Let’s face it, topping Skyfall was going to be nearly impossible. Skyfall was the climax of three films, and it changed the possibilities for Bond utterly. I tried to adjust my expectations accordingly when I went into the theater but, even so, I was modestly disappointed.
Spectre picks up the story from the end of Skyfall, but it is more of a coda to the previous 3 films, there to tie up loose threads and complete the ideas begun with Casino Royale. It continues the idea of this cycle being a prequel to the Bond we knew; the film stock even feels 70s (or thereabouts) with washed out colors and grain.
Unfortunately, the film is just devoid of emotion. It has humor, to be sure. It has some great moments of homage, which you’d expect. And, of course, it is chock full of global scope and stunts. But it has no heart, despite the plot put before us.
Daniel Craig (Girl with the Dragon Tattoo) sleep walks through this round of 007. The deeply emotional man that was birthed through the previous Bone trilogy is a blank here. Yes, those movies hardened him, but we have to be able to connect with him to cheer him on and believe he deserves the license to kill. There are glimmers of emotion but, generally, he is stone-faced and unaffected by the carnage and decisions, even when he clearly is making the decisions.
Filling out the 00 crew, Ralph Fiennes (The Worricker Trilogy) and Ben Whishaw (Zero Theorem) are each given moments. But, again, neither really gets to do much with their characters. Even Naomi Harris’ (Frankenstein) Moneypenny, who has a couple of great scenes, ends up sort of bland.
On the dark side of the equation, Dave Bautista (Guardians of the Galaxy) was a huge disappointment as a colorless bad guy who is Bond’s nemesis for a good part of the film. And he shouldn’t have survived that long; Bond didn’t take an obvious head-shot when he should have part way through. But, admittedly, then they’d have missed their final confrontation. Regardless, Bautista was a hollow bad guy with big muscles, shiny nails, and one line. Jaws he ain’t though he was clearly modeled on that approach.
Christoph Waltz (Big Eyes) as the main bad guy is doing nothing new for his career in this role either. It is serviceable, but he has nothing on the previous 3 villains in the cycle (Mikkelsen, Amalric, and Bardem). He is neither unique enough nor evil enough for us to really care what happens. He’s a CEO of evil, with little to make us believe he could ever rise to that. Andrew Scott (Pride) as the potential head of the world security shop is similarly uninspired given the actor’s ability.
This film’s Bond-girl was Lea Seydoux (Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol). She is a near-perfect match for our Bond, with skills and a damaged childhood to match. But with all that potential, she barely gets to strut her stuff. She provides a way out of the dark labyrinth for James after Vesper if he wants to take it, and that would have been a great addition to the plot. Instead it is barely a blip, emotionally-speaking, for the audience. Though I fear their only way forward is to pull off another On Her Majesty’s Secret Service to resolve everything.
Director Mendes brings his cycle full circle in this last of his faux prequels. But despite have the writing team that worked on the previous films, and the added talents that brought us Edge of Tomorrow , the resulting script is full of short-cuts and empty choices. Mendes does what he can to make that exciting and part of the plan, but with these latest films we expect more than empty, macho choices from our Bond; we want a person making the hard choices for the right reasons.
This is an entertaining bit of trifle, but it isn’t the meaty joy of Skyfall nor even the wonderful change that Casino Royale brought us. It is, simply, another Bond film with a few nice twists, but no real character. Go, enjoy, but don’t expect much more than pretty pictures and big stunts.