In the words of the all too nefarious Blofeld, when it comes to Spectre, I may have been the author of all of my pain. Helmed by Sam Mendes ( Skyfall, American Beauty), the latest chapter in Daniel Craig’s gritty, brutal run as the eponymous Agent 007 had me hyped from the very onset. As a life long Bond fan, this seemed like my wildest dreams come true, the sinister organization of Spectre brought into the modern Bond canon, led by none other than Chritoph Waltz (who I’ve been praying would play a Bond villain since Inglorious Basterds). With all of these lofty expectations I held going into Spectre, it’s little surprise that I would be disappointed, I just didn’t know how disappointed.
Picking up where the phenomenal Skyfall left off, Spectre starts with a James Bond (Daniel Craig) taking matters into his own hands, tracking down an assassin in Mexico City. However, as the mission goes awry, the decidedly extreme James Bond is officially grounded (natural considering the AWOL nature of his mission and the ensuing international incident). This leads to a troubling paradigm shift as M (Ralph Fiennes) butts heads with C (Andrew Scott), who is pushing for the dissolution of the 00 program, replacing it with a worldwide surveillance organization. However, with the help of trusty 00 mainstays Moneypenny (Naomie Harris) and Q (Ben Whishaw), Bond goes rogue, investigating a conspiracy that surrounds his previous target: the international terror organization Spectre. As Bond’s investigation continues, secrets from his past begin to unearth, and with the help of the newest Bond girl, Madeleine Swann (Léa Seydoux), he attempts to take down the organization and its leader, the dastardly, over-the-top Blofeld (Christoph Waltz).
While the ensemble cast excels in their individual roles (the cat and mouse politics between Fiennes and Scott are especially satisfying), where Spectre really suffers is in its attempts to give James Bond a backstory. While this is strictly my opinion, and should in no way be interpreted as anything other than just that, James Bond does not need a backstory. He’s been around for decades. We know James Bond, we love James Bond, we don’t need to know anything other than that he is James Bond. While I admire the attempts to add some more depth to 007, surely there must have been another way to do so without tacking on a melodramatic pseudo-Batman childhood. Intrinsically tied to this is the disappointing characterization of Blofeld. He’s supposed to be the big-bad for the entire Bond filmography, someone who oozes terror. Instead we are given a figure who seems almost retroactively (and poorly at that) lumped into James Bond’s personal history, solely for the sake of making Bond seem deep. In doing so, Waltz’s talents feel squandered, which borders on criminal.
Story issues aside, the action in Spectre is an unusual departure from the precedent set by the previous Craig generation Bond films. Fear not, there are tense chase scenes and wicked combat sequences abound (props to Dave Bautista as a damn good henchman), but they feel different, almost distant from the likes of Skyfall. Instead, we see a return to the classic Bond action, with ridiculous explosions and Bond’s quintessential imperviousness cranked to eleven. Now, I love this kind of action as much as the next movie buff, but when comparing it to the previous Bond installments, it just feels off, and almost campy when juxtaposed against the dour, at times introspective nature of Spectre.
All in all, Spectre feels more like a throwback to the Bond of old, not necessarily a bad thing, but certainly not what I’ve come to expect in the modern reimagining of 007. The action is there, the music is there, the characters we know and love are still kicking ass. Unfortunately, it’s ultimately bogged down by hokey attempts to humanize Mr. Bond himself and a wasted opportunity for what should have been the most memorable film villain in recent years.