What are action movies supposed to be in the year 2015? There’s the Mission Impossible and The Fast and the Furious series which defy age and logic to introduce one exciting installment after another. There comes a point where mere excitement simply isn’t good enough. How else can we explain the lukewarm reaction to Avengers: Age of Ultron, a painfully uninspired entry into the increasingly uninspiring Marvel franchise? With James Bond, we have the task at hand to determine where the gold standard of long running franchises fits into the modern age.
Unlike many critics, I hated Skyfall. While the film was largely praised for deviating from the standard 007 mold, I disliked M’s prominence in the central narrative. As much as a I like Dame Judi Dench, I’m a purist in the sense that I don’t believe any actor is larger than their role. Such a sendoff was most unnecessary and came at the expense of Javier Bardem’s theoretically interesting Raoul Silva.
Craig’s 007 films have cared more about continuity than the rest of the Bond canon. Spectre awkwardly tries to tie the events of the past three films together and largely falls flat with those efforts. Like Bardem before him, Christoph Waltz is tethered to an unnecessary need to be more than a standard Bond villain. By tying his backstory into Bond’s, the film attempts to heighten his emotion impact, but the results are merely distracting. For the second consecutive film, the Bond series has cast an Academy Award winner as the villain only to waste them in senseless clutter.
Around the halfway marker, I started to make the connections to For Your Eyes Only, Roger Moore’s fifth entry into the series. Both films have well put together action sequences and neither passes up a single opportunity to interject humor into the dialogue. Critical reception of For Your Eyes Only varies, with “fun” and “forgettable” accurately summarizing both sides of the equation. Also worth noting that FYEO features a “cameo” of sorts for Waltz’ character, though legal issues prevented the film from acknowledging the character as Ernst Stavro Blofeld.
Coming off of Skyfall, it might have been unreasonable to expect Spectre to raise the bar in terms of the plot. Adding complexity to Bond can produce dangerous, or rather painfully boring, results. The real question is, did it even try?
The film isn’t without its redeeming qualities. Besides the well crafted action scenes, Lea Seydoux shines as Dr. Madeline Swann. Ralph Fiennes, Naomie Harris, and Ben Whinshaw all put in fine efforts, but none top their Skyfall performances, which is disappointing at least for Fiennes, who takes over for Dench as M and fails to bring even half of Dench’s commanding energy to the role.
As for Craig, it’s hard to criticize him. He’s comfortable, but he should be by his fourth go around. Uninspiring could be a word used to describe his performance, but that also speaks to the film in general.
Spectre’s biggest crime isn’t that it’s conventional. It falters because it doesn’t fully commit to being a fun movie. The film tries too hard to justify its legitimacy as a post Die Another Day Bond film that it forgets that it’s okay not to be revolutionary. Traditional and boring are two different things. I’m not sure Spectre could tell the difference.