After nine years of trying to run away from its formula, 007 has for better or worse, returned to what made it a cultural touchstone in the first place.
“Spectre,” the latest James Bond film, is a sequel to the series of films that re-invented (and sometimes reinvigorated) England’s most famous spy. “Spectre,” meanwhile, tries to mix gritty reboot Bond with your father’s Bond.
Like the other recent entries starring Daniel Craig, “Spectre” doesn’t start from scratch. It begins where “Skyfall” left off. To fight through the death of his beloved M (Judi Dench), James Bond (Craig) does what James Bond does best: he goes on a mission in a foreign land. In the film’s thrilling opening minutes, he goes on a chase through a Dia de los Muertos parade in Mexico City. The sequence is a stunning continuous take that is crackling with energy and colour. It is a Bond intro to remember.
When he comes back to London, Bond finds himself in a world that needs James Bond less and less. Suspended by M’s replacement (Ralph Fiennes) for giving the agency a bad name with his reckless way of taking enemies down, Bond instead goes rogue. He looks to track down the illuminati-like organisation known as SPECTRE.
“Spectre” portrays a Bond who has seen countless tragedies, but may be starting to come off on the other side. Bond is a loner, and in one of the most perfect touches in “Spectre,” we get a peak inside his apartment. Just like you might expect, it’s empty, save for a television set and a coffee table covered with scattered case files.
This James Bond is clearly different than the James Bond of the past. But in “Spectre,” he feels less like the emotionally complex figure that Daniel Craig created and more like someone Sean Connery and Roger Moore might have gotten along with. Yet, when Bond tries to get the cool car in “Spectre,” it turns out that it is going to someone else. Then, when he orders his trademark drink, it turns out he is at a bar that doesn’t serve alcohol.
“Spectre” channels the Cold War paranoia and absurdity of 007 past. It works at its best when it feels like a tribute as opposed to a rehash. For instance, Dave Bautista (“Guardians of the Galaxy”) is a silent, hulking force as Hinx. He is reminiscent of Jaws and Oddjob.
Then, there is Christoph Waltz. With his slippers and grey shirt that feels like it should have been worn by Kim Jong-un, Waltz just seems like he was born to play a Bond villain.
When he is onscreen, Waltz doesn’t disappoint. Unfortunately, he is given way too little to do here. When a film has a great villain, they typically won’t be introduced until later on as a way to build suspense. Evil is scarier when it lurks in the shadows for a while. However, when you have a two time Academy Award winner who could read a section of the phone book like it is Shakespeare, it is best that you give him as much to do as humanly possible.
Storywise, “Spectre” is a bit of a mess. It feels like Craig and director Sam Mendes made exactly the Bond film they wanted with “Skyfall,” but then they had to come back for one more. While it is nice to see that Hollywood is realising that every franchise doesn’t have to try and become a darker version of itself to survive, it seems odd that this iteration of Bond ends on such a light note. Its 150 minute run time surprisingly rarely drags, but it still feels like the story could have been focused and tightened a lot.
So many Bond films have been made that they can’t all be great. “Casino Royale” and “Skyfall” might have spoiled fans (we don’t speak of “Quantum of Solace” around here). I have seen some bad Bond movies before. “Spectre” will not end up being as memorable as “Goldfinger” or even “GoldenEye.”
I walked into “Spectre” hoping for something as sublime as its predecessor. I ended up finding an entertaining 007 entry. Sure, “Spectre” works, but I hope whoever takes the reins of the next Bond movie finds yet another way to re-invent the spy we have been re-introduced to so many times over the last five decades.
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