Three years ago, Arleigh, Leonard, Chris Mead, and I reviewed every single James Bond films up to Skyfall. Leonard often refers to this as being our Avengers moment and it remains one of my fondest memories of my time here at the Shattered Lens. It really doesn’t matter who is playing the role or what the villain’s evil plan may be, or whether the individual film was made in the 60s or just last year, the Bond films are a lot of fun. Some of them are better than others. Sometimes, you get lucky and you get something like For Your Eyes Only and sometimes you have to settle for Die Another Day. Ultimately, every Bond film is an event and, in many ways, they are critic proof. As long we hear the iconic music, as long as Bond gets a few good quips, as long as the villain chuckles while explaining his evil plan, as long as there’s an exciting chase and a big explosion, and as long as there’s a lot of gorgeous clothes to look at and at least one tastefully lit sex scene, most viewers will be happy.
Most viewers will probably be happy with SPECTRE, the latest Bond film. I saw the film yesterday and, even if it won’t ever make my list of top ten Bond films, I enjoyed it. Daniel Craig is back as Bond, Christoph Waltz fulfills his destiny by becoming the 9th actor to play the iconic villain Blofeld, Dave Bautista is a properly intimidating henchman, and Lea Seydoux is the strongest Bond girl since Eva Green. One thing that I especially appreciated about the film is that, in the roles of M, Miss Moneypenny, and Q, Ralph Fiennes, Naomie Harris, and Ben Whishaw are actually given an opportunity to get involved in the film’s action and all three of them are a lot of fun to watch. The film has an absolutely brilliant opening, featuring Bond assassinating a man in Mexico City and destroying a city block in the process. There’s an exciting chase scene, there’s a few moments of genuine wit, and there’s even one of those patented Bond train journeys, where sex and violence are mixed with intoxicating results. And yes, the clothes are to die for…
It’s good and undeniably enjoyable in so many ways and yet somehow, SPECTRE still left me feeling slightly disappointed. Some of that is because SPECTRE exists in the shadow of Skyfall. After Skyfall (which I feel should have been one of the films nominated for best picture of 2012), expectation were sky high for SPECTRE. Those expectations were so high that there was no way that SPECTRE could have hoped to meet them. (You could argue that Quantum of Solace faced the same problem when it had to follow Casino Royale.) SPECTRE is no Skyfall but, then again, few films are.
Speaking of high expectations, I think we were all expecting Christoph Waltz to be one of the best Bond villains. After all, Waltz is a legitimately great actor and he specializes in the type of cheerful arrogance that has epitomized some of Bond’s greatest antagonists. (One can easily imagine Waltz playing Auric Goldfinger.) Add to that, Waltz is playing Blofeld, the ultimate Bond bad guy. As it is, Waltz gives a good performance but SPECTRE‘s Blofeld just isn’t that interesting. He has a lot more in common with the generic baddie from Quantum of Solace than with Goldfinger or the fascinated Raoul Silva of Skyfall.
As well, it wasn’t just enough for Blofeld to be the leader of a secret organization bent on world domination. It wasn’t enough that Blofeld was secretly responsible for everything that happened in Casino Royale, Quantum, and Skyfall (which, as much as some critics have complained about this particular plot twist, is actually a clever reference to Blofeld’s shadowy presence in all of Sean Connery’s Bond films). For some reason, the film’s writers decided it would be a good idea to make him Bond’s jealous stepbrother. Blofeld’s past relationship to Bond feels incredibly superfluous. I like to think that I’m pretty good at suspending my disbelief (especially when it comes to a Bond film) but I have to admit that I found myself rolling my eyes while Blofeld talked about how jealous he was when Bond came to live with his family.
(As well, Blofeld’s jealousy was a bit too reminiscent of Raoul Silva’s jealousy of Bond. It worked in Skyfall because we weren’t expecting a Bond villain to have a vulnerable side and Javier Bardem’s perversely charismatic performance caught the viewers off guard. In SPECTRE, it just feels like something that should have been eliminated during a rewrite.)
Daniel Craig, of course, is the sixth actor to officially play the role of James Bond. It’s always interesting to see how each actor interprets the role. The most successful Bond films are always built around the actor’s individual interpretation. For instance, it would be difficult to imagine Roger Moore in any of Sean Connery’s Bond films and, at the same time, it would be hard to imagine Sean Connery in The Spy Who Loved Me. Sean Connery was the Ruthless Bond. George Lazenby was the Insecure Bond. Roger Moore was the Bemused Bond. Timothy Dalton was the Boring Bond. Pierce Brosnan was the Suave Bond. Depending on which one of his films you see, Daniel Craig is either the Professional Bond or the Whiny Bond. SPECTRE continues the pattern that we’ve seen in the previous Craig films of presenting a James Bond who is struggling to balance his humanity with his job. When it works, like in Skyfall, it’s riveting. When it doesn’t work, like in Quantum of Solace, it runs the risk of getting rather tedious. SPECTRE finds Craig in between those two extremes. It’s an uneven performance. Craig and Seydoux have great chemistry and the scenes where Craig interacts with Fiennes, Harris, and Whishaw are fun to watch. But there are other scenes where Daniel Craig just comes across like he’s bored with the whole thing. Craig’s Bond has spent four films trying to figure out how he feels about his job. If Craig returns for a fifth film (and, as of right now, that seems to be a big if), he will hopefully have finally gotten over it.
(That said, SPECTRE was definitely written for Craig’s bond. At the end of the film — SPOILER, obviously — Bond has the choice between executing a man in cold blood or allowing the authorities to arrest him. Craig allows the man to be arrested. Connery would have put a bullet in his head and then smirked about it.)
And if it seems that I’m being critical of SPECTRE — well, I am. It’s one of the more uneven films in the Bond franchise, one that especially suffers when compared to some of the other spy films (Kingsman, MI: Rogue Nation) released this year. But, at the same time, SPECTRE does deliver the basics of what we expect from a Bond film. It’s entertaining and it has its fun moments. It’s no Skyfall but at least it’s better than Quantum of Solace.
Other Bond Reviews on TSL:
- Casino Royale (TV version)
- Dr. No
- From Russia With Love
- You Only Live Twice
- Casino Royale (excessive version)
- On Her Majesty’s Secret Service
- Diamonds Are Forever
- Lisa’s Review of Live and Let Die
- Arleigh’s Review of Live and Let Die
- The Man With The Golden Gun
- The Spy Who Loved Me
- For Your Eyes Only
- Never Say Never Again
- A View To A Kill
- The Living Daylights
- Licence to Kill
- Tomorrow Never Dies
- The World Is Not Enough
- Die Another Day
- Casino Royale (Craig version)
- Quantum of Solace