberhauser getting involved in the action and Madeline Swann talking to Bond in order to make this final act work, Daniel Craig’s Bond films go out with a whimper.
As a whole, Sam Mendes’ Spectre works as a mindless Bond film, but it tries too hard to wrap-up the series via an underdeveloped villain and love interest. At 2 hours and 28 minutes, this film needed more depth and a more substantial emotional core to make this worth seeing in theaters. As it is, this film is worth seeing in theaters for its action sequences, but not for its story or script.