Spectre, the latest James Bond film, begins with a lively sequence in Mexico City with Bond tracking a spy with in one continuous shot. It’s an impressive feat, with the camera following Bond and a girlfriend from the street, in an elevator and into their hotel room–only to have the girl be disappointed when Bond continues walking out on a balcony, armed with a special sniper rifle. We wind up with a building crumbling to the ground and a wild helicopter ride over thousands of people in a city square. The one long continuous tracking shot ends with the downfall of the building, and so does the sense of fun.
Directed by Sam Mendes, who also did the superb Skyfall, Spectre tries once more to examine the life of 007–but at times it feels like it’s trying way too hard. There’s a second storyline with Andrew Scott (who’s very good as Moriarity in the Benedict Cumberpatch version of Sherlock) playing a pencil pusher who’s eager to do away with the Double-O spy service entirely. Once again we’re treated to the dreary argument that the spy game that Bond plays is now ancient history, and that it (right along with ‘dinosaurs’ like Bond) must be swept away for a nice, neat computerized version of spy vs spy.
The problem is that we’ve seen this whiny argument taking place within Bond films for the last twenty years, now–starting with the Peirce Brosnan Bond films–and seeing it rise its petulant head once more here just drags Spectre down as we watch ‘M’ (the always great Ralph Fiennes) going from office meeting to office meeting like a beggar in a bid to save his section of licensed-to-kill assassins. It seems as if the writers were trying to give characters like ‘M’, ‘Q’ (Ben Whishaw) and Moneypenny (Naomie Harris) more to do, when in a traditional Bond adventure they’re usually on the sidelines (it’s Bond who we really want to see, anyway).
Still, Daniel Craig shines very brightly here, proving himself to be one of the best Bonds since Connery (no small feat there). He has plenty of super cool moments in Spectre, like when he casually warns a security guard to back off by yelling sternly “no…stay!” as if he were a dog (and sure enough, the dude stays put). And former wrestler Dave Bautista also comes on strong as Mr. Hinx, the hired muscle for the bad guys in the same tradition as Oddjob was from Goldfinger.
But Spectre ultimately falls flat because while it’s trying too hard recalling the good old days (with action set pieces, like the battle on a train, resembling scenes from classic Bond films) it’s still reminding everybody just how un-PC Bond really is when it should be busy re-inventing Bond for the 21st century. The ending of Skyfall was perfect, with a newly reinvigorated Bond reporting for duty. But instead of offering a newly reinvigorated Spectre for 007 to fight, we get a tired soap opera with ridiculous plot twists that are so lame it made me want to watch something good, like Goldfinger, or Casino Royale, or Skyfall. The James Bond films are the Rolls Royce of action films; it would be really nice if their makers would drop the constant second guessing about their main character and embrace who and what he is fully and just run with it, already. –SF