REVIEW: SPECTRE (2015)

Theatrical Release Poster – Eon Productions – Columbia Pictures

The following is an updated* review of Eon Productions’ SPECTRE, a Sam Mendes film.

James Bond – Agent 007 – is a legendary film character from a legendary film franchise. A franchise that, through the good and the bad, has been obligatory viewing for all film enthusiasts. Daniel Craig’s run of films has been rather memorable up to this point. The fantastic Casino Royale was a fresh modern update of the franchise, for various reasons Quantum of Solace was a disappointing follow-up, whereas the thrilling Skyfall brought the Craig-era back on track. Unfortunately, though decent, SPECTRE — the 4th Craig-era Bond-film — doesn’t stand out as one of the best in the franchise.

In SPECTRE, Bond (played by Daniel Craig) is on a hunt for information following the events of Skyfall. His missions are unofficial, and thus they frustrate M (played by Ralph Fiennes), who is in a power struggle with C (played by Andrew Scott) — the head of the Joint Intelligence Service who is desperate to launch a global surveillance initiative. Though officially sidelined, Bond must now search for, and uncover the secrets of, an organization known as SPECTRE, while the 00-program might be terminated for good.

One of the noteworthy things that SPECTRE does is that it, like Skyfall, tries to bridge and marry the new Bond with the old. You have the Jason Bourne-inspired action, but also the more gadget-based action. You also have a distinctly modern plot but featuring characters that are, frankly, not nearly as fresh. I mostly, but not entirely, enjoy the way Sam Mendes has tried to blend the different touchstones of the different eras with a timely premise.

On a side note, I do think that the James Bond-franchise has learned to adapt to a new audience by mimicking one of the reasons why Mission: Impossible is so popular right now: the spy team. Q, Moneypenny, M, and the main Bond girl all felt perfectly utilized. And, most importantly, they felt like actual characters with a role in the narrative. I really enjoy the way that the supporting characters feel more important than they maybe did previously in the Craig-era. For example, Q (played by Ben Whishaw) feels much more important than he did in Skyfall, and, even though I’m not wild about it, I do like that the MI6 subplot feels significant.

Some might say that a classic Bond film ought to be judged on the more classic set of criteria that James Bond-films demand: the apéritif (i.e. opening scene, as well as opening credits), the henchman, the villain, and the Bond girl. Of course, you could also add in the gadgets and the action to that list. There are a lot of important parts that make up a Bond film, but while a lot of them work well here, I can’t say that for all of them.

A James Bond film is almost like a fancy dinner, complete with an apéritif and a main course, and so on and so forth. But, in this case, the evening’s menu is a bit overwhelming. I think the opening sequence — and the title sequence, in spite of the fact that the original song doesn’t exactly feel like a Bond song to me — is jaw-dropping. It is an action-packed sequence with a big fancy long-take. I also really appreciate the symbolism that Mendes tries to set up by having the opening set in Mexico City during the Day of the Dead. In this film, as is set up in this opening sequence, Bond is haunted by the ghosts of his past.

“I think we’re meant to be impressed.”

Daniel Craig as James Bond in SPECTRE.

Although I ultimately enjoy the film quite a bit, I have to say that it is a sizable step down from Mendes’ Skyfall. One of the major reasons why is the pacing of the film. As I have found out since I first saw the film many years ago, this isn’t an easy film to rewatch. It starts and stops, has uneven pacing, and it feels longer than it is. There is a lack of a sense of urgency in this film, to me, and the film’s central villain is revealed way too late in the film to make a lasting impact. Christoph Waltz’s character is meant to be this grand surprise, but, to me, everything about him eventually falls flat (except for his adequate but unremarkable henchman). Waltz is an exciting and fun actor to watch, but his antagonist is surprisingly dull, which is a shame since I enjoyed the illuminati-like scenes relatively early in the film.

Now, the Bond girl is also of huge importance in this franchise, yet only Eva Green’s Vesper Lynd has been particularly memorable in the time that Daniel Craig has been 007. In SPECTRE, we see both Monica Bellucci and Léa Seydoux as Bond girls. The former doesn’t play a significant role, and I don’t always like the way Bond treats her. On the other hand, Léa Seydoux is a much more important character. She feels like an actual sidekick rather than a one-off character. Unfortunately, I don’t think Seydoux and Craig have enough chemistry to make their scenes jump off the page.

There is a lot to like about SPECTRE, which features the most memorable opening sequence in the Craig-era thus far, but, even though I enjoy the film, it feels heavy and is unevenly paced. Also, while some supporting characters have more to do in this film than previously, neither the ‘Bond girls’ nor the Bond villains work as well as intended. It’s a disappointing follow-up to Skyfall, but it is definitely not a bad film.

7 out of 10

This is an updated version of my review of SPECTRE. The original version of this review — written on November 2nd, 2015 — had a higher final score, but, after having rewatched the film, the review was updated, re-written and the score was adjusted in October 2021.

– Review Written by Jeffrey Rex Bertelsen.

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