written by John Logan, Neil Purvis, Robert Wade and Jez Butterworth
based on the character of James Bond by Ian Fleming
directed by Sam Mendes
Rating: 3 / 4
I’ve seen all the James Bond films at the movies ever since I watched Moonraker in 1979 (my parents chose poorly, but even so, I liked it) and For Your Eyes Only in 1981, which I loved for its amazing car/ski chases and awesome Bill Conti score (sorry, John Barry). But I skipped 2015’s Spectre because I had been less than thrilled with the two prior films starring Daniel Craig as the titular spy: Quantum of Solace (2008) had seemed a step way back from 2006’s bold Casino Royale, and Skyfall (2012) didn’t quite convince me with its gloomy take on Bond’s past and Javier Bardem’s hammy approach as the villain.
So I finally caught up and, against all expectations, I really enjoyed Spectre. But why? It’s certainly not among the great Bond films – it once again showcases an antagonist (Christoph Waltz) who’s built up as the very definition of evil, only to reveal himself to be yawn-inducing at best; it builds unsuccessfully on Skyfall‘s portentousness, weighing Bond down in psychobabble and existential dread (sibling rivalry, really?); and the action scenes are not particularly exciting, despite all the explosions, out-of-control helicopters, and Aston Martin chases. It has certainly been done better, particularly in the aforementioned Casino Royale and obviously in some of the classics with Sean Connery and Roger Moore.
However, it’s a slower-paced effort, which I found refreshing. Director Sam Mendes and cinematographer Hoyte van Hoytema take their time unspooling the plot and tying in ideas from the first three Craig outings in a way more reminiscent of a detective story than a pumped-up secret agent flick, and while it doesn’t quite work, it’s a good attempt. They also give Spectre a particular monochromatic look that I think resonates well with the theme of an older Bond and the film’s questions about his relevance in an era where spying can be done entirely through computers and high-tech surveillance.
I liked several other things as well: The filmmakers add a welcome dose of much-needed humor; it’s a hoot to see big boss “M” (Ralph Fiennes) and gadget guy “Q” (Ben Whishaw) go off-grid in order to assist Bond; Andrew Scott (Jim Moriarty himself from the BBC’s Sherlock) plays another despicable baddie you love to hate; the opening theme by Sam Smith, Writing’s on the Wall, is the classiest to come around since Tina Turner’s Goldeneye (1995); and as the requisite love interest, Léa Seydoux is both sexy and smart (she does get kidnapped, though, so expect some of the usual clichés).
So all in all Spectre is a pretty chill ride that feels like a good ending to Daniel Craig’s run as 007. Whether he’ll do another one is still up in the air, but for me, this completes the circle nicely.
Carlos I. Cuevas