The 24th James Bond installment, “Spectre”, opens with a gorgeous, brilliantly crafted tracking sequence during the Day of the Dead festival in Mexico City. The camera follows a masked James Bond (Daniel Craig) and his lovely female companion as they move from the street through a hotel lobby, up to their room, where he then leaves her and perilously walks along the edge of rooftops as the festival goes on beneath him.
There aren’t any noticeable edits for at least five minutes and once the action starts and Bond battles evildoers in a preposterous, but wholly exciting fight on a helicopter, it sets the next two hours of “Spectre” up for greatness.
But then the plot kicks in and the story seems to go in as many directions as “Spectre” has screenwriters (John Logan, Neal Purvis, Robert Wade, Jez Butterworth) with none of them being very engrossing. They have handed director Sam Mendes a script that puts Bond through his typical paces of action and sexual encounters without the delicious personal, character-driven story of this film’s predecessor, “Skyfall.”
After Bond leaves a block of Mexico City in ruins, he returns to London to be scolded by M (Ralph Fiennes) and introduced to C (Andrew Scott), the new MI6 boss who intends to shut down the “double O” spy program. For a film series with 24 entries, how can it feel like this is the 100th time that threat has been made?
“Spectre” then finds reasons to re-introduce us to Q (Ben Whishaw) and Moneypenny (Naomie Harris), who agree to covertly aid Bond in his pursuit of a mysterious organization that is seemingly responsible for all the world’s ills. Against M’s orders, Q covers for Bond as he whisks off to Rome while Moneypenny provides him with crucial intelligence.
In Rome, Bond gets information (translation: sleeps with her) from a woman, Lucia (Monica Bellucci), who recently became a widow due to the incident in Mexico City. Her info leads him to a super secret meeting of high level world scumbags led by Oberhausen (Christoph Waltz). This is perhaps the best scene in “Spectre”, even though a load of bad guys meeting around a massive dining room table is as clichéd as cliché can get.
Now that “Spectre” has introduced us to all the players, it then treats Bond as nothing more than a chess piece. There’s the obligatory car chase through the empty streets of Rome, a trip to a remote cabin in the snowy mountains of Austria, and finally, a damsel in distress (Lea Seydoux), who of course has the final piece to Bond’s puzzle.
The action in “Spectre” is, as expected, amazing. Mendes is more than capable of staging some fantastic action sequences, with a brutal fist fight in cramped train cars being the highlight. There are even moments of great beauty, all shot to perfection by cinematographer Hoyte Van Hoytema. Actually, if you remove the unexceptional storylines, “Spectre” is a joy to simply look at.
Sadly, this plot is a bore. The only intriguing and original idea in it is that these super villains aren’t trying to put a laser on the moon or blow up Asia, they are accumulating information. In the day and age of Wikileaks, that is most definitely an original premise for Bond. The execution of it is so poor and recycled that everything gets lost in the delivery.
“Spectre” also wastes the talents of several skilled actors, most notably Bellucci (she disappears after mere minutes of screen time), Harris, and Whishaw. Oddly enough, the most egregious exclusion is that of newly introduced Bond thug, Hinx, played by Dave Bautista. After being so unexpectedly amusing in “Guardians of the Galaxy”, the “Spectre” script gives him nary a word to say.
Waltz is understated, but still a bit of a caricature of past Bond villains. He smiles while saying horribly creepy things and shows restraint from the joy he feels when inflicting pain to his enemies. Look, Waltz was born to play a Bond bad guy and he’s as perfect at it as one would assume.
Daniel Craig looks like an actor that is tired of a role, even though it has been his most successful and given him worldwide acclaim and riches. He simply broods and smirks in between make out sessions with beautiful women.
Like a once superior athlete hanging on too long, Craig’s Bond is a shell of itself. His boredom is obvious, thus eliminating the escapist joy inherent in the character. After his superior, powerful performance in “Skyfall”, this is a serious disappointment.
“Spectre” isn’t quite the brutal train wreck of “Quantum of Solace”, but it is quite close. It feels like the creative team read the “How To Bond Movie For Dummies” book and created a story arc from there. Craig’s sleepy performance doesn’t elevate the material either, which only adds to this underwhelming exercise in “going through the Bond motions.”