Spectre feels like it could be Daniel Craig’s last outing as Bond. The film plays as an homage, in particular to Craig’s tenancy of the role, but also to the series as a whole, filled with callbacks, nostalgia and tradition. One does wonder, however, to what extent it is right to predicate a film so heavily on the backlog of work that has gone before it. A newcomer to the series would still find entertainment, though the finer points would be lost on them, and aren’t the finer points what elevate a film from mere adequacy?
Not that Spectre is just an adequate film. It is a fabulously produced, wonderfully realised piece of entertainment, with some real flares of creativity. The issue arises from the fact that these flares are noticeable as being separate from the norm of the film, which is otherwise a slightly by the numbers exercise in spy thrillers. Moments like a single, unbroken take following Bond through a Day of the Dead festival in Mexico City, or using a severely maimed aeroplane as a snow plough become the scenes that you wish to rewatch, instead of the entire film. Since moment like these are so engrossing, it forces one to wish that they were hung on a more substantial plot.
Spectre begins with Bond receiving a cryptic message from beyond the grave that sends him on a globe-trot-ting chase to find a shadowy organisation with links to his past. Meanwhile at home, a new government official begins a process of Orwellian style surveillance in his determination to eradicate the 00 scheme. This latter part of the plot is actually the most significant and vital within the film. Since Bond, as a brand, seems intent on maintaining a course of darker, more serious action, (particularly when compared to its bombastic counterpart, Mission Impossible), addressing topical issues and showing awareness of Fleming’s iteration of Bond’s increased irrelevancy in the modern word, gives the film a considered gravitas it would otherwise lack.
It is a shame then, that the gravitas does not translate into Christoph Waltz’s villain, despite the best efforts of the writers to convince us that this is the bad guy to end all bad guys. As just another antagonist for Bond, the head of SPECTRE, Waltz would have been fine, but as the villain that the last three films having been building towards, he just is an anti-climax. He talks the good game, making threats, discussing his incredible power over Bond, but actually follows through on very little for the audience to see. This tell, not show, style of cinema makes for somewhat hollow viewing, with no real belief in the threat to our protagonist. Even repeated callbacks to the antagonists and events of previous films do little to increase the effectiveness of this supposed climax, sim-ply because Waltz’s character fails to demonstrate his power to the necessary extent. That being said, the film’s attempts to pretend that Quantum of Solace never really happened are entertaining.
The overall negative tone of this review comes, not because I didn’t enjoy Spectre, but because the film’s positives are already well known to Bond viewers. What is enjoyable about the previous films, about the character, is still wonderful and compelling here. There are still creative action set pieces, there are still beautiful women in amazing dresses, there’s even still the odd one-liner (although the puns seem sadly gone for good) – all this is worth watching it for. Ultimately, however, the film is let down by a weaker story than it should have had, keeping it from surpassing its predecessor, Skyfall.