Authors Note: Comparison’s to Skyfall are littered throughout this review. While I do understand that this film isn’t Skyfall: Part 2, certain comparisons were inevitable, and only used to emphasize certain points. I understand that this film isn’t trying to be a direct replica of it’s predecessor, and my review does in fact reflect that. Again, I apologize if these comparisons seem unfair/biased or annoying, but I tried to limit them as much as possible. Also, there are a few major spoilers.
Spectre is a good movie. Let’s get that out of the way first. It’s not a “bad” or “okay” film, at least in my opinion. It’s just as entertaining as some of the best Bond films, and has all the characteristics of a better blockbuster film. And it is one of the better James Bond films, especially when it comes to the Daniel Craig era. But, Spectre is also a flawed film. Following up on the huge success of Skyfall was always going to be a daunting task, and the expectations were daunting, but somewhat justified.
The franchise lost the three biggest stars of Skyfall: Judi Dench’s fan-favourite M, Javier Bardem’s excellent role as Silva, and arguably the most critical part of Skyfall’s asthetic, cinematographer Roger Deakin’s. However, director Sam Mendes did return to his Christopher Nolan type take on the Bond mythos, with the same cast and an even bigger budget than before. New additions to the cast include Lea Seydoux (Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol, Blue is the Warmest Colour, Inglorious Basterds) , Monica Belluci (The Apartment, Malena, The Passion of Christ), Dave Bautista (Guardians of the Galaxy), Andrew Scott (Sherlock), and Christoph freakin Waltz (Inglorious Basterds, Django Unchained) as a Bond villain. But, despite the massive resources given to Mendes, this movie doesn’t necessarily work on every level. In it’s attempt to be the biggest or ultimate Bond film, it ends up being a little bloated. That being said, Spectre is a still a fun experience that provides a great amount of entertainment for most people.
The film continues after the events of Skyfall, as MI6’s double 0 program is under-threat of dissolution due to it’s ineffectiveness and irrelevancy, and a new player named Max Denbigh plans on taking British intelligence out of the dark ages by replacing all field agents with drones. Meanwhile, James Bond is following up on a final mission given to him posthumously by M. It eventually puts him in the cross-hairs of an organization called Spectre, which is lead by a mysterious man who is revealed to have to ties to James Bond’s past. Along the way, he enlists the help of the daughter of one his former enemies to help him solve the mystery behind the organization called Spectre.
Most of the performances in this film are exceptional. Daniel Craig does an excellent job like usual as the rogue-ish, and charming title character. This time, Craig’s Bond is more vulnerable and is forced to come to grips with his past. Ben Whishaw returns as the young hipster version of Q and gets a larger role in the story. Whishaw gets a few great moments, and his chemistry with Craig is one of the film’s highlights. Ralph Fiennes returns as M, and does a solid job, but doesn’t bring the same weight and skill that Judi Dench offered. Lea Seydoux is excellent as Dr. Madeline Swann, the daughter of former Bond enemy Mr. White. Seydoux is one of the best Bond girls yet, with a fleshed-out backstory and character that works so well within the Bond mythos. Dave Bautista literally plays a one-word henchmen, but his interactions with Bond are fun. Monica Belluci is under-used in this film, as she only appears in two scenes and only serves to set up the next plot-point.
The first shot of this film is an impressive long take that works really well. Instead of simply having one or two basic movements, this oner uses a good amount of techniques and sets up the first scene really well. It’s one hell of a way to start the film, and it’s worth mentioning. And despite losing the legendary Roger Deakins, Hoyte van Hoytema (Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, Her, Interstellar) does a great job as a cinematographer and manages to emulate Deakin’s style whenever he can. This movie is very well shot, and there are a few scenes which standout as some of the best I’ve seen this year. Unlike Skyfall, this film is more energetic and inserts elements of the Mission: Impossible series into the mix. The action is bigger, crazier, and more explosive (literally) this time, and that’s where the movie stumbles a little bit.
In it’s attempt to be the ultimate James Bond film, Spectre suffers from trying to do a bit too much. There are certain times in the film where it feels like a scene is included so that a box from a list of “things that a James Bond film needs” can be checked off. I don’t mind revisiting classic elements from the franchise, but it feels unnecessary at times. Mendes’ two Bond films feel very Christopher Nolan-like with their take on the Bond mythos and Spectre feels like it was meant to be it’s The Dark Knight. Mendes explores elements from the previous Daniel Craig Bond films in order to give the franchise a greater sense of story. It’s an interesting idea, and it does give the character a sense of depth that he’s never had before. But whereas The Dark Knight explored the relationship between Batman and the Joker in more of symbolic and metaphorical sense, Spectre creates a more personal connection between it’s hero and villain. Fan service and homages are littered across this film with modern and sometimes humorous twists to them.
I haven’t mentioned Christoph Waltz yet because his character deserves it’s own paragraph. Waltz was born to play a Bond villain. He’s charming, quirky, deadly, and under-used. Waltz’s introduction as “Franz Oberhouser” is great. For the first few scenes, he never shows his face and only utters a few words. The buildup is very well done, as the lighting, music, camera angels, and pacing all synch up perfectly. However, Oberhouser simply vanishes after a little bit, and doesn’t show up until the middle of the third act. And it’s revealed that Oberhouser is actually Ernesto Stavro Blofeld. The reveal comes off as unnecessary, and would have been more effective if it was reversed. Maybe if Bond discovered that Blofeld was actually Oberhouser, it may have been a cheesier but more personal reveal. The idea that Bond and Oberhouser share a history is interesting, but left unexplored. There’s a scene where Blofeld pretty much turns into the Reverse Flash as he reveals himself to be the architect of all of Bond’s tragedies. Waltz is awesome in the role, and since Blofeld is left alive at the end of the film, makes me hope that he shows up in later films. It’s an interesting idea to have Blofeld be such a personal and epic villain, but it also leads to the film trying a little too much to make all of the previous films connect.
The secondary story regarding Max Denbigh and his plot to shut down the double 0 program is what really brings the film down. Every time the film cuts back to the sub-plot, it cuts the momentum from the previous scenes. Denbigh actually raises good points regarding why the double 0 program is unnecessary and irrelevant, but the film simply turns him into a villain. Like Captain America: The Winter Soldier, a potentially interesting debate about ideology between two figures is thrown out the window when one of them is revealed to be a pseudo-super villain. While this reveal wasn’t as dramatic and cheesy as the one in the Winter Soldier, it was unnecessary and proved that the sub-plot didn’t need to be in the film at all. I have nothing against films trying to address relevant issues, but this isn’t the wasn’t the way to make it work.
Author’s Note: I actually loved Captain America: The Winter Solider. It was an awesome film, but the whole “Hydra was behind everything part” really took away from the well-written themes about freedom versus security. If you actually want your film to be intelligent, don’t demonize and straw-man one side of the argument by making them into literal super-villains.
Apart from some story issues, this film is gorgeous. I’ve mentioned how well shot it was before, but it is eye-candy. Whereas Skyfall was dominated by grey, almost every frame of Spectre is filled with by it’s gold and brown color palette. And this film is definitely dominated by color and variety. The opening scene during the Day of the Dead celebrations immediately gives an impression that this film will be an active contrast from the more serious nature of Skyfall. The film also uses mirrors as a common prop. While some of the scenes can be a little too obvious in emphasizing the theme of duality between Bond and Blofeld, there are some shots which explore ideas about opposites, duality, and even supernatural elements at times. In fact, Spectre does feel a little supernatural sometimes, especially when it comes to Blofeld’s scenes. Callbacks to Skyfall are used at certain moments to emphasize the contrast between the two films, and some jokes about common Bond tropes serve as both callbacks and commentary on how far the character has come and how much has changed since the Sean Connery era.
Spectre is definitely an entertaining film. Personally, I can’t wait for the countless Bond outfit inspiration albums that are on their way. Comparisons to Skyfall are inevitable, but should only be used to emphasize certain things the film did well or poorly, or to explain the story’s themes and callbacks to earlier Bond films. Spectre shouldn’t be seen as Skyfall: Part 2, since it does actually create a different feel. Despite being weighed down by an unnecessary subplot, and too much callback to the lore, Spectre is still one of the better Bond films. It is supported by strong performances by Daniel Craig, Lea Seydoux, and Christoph Waltz. The film is gorgeously shot, and provides a lot of visual eye-candy. The title song by Sam Smith is pretty good, but the score by Thomas Newman is fantastic. Spectre is still a solid blockbuster flick with enough style to make itself stand out among most big-budget films.