Review: Spectre

spectre

He has a license to kill, is smooth as only the British can be, and he drinks his Wodka-Martini shaken, not stirred. It’s Bond, James Bond. Spectre is the 24th Bond movie, and not only the latest, but also the most expensive one, with a budget going toward 300 million dollars. Question is, what did all that money buy?

I’ll tried not to spoil the movie in this review, but there are some plot elements and character reveals that I can’t get around. If you want to go into the movie completely blank, don’t read the rest of this post but watch it first. If you can live with knowing a little of what will happen, and a little of who is who, then read on.

Entertainment

A James Bond movie is not necessarily a great story and doesn’t have to have the best character arcs. It’s partially successful because of the over-the-top action and the coolness of James Bond. That goes for this one as well. I wasn’t extremely impressed by Spectre, but I enjoyed watching it. The action scenes are spread out well throughout the movie and shot well enough to be entertaining.

I loved the opening scene, which features a single continuous shot of James walking through the Day of the Dead festival in Mexico city, through a hotel, climbing out a hotel window, and crossing rooftops to reach a view of another hotel room with a bad guy in it. I later read online that it was actually three shots CGI-ed together, but while looking at it I couldn’t tell. That opening scene alone is stunning.

The car chase in Rome is equally thrilling, as is the chase in Austria.

Plot

Spectre is the evil organisation in the James Bond franchise. It goes back all the way to the first Bond movie, and makes its first appearance in the ‘Daniel Craig as Bond’ reboot in this film.

Spectre tries to pull together the entire set of Daniel Craig movies into an overarching plot, with a single bad guy behind all of Bond’s woes, running the organisation that gives the movie its name.

Unfortunately, tying together a series of movies only works if you lay the ground work with foreshadowing, like Marvel does with their universe. Otherwise it just comes across as a bit of a retcon to make the bad guy seem more powerful. And that is exactly what happened in this case. If they’d foreshadowed the existence of an overarching evil organisation better in the previous movies, this could have worked, now it just feels tacked on.

The plot is pretty complicated, but feels a lot like a rehash of elements from the previous movie Skyfall. Evil organisation uses information technology and surveillance to outmaneuver the Brititsh Intelligence Service. However, by adding extra focus to M and his struggle against his counterpart C trying to take over, the plot becomes very full and badly paced as a result. They’ve just tried to cram in too much, even for a two-and-a-half hour movie.

Characters

There’s James Bond, of course. In this movie, he’s wrestling with the past that is coming back to haunt him. He’s become so involved in his work as a secret agent that everything else has taken a back seat… Wait, didn’t we go over this midlife crisis last movie? Guess we go at it again.

Aside from James, there’s more screen time for M, Q, and Moneypenny, which is a good thing, but also makes the movie more complicated.

The bad guys are of course Spectre, and their leader Blofeld (I don’t think I’m spoiling anything by revealing that). Again, they’ve expanded scope, trying to link back to the bad guys of the previous three movies. Who was Mr. White again? Was he the guy from Quantum of Solace? Instead of building up a credible villain, the movie trudges out the bad guys from previous movies and says ‘well, these guys were actually working for Spectre, so Blofeld must be even worse, heh’.

Well, that ain’t selling me on him. In the second half of the movie, Blofeld comes across mostly as a slightly pathetic man, who dedicates his evil empire to torture James Bond. Referencing the previous movies is a crutch that replaces actual characterisation. Worse, the movie rams a personal relation to James Bond in edgewise. Either Blofeld is the shadowy leader of an evil organisation, or he’s a nemesis of James Bond’s past. Trying both at the same time, with everything else going on, was a very bad move. There’s no time to do both, so both are done half-baked, leaving a schizophrenic half-baked villain leaning on a crutch made of mugshots from previous movies.

The very busy plot is further complicated with the arcs of two protagonists (James Bond and M) against two antagonists (Blofeld and C). The movie not only stuffs this second arc into the movie, but also mangles the plot to make the two arcs come together, and doesn’t do a very good job of it. It results in a kind of pre-climax, followed by a second climax for both plots. It’s a mess.

I was impressed by Dave Bautista’s character Hinx, though. As a Bond evil-henchman he did marvelously. He is scary and over-the-top enough to be memorable, like Jaws and Oddjob before him.

Conclusion

Spectre is a mixed bag as far as I’m concerned. An entertaining movie, but not a very good one. When we look back on the Daniel Craig Bond in a few years, I suspect we’ll  remember Casino Royale and Skyfall as two good Bond movies, Quantum of Solace as a terrible one, and Spectre as ‘that one after Skyfall’ with the plot we can’t remember.

Still, it was fun to watch.

Martin Stellinga Written by:

I'm a science fiction and fantasy writer from the Netherlands