Is the dramatic grit of Bond Finished?
Daniel Craig’s ‘Spectre’ Performance, Reviewed
Today Spectre, the 25th film of the official James Bond franchise, premieres in the US. Coming off the huge, $1.1 billion success of Skyfall, Spectre was destined to be divisive ever since Daniel Craig’s comments about preferring to “slash his wrists” than play Bond again, leaked Sony emails showing the film didn’t have an ending and the success of Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation, an extremely similar spy film released this summer. We rounded up the reviews of critics, and our own thoughts on the film, before audiences see it nationwide tonight. Read more about Bond with our Bond Week coverage here.
First off, I love Daniel Craig as Bond. He fits Fleming’s original antihero almost as perfectly as that proto-Bond, Sean Connery. Spectre is also beautifully directed, filmed, cast and designed. But it breaks down due to this reliance on a veneer of Bond, as if trick watches, glib replies and references to the Bond films of old are enough to buoy a thin and rather boring plot.
Spectre feels like a buddy or caper film at times (“Quick, Q and Monneypenny, jump in the car, we need to save M!”), and the sinister plot for world domination is an IT hack conducted at an unnecessarily elaborate complex in the desert. Where’s the stolen nuclear warhead? Where’s the Fort Knox heist? Fleming’s villains dreamed bigger. Also, Bond has become too much of a workaholic. Where’s the sports-loving, high-living Bond of old — scuba diving and skiing and bedding half a dozen women per movie? All work and no play make James a dull boy. Hell, they’ve even taken his cigarettes away.
I’m a huge Bond fan, perhaps pathologically, so perhaps my expectations are set too high. But as is the case with the past few sleek-but-gutless films, Spectre left me wanting. But when the next film is released in a few years, I’ll again be first in line to see it.
If you’re looking for a critical examination of Spectre then I’m probably not your guy. I already decided I liked it while I was buying popcorn at Regal Cinemas Battery Park. Bond movies, and action or espionage movies generally, are like sporting events for me. I attend with the expectation that there will be a good physical and, to a lesser extent, mental battle between good and evil, punctuated by chase scenes in cars, helicopters and planes. Plus good tailoring.
Spectre delivers. The parts I most enjoy are those that I think have become a subtle trademark of Daniel Craig’s super physical Bond, namely, his graceful interaction with the dangerous world around him, like in the opening scene in Mexico City when he hops on the ledge of the roof, cat-like, and pursues the enemy; or in the same sequence when the building collapses, and he uses the floor as a slide; or in Skyfall when he jumps from a construction vehicle to a half-destroyed train and fixes his shirt cuffs just as soon as, or almost before he gains his footing. These little things are why I watch Bond movies.
There’s plenty to complain about. Spectre was nearly identical to my other favorite movie of the year, Mission: Impossible Rogue Nation. The super villain wasn’t especially compelling. And Andrew Scott, who plays Max Denbigh, puts on basically the same performance as he does in the BBC series Sherlock, which is to say menacing and creepy, but it doesn’t really make sense as C; he was more terrifying than Oberhauser.
But I’m not complaining, and I’ll see it again when it hits Netflix.
J. Travis Smith
Associate Staff Writer
For fans of the Craig-universe Bond films, there’s a pretty even divide between those who thought Casino Royale was the best of the series and those that thought Skyfall was the best. The former category will feel betrayed by Spectre for reasons that become evident within the first 15 minutes of the film: Bond is without full support. So, fewer gadgets and little in the way of grand plans. No million-dollar poker games. Just a man and his gun. But then again, I’m in the latter category. I like Skyfall for the squeeze put not only on Bond’s life, but on his entire way of doing things. But even then, Spectre didn’t impress.
To be fair, there’s great action in Spectre. High-intensity helicopter twirls, refreshingly funny car chases and a train fight that calls back to Jaws of old. But encounters with Spectre and its leader, played by Christoph Waltz, feel unoriginal and, worse, hollow. For me, the entire plot of Spectre was done first, and better, in Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation. But I don’t think you should enter a Bond film expecting originality, especially when the producers promise references to the entire canon of Bond films.
Each of Craig’s meetings with Waltz felt cut short and incredibly predictable. There was a hunch that I needed to know something I didn’t, in order to add significance to the meeting, but at the same time I had the feeling that I already knew exactly what was going to happen. The steps taken forward in Skyfall — the fight between new and old, between data and surveillance and in-the-room espionage — are shortened to stutter steps. The trope of drones and big data was done before in Skyfall and done better in Mission Impossible. And the political issues of 2015 and beyond go largely ignored for an exposé of the perils of the merger of governmental surveillance networks — but the audience already saw the movie, back in 2012.
|Joe Morgenstern at The Wall Street Journal||‘Spectre’ Review: A Dim Ghost of 007’s Past
“This time James takes on the threat of Spectre, the shadowy organization whose plans for global domination now turn on surveillance. ‘Information is all,’ says the current archvillain, who calls himself Oberhauser and is played by Christoph Waltz. In fact, information is nowhere near enough to energize the turgid tale, with its odd echoes of plot lines from ‘Mission Impossible.'” wsj.com
|A.A. Dowd at A.V. Club||‘Spectre’ is the most traditional—and uneven—of the recent Bond films
“For all the talk of its scary global reach, Spectre itself comes across as just another collective of disposable goons. And despite having been born to play a Bond villain, Waltz never comes within striking distance of the volcanic menace of Javier Bardem’s Skyfall heavy; perhaps the former has done the false-civility thing too many times for it to land anymore. Like most of Spectre, he’s not quite old, not quite new, and not quite distinct enough to shake (or stir) this sequel out of second-tier Bond lethargy.” avclub.com
|Mark Kermode at The Guardian||Spectre Review – Another Stellar Outing for Bond
“Add to this a button-pushing score that goes jaga-jaga-jaga when Bond turns a plane into a snowplough or plays dodgems with a helicopter, a fleeting visual gag about Butch and Sundance in Bolivia, and an impressively forceful showing from Naomie Harris as Moneypenny 2.0, and Spectre pretty much shoots to kill. I’ll be sad if this turns out to be Craig’s last hurrah (he’s been the best screen Bond to date), but if he walks away now he does so on a high note.” theguardian.com
|Manohla Dargis at The New York Times||In ‘Spectre,’ Daniel Craig Is Back as James Bond, No Surprise
“In 1966, Kingsley Amis attributed the success of the Bond stories partly to what he called the ‘Fleming effect,’ noting how Bond’s fantastic world, ‘as well as the temporary, local, fantastic elements,’ are ‘bolted down to some sort of reality.’ The Bond movies have always managed to tap into reality by switching on a camera, a connection to the material world that lingered no matter how far out the villains, their wild lairs and intrigues. The current Bond team is trying to keep the audience entertained with new tricks and gizmos while keeping it kind of real, which perhaps explains why this Bond sweats buckets, tears up and even bares his feelings. Mr. Craig is very good at selling Bond’s humanity, though in truth, what has always really turned us on isn’t 007’s humanity but the reverse.” nytimes.com
|Angela Watercutter at Wired||In ‘Spectre,’ James Bond Battles His Midlife Crisis
“It’s lost on no one that the guy who recently said he’d rather slash his wrists than do another 007 movie ends this one by saying he’s “got something better to do.” And at every turn, director Sam Mendes takes pains to foreground the shelf life of all the movie’s tropes. This Bond notes that he drinks ‘too much’; M defends people’s decision-making over machines’ because “a license to kill is also a license not to.” It’s nice to see a 007 movie that keeps up with the times, but it would better if it didn’t spend quite so much time telling us that how hard that is to do.” wired.com
“If ‘Spectre’ were a great movie, or even a consistently good one, this might be wonderful, or at least intriguing. But this is a weirdly patchy, often listless picture. The Craig Bonds are so expensive and expansive that they can’t help but impress with sheer scale. And every now and then they come up with bold images, like the silhouettes of Bond and a foe grappling in front of neon signage in Skyfall, and the overhead shot of Bond entering the bombed-out ruins of MI-6 headquarters in Spectre preceded by a shadow four times as long as he is tall. But an hour or two after you’ve seen Spectre the film starts evaporating from the mind, like Skyfall and Solace before it. It’s filled with big sets, big stunts, and what ought to be big moments, but few of them land.” rogerebert.com