Daniel Craig once again wields a license to kill in Spectre, but the most lethal thing about his fourth go-round as British super spy James Bond is its absence of originality and thrills. Directed by Sam Mendes with the same level of action-choreography incompetence as 2012’s Skyfall, but this time with fewer memorable setpieces, the latest installment in the 007 franchise confirms what its predecessor (and 2008’s Quantum of Solace) had merely suggested: The primary ideas driving the Craig iteration of the iconic character come from Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy, as well as the original Connery-headlined classics.
Like 2013’s reboot sequel Star Trek Into Darkness, Spectre is designed to play out like one big, long mystery involving the identity of its bad guy, undermined by the fact that it’s clear who said villain is from the outset. The result is that Mendes’s film feels like a prolonged game of clumsy misdirection about the true nature of Franz Oberhauser (a menacingly cheery Christoph Waltz), the shadowy head of a sprawling criminal syndicate (the titular Spectre) that Bond is hunting. His motivation for seeking out Oberhauser is shrouded in secrecy for much of the film’s first half, though a telling photo that Bond receives early on (from the wreckage of his family manor, Skyfall) so overtly implies the hero’s connection to his adversary that what follows is a tedious exercise in waiting for obvious revelations.
Spectre’s dearth of surprises proves a death knell for its drama, since it means that most of what occurs throughout its story (including a casual romantic dalliance featuring a squandered Monica Bellucci) is merely filler in service of telegraphed bombshells. Worse, however, is that Mendes doesn’t compensate for the shortcomings of his narrative—which, scripted by four different writers, amounts to a too-many-cooks hodgepodge—with anything approaching a passable blockbuster spectacle. An opening sequence set during Mexico’s Day of the Dead festival supplies some suitable Thanatotic imagery, but its conception and staging is lethargic, replete with a CG-heavy tussle aboard a helicopter that’s almost as lifeless as Craig’s performance. By the time Bond is racing down a snowy Austrian slope in a breaking-apart plane, chasing his kidnapped love interest Madeleine Swann (Blue is the Warmest Color’s Léa Seydoux, wasted in a one-note role), the film acts as if it’s lost the will to even try. Instead, it’s simply content to orchestrate expensive but inert mayhem devoid of consequence and, thus, suspense.
Bond’s investigation into Spectre leads him to protect, and then fall in love with, Madeleine, the daughter of his Quantum of Solace nemesis Mr. White (Jesper Christensen)—who, like Craig’s other Bond adversaries (Casino Royale’s Le Chiffre, Skyfall’s Raoul Silva), were apparently members of Oberhauser’s malevolent cabal. When not tying together the past few 007 films with that sort of easy-bake mythology, Spectre is concocting new ways to have Bond’s family history relate to his current circumstances – origin-story efforts that continue to seem modeled after Nolan’s The Dark Knight and The Dark Knight Rises in terms of both specific plot details and an overarching grim-and-gritty tone that’s increasingly ill-fitting for a franchise moving backwards, via unimaginative homages, toward its more outlandish roots.
That transition becomes complete once Bond finally squares off against Waltz’s preternaturally calm and cocky Oberhauser, who fancies himself a “visionary” more interested in changing the world than profiting financially from his schemes. Yet from Bond and Oberhauser’s robotic rapport, to a silly face-drilling torture contraption that the latter uses on the former, Spectre lacks any sort of internal logic that might make its fantasy compelling, much less plausible. The same can be said of Bond and Madeleine’s romance, which is so underdeveloped that, when Madeleine climactically tells the spy that she loves him, it’s premature to the point of absurdity.
Amidst Bond’s ho-hum exploits, Spectre also details the efforts of his boss M (Ralph Fiennes) and gadget-man Q (Ben Whishaw) to deal with the shuttering of MI6, which is being replaced by a privatized multi-national information-gathering coalition run by a bureaucrat (Andrew Scott), a guy so cartoonishly weasely, it’s impossible not to know his true allegiance. Any passing interest in plumbing the novel dangers of the information age, however, are subsumed beneath lots of typical Bond catchphrases, posturing and gunplay, all of it performed by Craig with such a persistent look of boredom—with the dullness of his adventure, with the mustiness of his every move and gesture—that his disinterest, eventually, becomes contagious.
Writers: John Logan, Neal Purvis, Robert Wade, Jez Butterworth
Starring: Daniel Craig, Monica Bellucci, Léa Seydoux, Ralph Fiennes, Christoph Waltz
Release Date: November 6, 2015