Spectre: I Expect You to Entertain, Mr. Bond

(Apologies for falling out of the schedule. I will return to the Monday through Friday schedule next week.)

Out of the many franchises that have been present on film, none have had as long of a lifespan as the James Bond franchise. Starting with a series of novels in 1953 by Ian Fleming, the tales of the iconic 00 agent from MI6 (also known as the Secret Intelligence Service) would first show up on the big screen with 1962’s adaptation of Dr. No. There to embody Bond’s suave charisma and skill in combat in the film was actor Sean Connery. Since then, James Bond has been a character who has remained a presence in the world of movies, with 24 films in the franchise over the course of 53 years (as of this post). The character has also seen a variety of actors take on the name, from Sean Connery to Roger Moore to even Pierce Brosnan. Most recently, the part has been played by Daniel Craig, whose performance pulls the character back to the rougher edge from Ian Fleming’s original novels. He has been Bond since the big screen adaptation of Casino Royale in 2006, and still plays him in the newest Bond movie (and 24th film in the franchise), Spectre. Unfortunately, it’s a movie that’s not as strong as some of Craig’s other Bond films.

After the events of Skyfall, MI6 is finding itself in a power struggle as it is being pulled into the modern world of constant surveillance. Caught in this struggle is James Bond, grounded after taking part in an unsanctioned mission. However, this unsanctioned mission is one that reveals a key piece of information: that a series of terrorist attacks are being puppeteered by a shadowy criminal organization known as Spectre, led by a mastermind named Franz Obenhauser (Christoph Waltz) who seems to know Bond from before the days of espionage. After discovering this, he finds help in the form of Madeleine Swann (Lea Seydoux), a doctor and daughter of an old enemy named Mr. White. With her help, Bond sets out to uncover the master plan of Spectre and bring down not only their scheme, but this criminal mastermind who knows him so well.

Honestly, this film is alright. It’s not terrible by any means, but it ultimately feels very average and ho-hum. First, let me say that Dave Bautista delivered a strong performance as Mr. Hinx, a henchman of Obenhauser whose physical strength makes him a serious threat to Bond in a fight. Along with that, most of the performances in the movie were solid. There were also a few good action sequences in the film. However, this attempt to do a classic-style Bond movie in a modern way ultimately just missed a certain spark to it. The story felt a bit bland, with plot threads that were dropped and story elements that have been better explored in other films. The cinematography captured the sequences well, but never in a way that felt really stunning. Also, while his first appearance in the film does a good job of establishing his rank and power, Obenhauser (and by extension, Spectre) doesn’t feel like he has the presence or is the threat that he really should be. Even an attempt to retroactively link the villains from the last few movies to Spectre feels more like a desperate attempt to make the organization seem more far-reaching, rather than something naturally built up over the course of the films. Thus, the film itself ultimately feels weak, especially in comparison to Skyfall. Now, Skyfall does a better job of delivering classic-style Bond movie in a modern fashion.

For most, there are certain common elements that comes to mind when one thinks of James Bond. Cool gadgets, gorgeous women, interesting villains. Skyfall is able to deliver on these elements, but reconstructed through the modern lens brought by Casino Royale after its deconstruction of Bond to its core. The gadgets used by Bond have a new neat tricks, but are more believable rather than being gimmicky weapons or tech. Severine provides a good Bond girl, one who affects the plot in addition to being a gorgeous woman. Raoul Silva also stands out as a Bond villain, offering not only an evil genius with a distinguishing disfigurement like many classic Bond villains, but also one rooted in the modern world of cyberterrorism with a believable rationale behind his schemes. In short, Skyfall took all of those familiar pieces of the Bond franchise, putting them together with a more nuanced and understanding style that helps to make for an ultimately rich film. Spectre, on the other hand, simply puts the pieces together without giving them much depth or flair. Even Spectre’s own attempts at examining the clash between older methods of espionage versus modern surveillance and intelligence gathering were better handled in Skyfall with a lighter touch and more nuance.

In the end, Spectre was an attempt to do a classic-style Bond film with modern ideas. Unfortunately, the result just puts together familiar pieces and ideas without much depth or style. If you do want to watch a Bond film starring Daniel Craig, I’d recommend either the deconstructionist punch of Casino Royale or the reconstructed skill of Skyfall.

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