There are very specific things that have made James Bond an iconic character for over 50 years. The world has changed a lot in that time, and so has 007 himself. When you consider the elements of James Bond in a film, the tropes are easy to pick out: he’s destructive and efficient, he’s an alcoholic, he’s a womanizer, and he gets all the coolest toys any other spy, real and fiction, wish they had. There’s a fine line between putting this character on screen as a flawed human being and as a dated caricature. Bond evolved with Daniel Craig in the role, with Casino Royale being one of the best reboots of an old franchise on life support in the 2000’s. James Bond became a relatable human being while still representing that cool machismo he always did before. James Bond isn’t a perfect person, but neither is his audience, and most certainly not all of his movies.
The entire franchise since Casino Royale has been a success by creating a “modern Bond” with Daniel Craig, and Spectre tries to throw in a dash of that aura of classic Bond for old time’s sake. Using the term “Classic Bond” implies both good and bad of the days of Sean Connery and Roger More most notably. The good moments in Spectre, including the campy jokes and gadgets, and having memorable, outrageous villains, are far more outweighed by the elements that should have stayed in the past. This goes far beyond the lengths he’ll go for sex and alcohol, but even to seeing Daniel Craig perform stunts including an Aston Martin sponsored parachute escape, or a plane crashing on a mountaintop that could easily be pulled from a new Die Hard or Transporter film.
Perhaps it could work with Moore or with Brosnan, but the old school ideas in Spectre don’t mesh with Daniel Craig’s grounded version of the character that everyone has been turning out to see for the last ten years. These moments don’t make James Bond look like an expert, they make him look like he’s out of his mind.
This is inherently a scripting problem, and the film is plagued by strange inconsistencies in its dialogue and editing that make Spectre feel in the league of an American action film, right down to our expert spy causing an exorbitant amount of destruction in the first ten minutes just to simply retrieve a ring on someone’s finger.
Sam Mendes returns to direct the film, and coupled with new cinematography by Hoyte Van Hoytema (Interstellar, Her), the film is undoubtedly a visual spectacle to look at more often than not, despite the occasional nonsense it captures. Similarly, the performers work with what is given to them to make the film entertaining and engaging for an unnecessarily long 2 hours and 30 minutes, Craig’s longest 007 mission yet. Léa Seydoux (Blue is the Warmest Color) plays a more modern Bond girl for the first half of her presence in the film, and unfortunately becomes disengaging when she’s damselized for the final act of the film. M (Ralph Fiennes), Ms. Moneypenny (Naomie Harris), and Q (Ben Whishaw) get to have fun by partaking in the action more directly in the film’s secondary plot against an unenthused Andrew Scott (Sherlock) as a loose accomplice to the SPECTRE organization.
Speaking of SPECTRE, the presence of the organization, and Christoph Waltz (Inglorious Bastards) are ominous throughout the film, and become all kinds of campy when Bond is formally introduced to the villain and his plan, and this type of classic Bond scenario may prove to be divisive for audiences. To reiterate, the throwback treatments for the villains in this film are the ones that work best, especially for Dave Bautista (Guardians of the Galaxy) as Mr. Hinx, who feels like one of the more memorable henchman in the league of Oddjob from Goldfinger. The problem for SPECTRE as an organization, and unfortunately for Waltz’s performance as the villain, is the film’s attempt to tie 007’s most classic and notorious antagonist to all the events in Bond’s life for the last 3 films. The ultimate evil reveals are delivered with absolutely no authority through the film’s script, and so Waltz’s has few chances to convince the audience of it. Very rarely are James Bond’s missions attempted to be tied together with any continuity, with Quantum of Solace as an exception being a direct sequel. Blofeld as a character has mysteriously weaved in and out of the career of 007 since From Russia With Love, and while the franchise has been given a mostly clean slate in Craig’s shoes, the entire point of this character’s mystique appears to be lost by the conclusion of Spectre.
As it stands, Spectre is very much an enjoyable action film, but in a complete opposite way that Quantum of Solace was disappointing, Spectre falls too far backwards on the spectrum of “old school.”