Movie Review: “Spectre”

Daniel Craig, Christoph Waltz, Léa Seydoux, Ralph Fiennes, Naomi Harris, Ben Whishaw, Dave Bautista
Sam Mendes

“Spectre” is like a brand-new greatest hits album from that band that your parents loved. Only the hits have been re-recorded… with a new lead singer. It’s new in that it was recently created, but everything about it feels old and outdated, the legacy brand struggling for relevance in a world that has passed it by. The worst part is that they have no one but themselves to blame. The Broccoli family, who have owned the rights to Ian Fleming’s stories since time immemorial, has always been risk-averse when it came to messing with the James Bond formula, and they largely got away with it because they were the only spy thriller in town. With the debut of the spectacular “Kingsman: The Secret Service,” they’re lucky to lay claim to being the fourth best spy franchise in operation, even lagging behind the currently-dormant Jason Bourne.

James Bond (Daniel Craig) is in Mexico City to investigate a posthumous tip from his former boss M (Judi Dench), and in the process prevents a massive terrorist attack. Even better, he steals a ring from his target, one with a curious insignia engraved on its side that ultimately opens several doors in terms of useful intel. Unfortunately, Bond also made worldwide news with his stunt, and the new, living M (Ralph Fiennes) suspends him. Bond, of course, continues following the trail, which leads to seducing the wife of the man he killed in Mexico, and using the information he acquires from her to crash a top-secret meeting of international bad guys, who plan to manipulate governments via terrorist attack to join together for the purpose of sharing intelligence, ultimately putting the bad guys in complete control of all information.

While we’re discussing how risk-averse this series is, let’s discuss their casting. They cast an actor best known for playing a diabolical villain on a popular TV show, and they cast him in a part where the audience is at first supposed to trust him. But of course, no one trusts him, because anyone who knows him knows that he’s really good at being the bad guy. STOP DOING THIS. The supposed mystery of this film was over within minutes. And then we had to wait, by BE colleague Jason Zingale’s count (he was checking his watch), an hour and 45 minutes before main villain Christoph Waltz made his formal debut. Most Bond movies are rolling the credits at that point.

Speaking of most Bond movies, there are a number of references to Bond films past, bringing the greatest hits analogy full circle. The opening scene in Mexico City takes place during the Day of the Dead, which looks like a bigger budget version of the Mardi Gras sequence in “Live and Let Die.” There is a seemingly unstoppable bad guy of few words. (Mr. Hinx, played by Dave Bautista, meet Jaws. Jaws, meet Mr. Hinx.) One sequence takes place in the Swiss Alps, which look a lot like the opening sequence to “Goldeneye,” and another takes places in a desert, which could be any number of Bond films but most recently recalls “Quantum of Solace.” There is even an exchange between Craig and Waltz that seems to be modeled after the famous ‘Do you expect me to talk’ moment in “Goldfinger.” Going outside the Bond realm, there is a scene where a character thinks they have a clear shot at another character, only to find that it’s a ruse. This is the second time that trick has been pulled in a spy movie this year alone. (“Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation.” It’s better than this. See that instead.)

It’s frankly amazing that the Daniel Craig Bond films have done as well as they have, because they are all variations on the same thing. Spy uncovers bad deeds, unveils doer of bad deeds, follows instructions of bad doer to evil lair to discover his badder intentions. There is zero suspense to these films. There are impressive stunts – doing a barrel roll in a helicopter, that cannot be easy – but most of the action owes itself to bad shooting and dumb luck. That bit with the plane? Come on now. And even the helicopter bit was done to the point where it became less interesting. And then there’s the torture scene – I would be remiss if I didn’t mention Jason’s hilarious post-film takedown of the needlessly elaborate restraints – where a villain can just kill Bond and move on, but doesn’t. Where is Scott Evil when you need him?

The villains of “Spectre” self-servingly repeat the mantra that technology has evolved to the point where the world doesn’t need 00 agents anymore. The ultimate irony of “Spectre” is that it inadvertently proves that the villains are right.