WARNING: THIS REVIEW WILL CONTAIN SPOILERS
I have always tried to avoid spoilers whenever possible. But sometimes, in order to discuss why a movie works and why it does not, you have to dig into the thematic text of the film. It isn't quite a reviewers job not to divulge in spoilers, sometimes its just necessity. "Spectre" is such a film where in order to discuss what the film got right and wrong, I must discuss spoilers. Yes, we will be talking about Christoph Waltz and his character. We have to. So if you didn't catch the movie yet, I would suggest jumping out and I hope you all return when you finally see the movie.
I have liked the Daniel Craig era of James Bond movies. With that said, I know quite a few people who don't like them. While I don't bash people for having a different opinion, I think its a little funny when so-called "Bond fans" don't like the Craig movies because apparently they aren't Bond movies. Well sure they are. They just don't look like the typical Bond movies. There are a couple reasons for that. The biggest of them being that the James Bond movies, much like horror movies and comic books, represent the times in which they are made. We are not living in the Cold War anymore. Its not nations who are enemies to the free world now, not really. We are at war with individuals, nation-less individuals who follow the same ideology. This is perfectly summed up in Judy Dench's speech in the climax of "Skyfall." Our enemies are in the shadows, and the world needs to adapt in order to shed light on those shadows. Another big reason to why the Craig movies feel different is because they reboot the franchise. Just like the Batman series needed to be redone, so did the Bond series. Because, whether you want to admit it or not, the Craig movies brought some much needed coherence to an otherwise incoherent series. For the first time in the franchise, the Bond movies felt like they were connected, instead of feeling like random episodes of a television show.
For those who think "Skyfall" and "Quantum of Solace" are not Bond films, I can't wait to see what they have to say about "Spectre." As much as I feel the Craig era has come very far, "Spectre" feels like a tremendous step backwards. Yes, its full of exotic locations, good-looking women, car chases, and big action. I will even say that the movie never really feels like a checklist of things we need in a Bond film. I will also say that director Sam Mendes does all of these things well, and I thought he generated some good mood and emotions in "Skyfall." Which makes it weird that everything feels so wildly off-balance in "Spectre."
First of all, "Spectre" feels like a repeat of every other Daniel Craig Bond movie. After a mission that goes disastrously wrong in Mexico City, the new M (Ralph Fiennes) deems Bond grounded. M is under some big pressure right now from a guy called C (Andrew Scott), who is planning to merge MI5 AND MI6 and created a digital, surveillance intelligence force with the help of eight other countries. C also wants to discontinue the 00 program once his goals are met, and Bond going crazy in Mexico doesn't help M's platform. No matter. Bond got a ring off a bad guy he killed in Mexico, and much like in "Quantum of Solace" and kind of like "Skyfall," Bond is a vigilante in this movie, going on a mission of his own. That isn't necessarily bad, its just after two movies of that already, and based on how "Skyfall" ended, I figured we see James Bond actually being James Bond for a change. Nope, clearly I was wrong.
This mysterious ring leads James Bond into an equally mysterious meeting of a shadowy organization. Bond sneaks into this meeting and finds Franz Oberhauser (Christoph Waltz). Franz not only knows James is there, but he knows him by name. It is also clear that Bond knows Franz, but from where? That will have to wait, because lots of the middle of the movie is Bond on the run from Mr. Hinx, played by Dave Bautista. I like Bautista and he is good and menacing here, I just wish he had a character to play. For all the hyping MGM did around his character, he was kind of a letdown. I think back on all the iconic Bond villains like Goldfinger, Oddjob, Jaws and Scaramanga, and at least those guys had gimmicks. Hinx is just a tall, muscular man in a suit who doesn't speak. The biggest spy movie villain cliche in the book.
Bond also rescues Madeleine Swann (Lea Seydoux), who happens to be Mr. White's (Jesper Christensen) daughter. Yes, the same Mr. White from the first two Craig films, he shows up in a small scene to connect Quantum to Spectre, the name of the mysterious organization Oberhauser runs. Then Bond promises Mr. White he'll protect his daughter from them. Swann and Bond help each other get to Spectre and Oberhauser, But mostly, despite a couple minor protests, Swann is just there so Bond has a girl to bang in the middle of the movie, mostly as a plot convenience, but she does lead him to Oberhauser.
This is when things start to spiral out of control, as Oberhauser leads Bond and Swann into a trap and chains Bond to a torture table. But he discusses, that he is "the author of all of Bond's pain." Apparently, Spectre is responsible for Le Chiffre, Quantum, Dominic Greene and even Raoul Silva (something that is circled and underlined to make sure the audience gets it!). We also learn that it was Franz's family who took James Bond in after he was orphaned, essentially making Franz his foster brother. And then, get this, Oberhauser isn't really Oberhauser, Franz Oberhauser apparently died in an avalanche with his father. But that isn't true. Oberhauser faked his death, killed his father and took up the name Ernest Stavro Blofeld. Yep, "Spectre" is essentially the "Stark Trek Into Darkness" of the Bond series. And much like with Benedict Cumberbatch's character in that movie, the name game behind Waltz's identity is never worth the obfuscation.
But the real thing that bothered me was that Franz-Ernest Blofeld killed his father because his father loved James Bond more than he did his own son! Which is why Franz went into a life of crime!
Let's forget how stupid of an idea that is and how much of a waste of iconography MGM fought so hard to win back over the years for a moment. Let's talk about how little sense that makes to the greater story the Daniel Craig movies have been telling. While Blofeld talks about coincidence once in the movie, it still doesn't explain how Blofeld would just know that Bond would become a spy so he could fuck with him on a global scale. Not to mention how he would know how good of a poker player Bond would become. Or how Judy Dench's M would have such a horrible fallout with Silva. How the hell could one person foresee any or all of that? "Spectre's" screenplay was written by John Logan, Neal Purvis, Robert Wade and Jez Butterworth. You mean to tell me the best four writers could come up with using all of this great iconography was connecting the iconic hero to the iconic villain in a drama-less, lazy way, just to throw them into a story that made no sense?
The performances are all good here. Bill Whishaw is good as Q and Naomi Harris is good as Moneypenny, they are even more involved compared to their characters previous movies, but they feel like conveniences to the plot more than anything else. Monica Bellucci is good, but she's only in one scene. Waltz is even good, but he's off-stage so much that it almost feels like a different movie when he captures Bond. The action is top-notch, but everything is so blisteringly lazy and stupid that I am mystified that this even happened. "Spectre" is a prime example of committee writing. Its an example of the horrors of what Hollywood is doing with the best our popular culture has to offer right now. I got big "Amazing Spiderman" vibes from this, and if MGM had any sense, they would scrap this idea with their next movie and pretend this all didn't happen. Why does it feel like, all of a sudden, the only way to create tension between the hero and the villain is to have them connected from birth? Christopher Nolan proved that the Joker didn't have to be a great villain by being the killer of Bruce Wayne's parents, he dropped the Tim Burton approach in his Batman movies, and he trumped Burton's movies by doing so. The key to a good movie isn't making a lazy connection to the hero and villain, just write engaging, rich characters and everything else will work out in the end.
I can't believe this all happened in a James Bond movie. "Spectre" is by far, the weakest of the Daniel Craig era of movies. Its no surprise he wants out of the franchise, and hopefully when they recast the character, all the mythology "Spectre" built will leave with him.
FINAL GRADE: C-