2015, PG-13, 148 min. Directed by Sam Mendes. Starring Daniel Craig, Ralph Fiennes, Monica Bellucci, Christoph Waltz, Léa Seydoux, Andrew Scott, Ben Whishaw, Naomie Harris, Dave Bautista.
REVIEWED By Josh Kupecki, Fri., Nov. 6, 2015
When we last left 007 (a weary Craig, clearly over it) in Skyfall, he was mourning the death of one M (Judi Dench), while reporting for duty to another (Fiennes), in a throwback to the bread and butter of Bond mythology: Greet Miss Moneypenny (Harris), enter those plush leather MI-6 doors, and receive a new assignment that sends him on some global killing spree. 2012’s Skyfall was a deft mix of that old-school Bond aesthetic mixed with the dour and serious standards with which the franchise has been dealing since Craig signed on for Casino Royale in 2006. It’s been a hit-and-miss affair to be sure, but Skyfall flirted with an ironic self-consciousness that let a bit of air out of those Aston Martins’ tires with enjoyable results (Roger Deakins’ stunning cinematography must also be noted here). But Spectre, which has the lofty aim of tying a bloody bow on the last three films and connecting the dots to the title organization, alas falls short of its aims and runs aground well ahead of its excessive running time.
Cold open to a breathtaking sequence in Mexico City during Día de los Muertos, in which Bond kills an Italian assassin (an unauthorized assignment given to him posthumously by Dench’s M, it turns out), while toppling buildings and wrestling around in a helicopter spinning out of control over Zócalo square packed with revelers. Unfortunately, the film never advances past that giddy high. Bond extracts from that man a ring engraved with an octopus symbol (not Hydra, btw), which leads him on a MacGuffin-fueled travelogue to Rome (Monica Bellucci), and then to Austria (Léa Seydoux), with an extended stay in Morocco, touring and destroying enemy strongholds and henchmen who call back to classic Bond tropes (Dave Bautista has Oddjob’s style, but Jaws’ strength!). The paper-thin plot rests on Bond’s eventual meeting with Blofeld – er, Franz Oberhauser (Waltz, doing that menacing jocularity thing he does so well), who, as the head of the titular Spectre, seems to have been behind all of Bond’s woes (I will not expound on the cringe-inducing monologue that posits the two as enemies since childhood, as I am still trying to forget it). There’s a subplot concerning MI-6 being consumed by MI-5, and the dissolution of the 00 program by upstart Max (Scott, who you may recall as Moriarty in BBC’s Sherlock), and a controversial initiative for a global intelligence-sharing system that is ripe for some sort of commentary on the Sony hack that leaked this very script, but either decides not to go there or is too inept to recognize it.
So, where does it go? All the old familiar places, of course. The third act is all ticking time bombs and damsels in distress, which is a contractual agreement preordained by the cosmos for this series. Leaving the theatre, I couldn’t help but wonder that if this film were screened without subtitles to a non-English-speaking audience, they might think the story concerned an angry middle-aged man traveling the world, destroying old buildings while being shot at, and in between, sleeping with women half his age (the exception is Bellucci, but her role is little more than a cameo). A drab, anemic machine, Spectre, may bring the spectacle, but it lacks a soul. Someone get Idris Elba on the phone.