Following the artistic, entertainment and box-office success of 2012’s Skyfall, it seemed inevitable that the newest James Bond venture, Spectre, would pale, at least a little, by comparison. But there was reason to hope: Much of the creative team was back (star Daniel Craig and a solid supporting cast, director Sam Mendes, co-screenwriter John Logan and of course the folks at Eon Productions) and the through-line that has been developing since Craig took over — Bond’s slow development from thuggish assassin to sophisticated Ahab, hunting his white whale — continues. The tetralogy of Casino Royale, Quantum of Solace, Skyfall and now this are effectively a mini-series within the larger universe of Bond. These are good things.
But we have now been given the longest-ever Bond film, and one that, despite all the punching, often fails to pack a punch. And I’m not sure why.
The cold-open stunt (one of the tropes of 007), featuring an out-of-control helicopter twirling over Mexico City’s jam-packed main plaza, feels only non-threatening, like acrobats working with a net. A car chase through the nighttime streets of Rome is the least thrilling ground action I can recall from the series, and the romantic scenes lack spark. It is, as King Mongkut might have said, “a puzzlement:” Every element is there, but they don’t ignite. Where’s the fire amid all this smoke?
But while the alchemy is missing here, Spectre isn’t a disaster by any stretch. Quantum was one of the worst entries in the canon, this one is merely a disappointment. Maybe it’s us — maybe we’ve grown tired of the recurring bits that make Bond films so iconic (I did enjoy Sam Smith’s theme song played over thoughtful opening credits). And the care with which the screenwriters have taken to develop James’ character and tie together plot threads from the last three films before finally reintroducing us to Blofeld (MI6’s nemesis in the past, who hasn’t been seen since 1981… perhaps because Austin Powers’ Dr. Evil made him seem less diabolical than comic). And though he gets too-little screen time, Christoph Waltz ably captures Blofeld’s abiding insanity — sort of a psychological flip-side to James, and the successor to Heath Ledger’s Joker.
Spectre has too many positives like these to completely write it off, but best to go in open-eyed and skeptical. Expectations will do you in.