SPECTRE Directed by Sam Mendes; Written by John Logan, Neal Purvis, Robert Wade, Jez Butterworth, based on characters created by Ian Fleming; Starring Daniel Craig, Christoph Waltz, Léa Seydoux, Ralph Fiennes, Monica Bellucci, Ben Whishaw, Naomie Harris, Dave Bautista, Andrew Scott, Rory Kinnear, Jesper Christensen; Rated PG-13 for “intense sequences of action and violence, some disturbing images, sensuality and language”; Running time 148 minutes; In wide release November 6, 2015.
Bond is back! And because we couldn’t just let one of us take on this 24th Bond film, we assembled our most secret of agent bots, serial numbers 001-004, to take this on. (PS- you may remember prior to Skyfall, we watched and reviewed every Bond film and then some. You can go search for those if you really want to see what we had to say about, oh, Moonraker or The Living Daylights).
This film finds our Agent 007 unravelling a mystery on his own, off the books of MI-6, which is all well and good because things are not going well at the home office. After the bombing of the MI-6 offices in Skyfall, the government has decided to demolish the old building and combine MI-5 (domestic security services) and MI-6 into a giant intelligence apparatus. Even worse, newcomer “C” (Andrew Scott, whom we’ve seen as Moriarty in the Sherlock series in the BBC) is trying to scrap what he feels is an outdated 00 program to replace it with drones and surveillance. Even worse, he’s pushing for the G-12 to combine their security agencies into one giant data-sharing operation to help prevent international terrorism.
Meanwhile, Bond keeps tugging on this thread that has run through all of his previous tragedies -- Le Chifre, Mr. White, Raoul Silva, Vesper, M -- and uncovers a secret organization that seems to be behind it all. And someone from Bond’s past, a Franz Oberhauser (Christoph Waltz), is the one pulling the strings.
So, what did our secret agent bots think? Now, do be careful, and pay attention:
Citizen-bot: This movie is amazing for Bond geeks, but I think general audiences will enjoy it a little less. The movie spends almost too much time winking at the audience with subtle (and some not-so-subtle) homages to a kind of “greatest hits” of Bond. Note I said “almost”-- and most of them are so quick your average moviegoer will never notice. This is a great companion piece to Casino Royale and Skyfall and wraps up all of the Daniel Craig films in a nice bow. But, it’s not quite as good as those two films.
Zendobot: I agree that it isn’t quite as good as Casino Royale but I think it’s an equal to Skyfall. As an original novelization Bond geek I don’t think this film wrapped everything in a nice bow either. There’s trouble ahead for 007 and I hope Daniel Craig sticks around to complete that story. If he does, I believe I won't be the only one who thinks Craig is greatest Bond on film. That being said, I was grinning from ear to ear for most of the film but felt there were some dramatic lull’s that made the film feel like it had an odd pacing. Casino Royale also used the same pacing trick but did so to solidify the relationship between James and Vesper. The pacing choice in Spectre seemed to be made to fit in more action sequences.
Citizen-bot: Yeah, this was like they decided to make this film by Mad Lib, so they knew every few minutes they have to add [Car chase], [Fistfight], [‘Splosion]. Which is fine, to a certain extent. The Bond formula works because it works. But for a franchise that seems so intent on reinventing itself the past few years, this feels more like an amalgam of past James Bond moments.
Zendobot: I can’t disagree with you there but I don’t think using ideas from the past is a bad thing. I believe that those past moments are handled with the seriousness Fleming would’ve expected but with an appreciation that long-time fans of the film series still want a certain amount of formula in a Bond feature. The tech is over-the-top but it isn’t over-done. Gadgets are grounded, not excessive like they were pre-Craig. The filmmakers didn’t resort jetpacks or cars that turn into submarines. In Spectre 007 uses a laser mic, an HK, a Walther, & his trusty Omega watch. James Bond isn’t supposed to be a super-spy: he’s supposed to be an assassin who uses spy-craft to get the job done. And in Spectre we see him doing just that.
Swank-mo-Tron: I thought this film was, at best, middle-tier James Bond. It was overly long and homaged all the most ho-hum bits from better Bond films. It felt like it was trying to be “On Her Majesty’s Secret Service” and they pulled every single punch. The opening was fantastic, the single shot in Mexico City was breathtaking, and I loved that it added that to ouvre of 007, but after that, the movie just sort of started unravelling. For me, “Skyfall” is the high bar for Daniel Craig and I wanted to love this so much more than I did. It really fell flat, especially comparing it to other films in the franchise. It was probably better than everything Roger Moore did, and it was better than about half of Pierce Brosnan’s movies. It was better than “License to Kill,” but I can think of between 5 and 10 Bond films that are just “better.”
Citizen-bot: What made Casino Royale and Skyfall were so successful was they were a synthesis of previous Bond, but they covered new ground and re-established the character and the world. It was like if someone decided to make a couple of albums inspired by and borrowing riffs and samples from The Beatles’ greatest hits. So SPECTRE feels like they went back and found both the most obvious songs to cover and some of the deepest cuts. It’s both less subtle and more obscure at the same time and a combination that’s going to baffle most audiences and only please the most obsessed Bond-o-phile.
And as much of a visual director as Sam Mendes can be, I feel like he kind of gave up on this movie. After that opening scene, which was spectacular, I feel like he just sort of said, “Well, I put all my creative energy into that. I’m spent. Imma just gonna point the camera at the actors and shoot them for the rest of this.” It’s good, competent filmmaking and the action sequences are well-done and free from shaky cam, which is a nice departure from many films, but it feels more workmanlike than previous outings. Like he just stopped caring about the movie after the opening titles. So did we, Sam Mendes. So did we.
Adam McDonald: I really, REALLY wanted to like this a lot more than I did. “Skyfall” set the bar so high, and since so many people who were responsible for that film were returning here, my expectations were higher than normal for a Bond film. And at first, I thought “Spectre” was going to meet them. That opening scene in Mexico with one of the most beautiful and fantastic long-tracking shots I’ve seen in a long time got me excited. The way it pulls from the “Skyfall” legacy and plays out the consequences of what took place there was fantastic. Then the middle of the movie hits, they introduce the big bads, and everything just falls flat. Every plot twist and reveal was telegraphed from the moment they introduced a character or idea, which led to an overwhelming feeling of mediocrity that permeated the film from that point on. Both Christoph Waltz and Dave Bautista are sorely underused, with the latter turning into a wannabe “Jaws” character who never remotely seems menacing and is never missed once he disappears two-thirds of the way through. Waltz is one of the best actors of our time, and he never gets his moment to shine or show off how great an actor he really is. He was only made more annoying when he got his “trademark Bond-villain scar” that made me literally shake my head with disbelief. Come on, THIS is your follow up to the greatest Bond movie ever? For shame. I will give the film credit for at least being entertaining for the most part and for zipping through it’s nearly two and a half hour run time, but that’s not enough. In a year where we have been given some absolutely fantastic spy movies -- “Kingsman”, “Spy”, “Mission Impossible”, etc.) there is no excuse to be happy with a film this lazy. In the end, “Spectre” ends up being just mediocre and can be summed up as a wasted opportunity.
Swank-mo-tron: I think the thing that kills me most about Daniel Craig’s version of Bond is that he falls in love with every single woman he gets involved with. Connery was dispassionate when it came to love. Lazenby loved just the one and it created the best of the Bond films. Roger Moore’s Bond still carried the hurt of Lazenby’s loss, and Timothy Dalton was so busy saving the women from danger that he barely had time to get involved. Daniel Craig seems to fall in love with every damsel he comes across. He has no defenses and seems to be the emotional equivalent of a love-sick teenager trying to escape his life completely. I also hate that Craig’s Bond seems to have erased the dedication and life to service and the whole “Commander” Bond thing. He has no experience.
Adam McDonald: And see, I don’t really mind that all too much. Whether it’s the intention or not, I’ve always kind of bought into the idea that each new actor who takes on the mantle of James Bond is a different person who assumes the codename and moniker of 007. To have Daniel Craig as Bond act differently than Moore, Connery or even Brosnan works just fine for me. I also loved Lea Seydoux as the newest Bond girl. She got to be a badass and wasn’t just some damsel in distress that he had to continually rescue. If Bond was going to fall in love with any woman, she seemed to be the one. Considering that Craig may not be back for another despite contractual obligations, at least it left it on a nice finishing note for this run of his version of the character.
Citizen-bot: But they totally set this up for the sequel, though. So, some of this just felt like another movie to move the franchise along rather than creating something new or smart.
Swank-mo-tron: Firstly, the entire climax is him rescuing her and she’s literally tied to a bomb. Secondly, he’s done this every film. And I don’t want four movie arcs for James Bond. I want a brand new one-off adventure every film.
Adam McDonald: Hence why I said continually rescue. She didn’t get to contribute as much as Rebecca Ferguson in “Mission: Impossible - Rogue Nation”, but thankfully she wasn’t helpless the entire time.
Swank-mo-tron: Tied. To a bomb.
Adam McDonald: But she got better (as said in bad British accent a la Monty Python). But yes, that was really silly.
Citizen-bot: Again, the homage was strong in that sequence. Stealing quite a bit from “The Man With the Golden Gun” in particular and the whole damsel tied to the train tracks trope. It’s too bad, because after that one scene of torture where Waltz is really in his element, he becomes a caricature -- somewhere between Snidely Whiplash and Dr. Evil. He may as well have been demanding Bond “But you MUST pay the rent!” or give into his demand for “one. . . MILLION. . . dollars!” The real threat here is what C is doing with his worldwide network of intelligence agencies surveilling everyone and everything. . . and M and Q are sent to dispatch him while Bond rescues his girlfriend du jour.
Swank-mo-tron: One of the things I love watching Bond movies for is the way he’s able to read situations and be smarter than everyone, constantly two steps ahead of the enemy. He’s like Sherlock Holmes in that regard. Craig’s Bond sees the plots a moment too late and then has to brute force his way into fixing the situation. It leaves a bad taste in my mouth. I want a more sophisticated and intelligent Bond for my money, which, I think, is why Craig has never quite gelled with me in the part. Judi Dench’s M was right to describe him as a blunt instrument, but that, to me, is never what Bond was.
Citizen-bot: I like that take on it. Craig’s Bond is rough around the edges and a blunt instrument. I like that he isn’t the gentleman spy, but, as they refer to him several times here, “an assassin.” It certainly makes the argument that C isn’t wrong that the new intelligence game is in surveillance and drones. But this has been a recurring theme in Casino Royale, Skyfall, and now SPECTRE. that sometimes someone has to pull a trigger. And sometimes someone has to know not to pull that trigger. Blunt instrument. But a human instrument, driven by human passions and fallible to them. It makes Bond more three dimensional as a blunt instrument than he was anywhere else except for Lazenby’s too-brief stint as Bond.
Zendobot: And, as a fan of the novels, to me Bond is a blunt instrument. He’s always getting lucky. He always makes a woman fall for him but then leaves them abruptly, like he does in this film in Mexico. If we get another Daniel Craig movie it’s going to be another continuation and it’s likely to not be pretty for Contessa, er um, Madeleine. I know this may not be what the mainstream Bond fan wants but I enjoyed it despite it being a little too long and full of clichés. I may be too generous but I give it a 7.5 out of 10.
Swank-mo-tron: This is not the worst Bond film I’ve seen, and despite its major flaws, plodding pace, overly long run time, and cowardly script, this was still an enjoyable time. Mendes has a way of photographing locations gloriously, gave us a breathtaking opening sequence, and was able to make the two Craig Bond films that started to feel like Bond films. Maybe next time we’ll get an actual Bond movie. Having said that, I can think of worse Bond films (I think I like it way more than “Quantum of Solace” and at least ⅕ of “Casino Royale”) and there’s something about every Bond film that makes me love them. For that reason, I’ll give this Bond picture a 6.5 out of 10.
Adam McDonald: And that’s actually more generous than I am feeling. It wasn’t bad, but it’s not one I’m looking forward to watching again or ever. It just kind of exists in the Bond universe and will be known as the missed opportunity from the Daniel Craig portfolio. But you’re definitely right, Bryan, a decent Bond movie is better than no Bond movie, and it’s not a total disaster. Still, I was really hoping for so much more. 5 out of 10.
Citizen-bot: Despite all of its flaws, and it not being as good as its predecessors (Why can’t you be more like your older brothers Skyfall and Casino Royale?!?!) this still manages to entertain me greatly. As someone who appreciates those “deep cuts” in homages, I enjoyed them. Yes, it’s not in the top tier of Bond films. But it’s at the top of the middle tier. However, if you haven’t been paying attention to the previous films closely, this movie may not be for you. I give it a 7.5 out of 10, or to return to our original Bond rating guide: 3 martinis out of 4.