By Nick Anstett
There are few characters in cinema with as storied a legacy as Ian Fleming’s James Bond or Agent 007. “Spectre,” directed by Sam Mendes, who also worked on the character’s phenomenal previous installment “Skyfall,” and written by John Logan and Neal Purvis, marks the 24th installment in the spy-action saga. With that many films under its belt, it is to be expected that the series should develop something of a formula, that mines both success and failure. Comfortableness in this context acts as a double edged sword, and its one that “Spectre” finds itself resting uncomfortably on.
James Bond (Daniel Crag) is on a mission. Still reeling from the disastrous events of “Skyfall” that left the MI6 program scattered and in need of new management, Bond goes rogue in the hopes of unraveling a mystery that may be at the heart of every threat he has faced to date. Along the way, he enlists the help of a former assassin’s daughter, Madeleine Swann (Lea Seydoux) and comes toe to toe with a near faceless foe (Christoph Waltz) who may have ties to his past.
“Spectre” opens in surprisingly spectacular fashion. A covert assassination mission through a Mexican Day of the Dead celebration goes awry, and Bond must maneuver his way through the crowds and chaos. It is a well shot, well directed, and surprisingly humorous action opener and marks for one of the strongest beginnings in Craig’s four film tenure as 007. Unfortunately, it also marks as the most inspired that “Spectre” will become.
There were rumblings of behind the scenes drama for “Spectre” for months. Emails leaked in last winter’s infamous Sony hacking showed disputes among executives and creative teams concerning a crowded and confusing script. Reportedly, Mendes began shooting even before Logan and Purvis had finished writing. The results show “Spectre” is not so much poor or bumbling as much as it is disappointingly familiar. Coming from the crew that turned in the thrilling and visually spectacular “Skyfall,” this notes an unfortunate turn of events. Those familiar with Bond and his tropes will find themselves bored by the surprisingly “paint by number” aesthetic of the narrative, and those who are not will find little to distinguish the movie from the dozens of more competent action films that have exploded onto the screen this year.
One of the strangest disappointments comes in Waltz’s antagonist. Waltz has excelled in villainy in the past including his Academy Award winning performance in “Inglorious Basterds.” Instead, he feels surprisingly wasted. Waltz barely appears for the majority of the film and even with his eventual introduction, it lacks the gravitas or venom that you would hope for in this sort of role. For a series that is frequently known for its eccentric and over the top villains, Waltz unfortunately feels run of the mill.
The one edge that “Spectre” has over its competitors is how it plays with Bond’s legacy. As a potential capper to Craig’s four film saga, “Spectre” is competent if not inspired. It will leave viewers who have stayed dedicated since 2005’s great “Casino Royale” satisfied, but one can’t but wish that this iteration of the character had gone off with more of a bang. Instead, the result is more likely to expend a few hours in entertaining fashion, before quickly slipping from your memory.
“Spectre” is not a bad film, or a poor Bond installment. The result is simply something serviceable. It’s the equivalent of a lazy Saturday afternoon, albeit one with sex, guns, explosions, and plots to take over the world, but a relaxing forgettable outing all the same.