WARNING: This is a review intended for those who have already watched SPECTRE and are now looking for a more detailed opinion on the film’s plot and its characters. As such, everything you read below comes with a heavy warning for spoilers!
Daniel Craig’s tenure as the grizzled assassin 007 got off to a rip-roaringly good start with Casino Royale, but the luster seemed to wear off almost immediately with the creators behind this latest release SPECTRE now stripping the last vestige of nuance away with another outrageously dull sequel chock-full of cringeworthy throwbacks and forgettable action sequences.
The plot chronicles Bond’s run-in with the shadowy organization – literally, they sit around in pitch-black darkness for most of the film – known as SPECTRE; a league of unfathomably evil Illuminati rejects whose leader seems to have a link to 007’s equally dark past.
Assisted or otherwise cockblocked by his bumbling colleagues at MI6, Bond travels the globe seeking to uncover a pseudo-sinister plot to overthrow the world’s imminent new surveillance network known as Nine Eyes.
The film starts with a scene so heavy-handed and gratuitous it’s akin to experiencing sudden blunt force trauma to the head.
We catch up with 007 strolling through the streets of Mexico City in full on cosplay mode for the country’s Día de Muertos holiday. Clearly a ham-fisted attempt at forcing some colour and death-related imagery/subtext into the film, this opening scene has been given a lot more praise than it really deserves.
This is likely because of the fact that it’s presented in one sustained five-minute tracking shot – something that professional critics have gone absolutely potty over – which might have looked more impressive if such a technique didn’t feel so blatantly overused and ultimately pointless.
Once he discards his idiotic disguise, Daniel Craig tries his best not to look too old as he potters about the legitimately precarious Mexican rooftops before accidentally blowing up an entire street block in a botched attempt at assassinating a terrorist known as Sciarra (Alessandro Cremona).
After having his arse saved by a conveniently-placed sofa (I wish I was making this up) Bond then makes a token attempt at shadowing Sciarra through the streets before chasing him to his nearby helicopter for a painfully drawn-out action sequence where Bond murders not only him, but also the vehicle’s pilot and my family’s pet dog.
There’s no reason given for why Bond is doing all of this until later on (and even then it’s paper-thin) which is a big problem considering you’re given the entire title sequence to contemplate why Bond just murdered several people for no apparent reason. Sure, the “bad guys” may have been nasty bomb-makers, but why kill these particular bomb-makers? What makes them so darn interesting? Context is everything, so please provide some next time.
After retrieving an ominous Octopus ring from Sciarra’s finger, Bond is grounded (yes; this is the exact terminology used) by his boss Garreth Mallory AKA “M” (Ralph Fiennes) for endangering the 00 program with his reckless antics and for generally being a bit of a dick.
An awkward side plot is quickly inserted involving a new character called Max Denbigh (Andrew Scott); a high-ranking government bigwig who uses Bond’s rampage in Mexico as leverage for a proposal to scrap the 00 program altogether in favour of a global surveillance program that would make even George Orwell sqeemish by comparison.
When we discover the reason behind Bond’s unofficial Mexico mission – told to us in a perplexing found footage cameo from the previous M (Judi Dench) – it’s hard not to at least partially sympathize with Denbigh’s proposal; something that makes his subsequent on-screen clashes with Mallory difficult to invest in.
Soon after Bond does what he always does and goes rogue, crossing paths with the walking bit part/sex object Lucia (Monica Belluchi) before infiltrating the headquarters of the titular SPECTRE group.
SPECTRE isn’t your run-of-the-mill cult of Cthulhu worshipers though, but a network of unspeakably evil people bent on subverting the world’s governments to their own ends.
What follows is an agonizingly long scene where we’re introduced to a few new players including a quick peak at head honcho Franz Oberhauser (Christoph Waltz) and the mute brute Mr. Hinx (Dave Bautista); a hulking mass of muscle with grotesque metal finger nails that are forgotten about as quickly as they’re introduced.
After what feels like an eternity of dead air, where all the group members just seem to stare at each other in complete silence, Bond is spotted and all hell breaks loose.
Following a dreary car chase through the streets of Rome, Bond escapes his now totalled vehicle via parachute before landing comfortably near a civilian street sweeper for that old “bemused onlooker” trope that falls completely flat because the hired extra just ends up looking bored instead of surprised.
After all that palava, 007 travels to Austria where he eventually meets up with chief “Bond girl” Dr. Madeline Swann (Léa Seydoux); one of SPECTRE’s high value targets who James promised to protect in an earlier throwaway scene starring the elusive Mr. White (Jesper Christensen).
Dr. Swann formally reveals the name of SPECTRE, but quickly gets captured by the apparently psychic Mr. Hinx and it’s at this point that you realize there’s going to be no nuance to Dave Bautista’s character whatsoever.
In yet another move to make SPECTRE feel more like the Bond films of yore, Hinx is portrayed as a silent slab of humanity; a one-dimensional killing machine from the Jaws mold with no motivation other than to see 007 dead.
You can argue that it hardly makes a difference considering the character’s contribution to making the film at least do something/anything, but it’s a missed opportunity when you consider the actor’s rather charismatic turn in last year’s Guardians of the Galaxy.
Eventually Bond and Swann evade capture and shack up in a mysterious hotel room in Tangier that supposedly has connections to SPECTRE. As night falls, Bond has an ill-advised stab at levity by threatening a mouse with his pistol whereupon you can easily predict the impending “rodent leads hero to secret entrance” trope that’s about to clumsily force its ways onto the screen.
Thus Bond discovers Mr. White’s hidden safe haven from SPECTRE, but all it reveals is a set of coordinates; a pointless little mystery in a seemingly endless number of signposts that do little except lead Bond from one set piece to another.
Following this, Bond and Swann are again attacked by Mr. Hinx who tries to intercept them on a train bound for the Moroccan desert. Owing to the rather barren cinematography seen throughout SPECTRE, the train is all but devoid of human life for this could-have-been-good fight sequence and it misses out on a lot of potential threat as a result.
Indeed, when Hinx is dispatched and Bond has sex with Swann in a nearby carriage; there’s no-one around to question the devastation wrought by their fisticuffs; as if the whole scene had taken place in a vacuum in space and time.
Soon Bond is dropped off in the middle of the desert and in a moment of profound stupidity, accepts Oberhauser’s equally stupid invitation for 007 to tour the villain’s nearby evil lair which is built within the bowels of a giant meteorite crater. Uh-huh.
Actor Christopher Waltz finally takes centre stage for his big reveal as the film’s arch villain, but his resulting performance just adds to the already bitter air of disappointment.
Indeed, when he first strides into frame it’s hard not to feel underwhelmed. Of course I don’t think that every Bond villain needs to have a hideous scar or crippling deformity in order to be interesting, but after more than an hour of build-up here, I wanted to see something sinister about Oberhauser that wasn’t just his rather gruesome pair of sockless loafers.
Waltz’s uncharacteristically bland delivery doesn’t help matters either and the cherry on the cake comes when he reveals – almost as a throwaway line – his newly adopted name of Ernst Stavro Blofeld.
And thus the final veneer of good taste comes peeling away as the scriptwriters step into full on throwback territory.
Forgetting the fact that this new moniker is completely aimless (the name “Blofeld” has zero relevance within the film’s narrative) and is probably only intended to wake up your dad who fell asleep whilst watching, we’re then treated to a stupefying retcon that suggests this villain was chiefly responsible for the events of the last three films!
Le Chiffre’s bankrolling of terrorist cells and the murder of Bond’s former lover Vesper Lynd in Casino Royale. Now the work of Blofeld.
Raoul Silva’s deeply personal crusade to assassinate M in Skyfall. Now the work of Blofeld.
That evil guy’s plan to do whatever it was he wanted to do in that other Daniel Craig Bond film. Now the work of Blofeld.
Disrespectful, lazy and completely nonsensical. There’s no other way to describe this feeble, not to mention damaging, attempt at establishing a James Bond ‘cinematic universe’.
Just like the tepid reveals of Khan (Star Trek: Into Darkness) and Robin (The Dark Knight Rises), this nostalgic naming gimmick smacks of pure desperation on the part of the writers who clearly yearn for their work to have a deeper identity.
What makes matters worse is the tenuous link they try to establish between Blofeld and Bond; suggesting the two were childhood comrades before Blofeld jealousy murdered his own father because of the attention he bestowed upon James as a child.
Thus the underlying motive for an entire set of four films boils down to a case of one man’s daddy resentment. Astonishing.
The tedium continues then as Blofeld reveals his cunning plan to gain control of the world’s intelligence data and do something with it, maybe. It’s not really made clear, but I can guess the answer is something along the lines of “take over the world” or perhaps even “carry on being evil, business as usual, standard procedure and all that”.
So Blofeld detains Bond (who has no-one to blame but himself for getting captured) and tortures him with an unusual medical device that bores into its victim’s neck with a sharp drill bit.
Aside from looking quite unpleasant for a film rated 12A, this device doesn’t actually seem to accomplish much as Bond uses the power of love to escape seemingly unharmed (seriously) whereupon he quickly destroys Blofeld’s entire desert outpost by shooting at several conveniently-placed gas canisters outside the complex.
Bond returns to London, M ousts Max Denbigh as a villain (real shocker there) and the whole “MI6 posse” including Q and Moneypenny set out to save the world from The League of Extraordinary Voyeurs.
Madeline Swann tries to do the smart thing and just abandon the film altogether, but she gets captured again and Bond has to rescue her from another overrunning scene featuring Blofeld’s ‘little shop of vaguely horrible horrors’ that he’s somehow set up at the condemned MI6 building that was obliterated during the events of Skyfall.
The wearisome name-dropping and referencing continues throughout all of this and eventually Bond just has enough, shoots down Blofeld’s escaping helicopter and leaves him – alive – in the hands of M, walking off into the sunset with Dr. Swann as he does so.
Daniel Craig has stated, quite vehemently, that he has no interest in playing the James Bond character ever again and I wonder how much of that sentiment is due to the quality of this latest outing.
Even the very worst Bond films had something I myself could latch onto; a singular idea or interesting premise that perhaps hinted at a deeper potential, but SPECTRE has nothing; there’s nothing I can say I enjoyed about this film and that’s in spite of viewing it free of charge!
I’m actually glad that it turned out this way though, because perhaps now there exists the very best mainstream example of just how badly nostalgia creep can spoil a franchise.
If James Bond truly is to return, then perhaps it would be best as part of another reboot because this colossal misfire has already made the Craig era feel remarkably stale.