SPECTRE - November 2015

Mexico City, Dia de los Muertos: The camera pans down to find a masked James Bond in a sea of celebrating ghouls and skeletons. Following him through a hotel and up to the rooftops in one (digitally created) continuous shot, the protagonist is the stoic center of a whirlwind of flowing Latin dresses, grinning skulls, and a psychedelic cacophony of street noise and mariachi bands.

The opening scene of “Spectre” brings back memories of “Live and Let Die” in all its macabre Haitian voodoo glory – until it doesn’t. The long continuous shot promises to end in an explosive cinematic climax, only to abruptly finish without a strong visual pay-off. It’s a disappointing conclusion to a great opening shot and, combined with its faux vintage feel, acts as both example and metaphor for the let down that is this movie, and the Daniel-Craig-as-007 tetralogy as a whole.

Craig’s run as Bond started strong with “Casino Royale.” Rebooting the character as more gruff, brutal, and humorless came a year after Christopher Nolan’s comparably dark Batman, and was very much a product of its time. The new Bond would now be less infallible: killing was not without remorse; ladies were not scrupulously bedded and discarded; it was acceptable to cry in the shower after a hard day on the job. Daniel Craig was perfect for this role. Significantly less attractive than previous Bonds, he brought the dark sensibility and physicality the reboot was looking for, and it worked. Voices questioning his casting were silenced by one of the most exciting movies in recent franchise history. While “Quantum of Solace” was kind of an unfocused mess, 2012’s “Skyfall” was a wildly enjoyable action movie that shook up the universe by killing off a major character, as well as by providing backstory previously unexplored in over 50 years of Bond movies. Since it’s unclear whether or not Craig will return as Bond, I was expecting “Spectre” to conclude the story in a thematically and conceptually logical way. Instead what I found was an attempt at merging Craig’s caveman persona with classic Bond-themes. An awkward mix to say the least.

I’m not opposed to the idea of reintroducing a bit of frivolity and fun to the character. It has been a part of Bond since the beginning of the series, and in all honesty, I’m getting somewhat tired of dark, gritty reboots. I enjoyed some of the familiar routines: The henchman fight on a train and the over-the-top plane-chases-car sequence are both great examples of what made earlier movies so entertaining – It’s stupid and unrealistic but also exactly what your 11 year old self imagines a superspy routinely pulls of. Other moments during which “Spectre” tried to bring back some old school flavor, however, fail tragically.

First of all, while I think Daniel Craig is a fine actor for serious roles, he just doesn’t do lighthearted. In his defense, he admits it – in this Vulture review of the movie he is quoted as saying: “I can’t do shtick, I’m not very good at it … I sometimes wish I hammed it up more, but I just can’t do it very well, so I don’t do it.” He is great as a physical, relentless Bond – again, the fight sequence in the train with Dave Bautista is great, even though it, too, ends in somewhat of an anticlimax (pun intended) – but if the franchise wants to bring back some of the loose swagger of Connery and Moore, Craig is just not the man for the job. Talking about “hamming it up” – this brings me to the second problem I had with the cast – the big, fatty Austrian ham that is Christoph Waltz.

My theory on Waltz after seeing “Spectre” is this: people believe he is good at playing villains because he sounds like one. The problem here is that he literally does the exact same character as his Oscar winning role in “Inglorious Basterds.” But without Tarantino writing his lines, his performance falls flat. He just kind of rambles through mediocre lines, introduces a convoluted backstory with Bond, and somehow we’re supposed to believe this giddy-slash-psychopathic Teutonic Bill Cosby was responsible for every bad thing that happened in the world since 007 got his license to kill.

And with an unsatisfying super villain comes some mediocre set design: remember the megalomaniac villain’s lairs in classic Bond movies? If you want to try and channel an over-the-top evil mastermind, it helps if the interior of your headquarters doesn’t look like a Vodafone call center. Fine, let Waltz loose, but make sure you let the interior decorator have some fun too.

Talking about boobs – another thing the movie tries to bring back is the womanizing. A lot has been made of Monica Bellucci playing an “age appropriate” Bond girl for a change (Bellucci is 51, Craig is 47). If you think this is progressive, think again. Bellucci shows up for about 30 seconds, and is on the receiving end of one of the most awkward, unsexy seduction moves performed by any Bond ever. It almost seems like even Daniel Craig feels bad about using an actress of her caliber for such a throwaway part. In the end James Bond, as per usual, ends up with seventeen years younger Léa Seydoux. Unfortunately they have about the same chemistry as a porcupine and a condom.

In the end, “Spectre” is still a Bond movie, and I have yet to come across one that is not at least somewhat entertaining. There’s plenty of action, beautiful cinematography, and car chases. I definitely wasn’t bored for the two hours I was in the cinema. After “Skyfall,” however, this was a disappointment. If they wanted to aim high and make a dark, raw Bond, they should have been content with previous Daniel Craig movies and finish his tenure as it started. If they wanted to re-vamp the franchise, this movie made it very clear that it’s time to move on to a new Bond instead of trying to push Craig into something he is obviously not comfortable with. I, for one, would love to see someone like Idris Elba take a shot at it, but that’s for another (controversial) piece.