Garnering hype is a challenge when your third act revelation and true identity of your nefarious villain is common knowledge to moviegoers months leading up to release. Studios and production members can deny astute fans uncovering the reality all they want, but all they were prolonging was inevitable disappointment; a reveal intended to shock that in actuality comes across hollow, eliciting the immortal three words of “No shit, Sherlock”. If you don’t know who the character is beforehand, that’s okay too, but I’m also not sure you’ll get anything out of it because the whole situation is handled surprisingly uneventful, almost rendered meaningless.
There is a point when Oberhauser (Christoph Waltz) tells James Bond (Daniel Craig) that he is “The author of all his pain” which is quite the loaded statement, but one that never truly resonates or rings true. Yes, he’s the leader of the titular shadowy organization dubbed Spectre and has deep personal connections to the life of James Bond, but you never get an earnest sense of that relationship. Simply put, a rivalry billed as personal doesn’t feel personal at all. Waltz is admittedly fairly menacing in the role, but the movie also somewhat wastes his talent by giving him very little screen-time outside of the third act.
That one problem stems from an even larger, overarching issue; Spectre‘s stubbornness to root itself in formulaic nostalgia. Outside of modern day Aston Martins, cutting-edge special-effects, and updated weaponry, Spectre is scripted and played out as if it were a James Bond film of old. The big baddie has a super secret base in the middle of nowhere that takes 66% of the running time to locate, disposable physically imposing henchmen to carry out his dirty work (I will touch on Dave Bautista’s impressive turn later in the review), incredibly stupid plans for global control, and nearly every woman in sight is ready to fuck James Bond, because he’s well, James Bond.
That last note in particular is more frustrating because Madeleine Swann (Lea Seydoux) starts off resisting his suave posture and charming ways of comforting those under emotional distress. She is here for revenge in the name of her father just as much as James Bond is on a personal quest to bring down this organization, but after a superbly crafted fight sequence on a train with Hinx (Bautista), they decide to shag, presumably riding the high adrenaline of survival. It’s a shame because as the daughter of an assassin who hypothetically could turn down, at the very least, sexual temptation, it would have made for a nice juxtaposition between Monica Bellucci’s character who immediately gets down with James Bond after saving her life. Spectre is an homage to classic Bond through and through however, so prepare yourself for quite a bit of love making.
Spectre isn’t an awful movie by any stretch of the imagination however, it’s just a soul-crushing step down from how amazing Skyfall ended up. In that film, James Bond failed to save various important characters (something referenced quite a bit here as a lazy attempt to make Oberhauser a more convincing threat), went up against a villain numerous times throughout the duration of the movie in a number of excellent action sequences, and most importantly, Skyfall examined characters on a deeper level than “James Bond and his associates are pretty cool, they save the day, James Bond gets the girl, the end”.
At the end of the day, it’s impossible to deny the thrill of moments like the opening Day of the Dead parade in Mexico City, complete with stunning Halloween reminiscent costumes and beautiful cinematography that tracks citizens enjoying the festivities all while James Bond walks across the rooftops of buildings before eventually getting into some peril including crumbling structures. The opening 15 minutes of Spectre (especially the mesmerizing opening credits montage featuring Sam Smith’s “Writings On The Wall”) set you up for what should be 150 minutes of spectacular storytelling and blistering chaos.
Unfortunately though, the movie does fizzle out quick and fast. One of the only enjoyable aspects of the action is the aforementioned Hinx side villain portrayed by Bautista. He makes the absolute most out of getting to take part in a James Bond film, and together with Craig creates some ferocious and primal carnage as they battle it out inside a train. Even his introduction to the scene where he out of focus casually walks up to the table James Bond and Madeleine are dining at, to kick it straight up in the air sends a message, jolting audiences. It’s an unexpected jump scare, and subtly one of the best moment in the entire film.
It also goes without mentioning that even though Spectre can’t deliver on making its narrative interesting, even with plot twists, things do pick up considerably when Christoph Waltz is allowed to tear up the screen as a classically cheesy villain. The amount of punishment this guy survives is nothing short of ridiculous, but I’ll be damned if I didn’t love every single moment he came back.
Some have said that the official theme song by Sam Smith is a grower. Well, I found Spectre highly disappointing and mediocre, but who knows, maybe it too is a grower.