The latest Bond film is beautiful to look at, well acted, and a bit disjointed. In spite of some well-done action scenes, it’s surprisingly laidback. It’s not quite limp, but it clearly lacks the dramatic tension of its immediate successor Skyfall.
Daniel Craig is back again for his fourth and, some are saying, his last outing as the British loose cannon/spy. He’s been the right man for the reboot of the series, and he’s a good actor, not just a good Bond. His trademark intensity is a little tamped down this time around, and that’s a loss, as it accounts for a great deal of the energy—and enjoyment—of the most recent Bond films. Craig seems a little tired this time around. Understandable at this point, but less interesting.
The plot? Does it matter? Spectre reaches way back into the Bond legend to old villains and conspiracies, but it’s not enough to ratchet up the tension to the requisite levels. Christoph Waltz as the bad guy is a cliché at this point (I’m sure it seemed genius when someone first thought of it.) He’s, to use a word with multiple implications, “fine.” But he’s not spine-tingling or strange or intriguing. He’s just CW pulled out of a Tarantino film and told to bring it down a notch.
Much has been made of the oldest Bond “girl,” the international star Monica Belluci, one of cinema’s great beauties. (For Americans, they know her best as Mary Magdelene in The Passion of the Christ.) Yes, she was 50 (51 now) and older than Craig. But her cinematic treatment hedges many a bet. She’s presented as a possibly grieving widow, dressed head to toe in elegant, fashionable and complimentary black. She even has a veil over her (slightly wrinkled?) face when we meet her, and she has a good deal of makeup on. Yes, she’s older than every other Bond females. But she’s also an international beauty who is lovingly dressed and photographed, and she is dismissed from the picture almost as quickly as she arrives. It’s the slightest tip of the hat to an acknowledgement of age (for Bond and for the audience), but more likely a reach to the international market.
The same, of course, goes with the casting of Léa Seydoux, fresh off the controversial Blue is the Warmest Color, but who also appeared in smaller roles in The Grand Budapest Hotel, Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol and Midnight in Paris. She is there because she is a young, lovely French star who will help to guarantee the expected heavy international gross. She is, like Waltz, “fine.” She and Craig go through the necessary paces, but the electricity is low wattage at best.
Each sequence seems to have an identity and feel all its own unconnected with a strong momentum; the film just doesn’t have the forward drive of its predecessors. Sam Mendes is back as director, but the cinematographer isn’t Skyfall’s legendary Roger Deakins, who created beautiful imagery that dazzled one minute and hypnotized the next. The new DC is Hoyte Van Hoytema, best known for Interstellar, Her, and Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy. He brings a burnished yellow tone to much of the work, and occasionally rivals the word “Prince of Darkness” Gordon Willis’s work on The Godfather Part Two. The “looks like one take” work of the first sequence is stunning, but what it’s photographing is less than exciting. There is beauty, and there is efficiency. There’s just little excitement.
The script and story credits include seven people, and perhaps therein lies the problem. It could easily have cranked up (spoiler alert) the personal connection of CW’s Blofeld, but the film does with those possibilities what it does with the rest of the film: it pulls back when it ought to press in. The film is observed rather than felt or experienced. That fine for an art film, less fine for a Bond.
The new crowd gets mixed reviews. Ralph Fiennes, one of the best actors working today, just doesn’t quite fit as the new M, and Dame Judi Dench is most sorely missed; when a video of her has more draw and pizzazz than the “real” presence of an actor of Fiennes’ stature, you know something is missing. Ben Whishaw is always an addition, but isn’t given enough to do. The same with Naomie Harris, who should have, and could easily carry, a more expansive role.
The film has all the requisite parts, and it is the sum of its parts, but no more. It has exciting action sequences, varied and beautiful settings, and characters that could have been fascinating. But a Bond film, or any good film, ought to be more than that. If one is a fan, then this is a worthy entry. Skyfall resonated, and on many levels. Spectre resonates a bit, but more quietly and with a smaller impact. If Craig is done, it’s a decent, if not grand, swan song.