Has there ever been a bad Bond movie? I realize this is a loaded question and asking it is roughly the equivalent to yelling “fire” in a crowded movie theatre, in that I probably deserve to be trampled and subsequently drowned in a million flecks of spittle by the legions of self-important Bond nerds as they hurl titles as varied as “View to a Kill” and “Die Another Day” at my broken body.
But even at their supposed worst, the Bond films still adhere to a winning formula. No matter how many times a pigeon does a double-take or Denise Richards plays a nuclear physicist, the Bond films are still basically about a smug British man who murders people with sexy disabilities and then tries to defuse the situation by making a pun or raising his eyebrow. Granted, there’s less puns or even raised eyebrows nowadays and the smugness has morphed into non-stop brooding, but the sexy murders remain. And in “Spectre” the murders are at their absolute sexiest thanks to director Sam Mendes and his DP Hoyte Van Hoytema who both ensure that every box car strangling and Dave Bautista assisted eye-gouging you see in “Spectre” is shot with all of the evocative, almost haunting beauty of a Chanel No. 5 commercial. “Spectre” is a sexy, stupid film which is exactly how a Bond movie should be.
Plot was never the strong suit of any Bond film and in “Spectre” it’s especially egregious. A major plot twist involving Bond (Daniel Craig) and an unctuous, cat stroking antagonist (Christoph Waltz who lacks the unhinged brilliance of Javier Badem’s “Skyfall” heavy but is still fun enough in the role) unintentionally mirrors the major plot twist found in the third and weakest entry in the Austin Powers series, “Goldmember” (and speaking of that cat stroking antagonist, it’s strange the franchise is bringing him back considering his parodic counterpart, Dr. Evil, isn’t still just fresh in everyone’s mind, but probably better known). There’s an unsubtle political undercurrent in “Spectre” with the filmmakers wanting to put their two cents in about all of these NSA’s and security states and drones and what have you.
But like any aging relative who parrots whatever half-remembered bullshit they gleaned from some random meme they read on Facebook, the politics in “Spectre” are muddled and dumb. Drones are bad because they can’t murder innocent people in the same way that a blue-eyed Brit who punches through walls can, apparently? Their killings are too impersonal, I guess? Whatever the case may be, “Spectre” isn’t about story as much as it is about set-pieces and the film has quite a few of them. The best of which finds Bond casually making his way through the streets of Mexico City during a Day of the Dead festival in order to assassinate a major player in an international terrorist organization known as Spectre. Filmed through a single tracking shot, the sequence is jangly and casually paced but also suspenseful. Additionally it mixes Jason Bourne-style grittiness with Buster Keaton-style slapstick. The sequence is hard to top and “Spectre” never seems to bother but some scenes do come close. Particularly a third act torture sequence that plays like a fetishized, almost Cronenberg-ian riff on the industrial laser scene from “Goldfinger.”
With the exception of some obligatory skewering of the tropes found in the pre-Craig era Bonds (there’s a car chase in which Bond’s gadget infused sports car refuses to work properly), “Spectre” is more or less what you’d expect from a Bond movie. Like a 007 starter kit, “Spectre” includes everything you’d ever need for this type of film including beautiful gun wielding ladies, exotic backdrops and theatrically scarred character actors. Sure, it’s strictly by the numbers, but so were the previous 25 entries in this long-running series. And like most of those films, you’ll still secretly enjoy it even as you tell anyone within earshot how much you hated it.
Mike Sullivan is a movie reviewer for Weekender. Movie reviews appear weekly in Weekender.
Starring: Daniel Craig, Monica Bellucci
Director: Sam Mendes
Weekender Rating: WWWV
Length: 2 hr 30 mins.