James Bond Mythos Marred By Soulless SPECTRE

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SPECTRE cures insomnia in theatres Nov. 6, 2015.

If you’re a regular reader of my film reviews you know I have a weakness for spy movies. The flagship franchise, of course, is Ian Fleming’s Secret Agent 007, James Bond. Starting with Sean Connery in DR. NO, through George Lazenby (if he counts), Roger Moore, Timothy Dalton, Pierce Brosnan, and now Daniel Craig, the venerable series has had its ups and downs through the years. Sometimes campy, sometimes serious, sometimes just plain weird, the exploits of the most beloved spy in the world has always given me some level of satisfaction. That is, until now. With SPECTRE, the sequel to director Sam Mendes’ ultra-popular 2012 installment SKYFALL, the sky is indeed falling on 007. This is easily the worst James Bond film in the series and one of the worst films I’ve seen regardless of genre in years.

What makes the mediocrity so baffling is that SPECTRE was put together with the same creative team as SKYFALL. Both films were directed by Mendes, produced by Michael G. Wilson and Barbara Broccoli, and written by John Logan, Neal Purvis and Robert Wade. Most of the same actors are back as well: Daniel Craig as Bond, Ralph Fiennes as the new W (replacing Dame Judi Dench,) Ben Whishaw as Q the tech expert, and Naomi Harris as Bond’s girl Friday—Eve Moneypenny. How can Mendes miss the mark with a cast that talented? Don’t forget the trio of actors who played the villains: two –time Best Supporting Actor Oscar winner Christoph Waltz, fan favorite muscle man of the WWE and Marvel’s GUARDIIANS OF THE  GALAXY Dave Bautista, and highly regarded English actor Andre w Scott. There’s also two “Bond Girls in SPECTRE, played by Monica Bellucci and Léa Seydoux. Why, then, with that much going for it, did SPECTRE have me yearning to walk out midway though?

The short answer would be pretty much everything, but that’s not really true—Ralph Fiennes is always excellent. Thomas Newman’s score was exactly what you’d want from a spy flick soundtrack. That’s it. It’s all downhill from there.

The plot is predictable and thin as paper. The late “M” sends Bond a mission from beyond the grave, putting 007 into conflict with the new “M.” Bond soon infiltrates Spectre, the secret criminal empire. He enters into a game of cat and mouse with Spectre boss Ernst Stavro Blofeld (Waltz) and his wordless henchman Mr. Hinx (Bautista) while “M” and “Q” and Moneypenny battle yet another threat from within British Intelligence. The pacing is slow and plodding, the action exceedingly dull. Spoiler Alert: Blofled is the son of the guy who raised Bond. That same plot was put to better use in the first WOLVERINE movie, and the office traitor plot was done to death already by both the Bond films and Kiefer Sutherland’s “24.” Craig, for the most part, appears to be dutifully playing the part, but he’s also clearly tired of the role. He seems uncharacteristically docile where Seydoux’s Dr. Madeleine Swan is concerned. She whines about not want to be in a relationship with a man in the spy game, and so Bond more or less does everything in his power to bow out. WHAT?!? Are you kidding me? Look, I know a good relationship requires compromise on both sides, but this is JAMES BOND! He’s the poster child for womanizing! As much as that’s a character flaw, it’s a part of the character you can’t ignore.

 

 

Waltz is absolutely lame in this, affecting a weird little lilt to his voice as he antagonizes Bond. Why on earth should the audience care what this sniveling weasel has to say? We’re simple told that we’re to dislike him without any real reason why. He resents Daddy’s attention to his foster child? Cry me a river. If Bond is Wolverine, Blofeld is less of a Sabretooth and more of a Powder Puff Girl. Anthony Scott’s crooked pencil pusher “C” likewise offers no reason to care what he’s up to. I’ve seen one-panel Sunday comic strips with better characterization. Bautista is still a relatively new face in major motion pictures, but after the public and critical acclaim of his Drax character in GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY Bautista should have earned enough credibility to get more than one speaking line. While Bautista can certainly fight—he’s dabbled in MMA and had a long career in the WWE—the general choreography  of the fight sequences were barely adequate and made Craig look like a frail old man who needed to be carried through any sort of physical action. The cartoony car chase with Bautista and Bond, showcasing the specially made new Aston Martin DB-10, is even worse. I hung my head in shame for having witnessed Bond bring down a moving helicopter while piloting a bouncing speedboat, with a Walther PPK that shoots 7.65mm rounds. Indeed, many of the stunts in this film are just silly, not titillating. It all adds up to SPECTRE feeling like a bad parody of INSPECTOR GADGET, which was a parody of James Bond to begin with.

For much of this the blame lies with Mendes. At over 140 minutes long, the film is the longest in the history of the franchise, and yet really had nothing to say. CASINO ROYALE, QUANTUM OF SOLACE and SKYFALL feel like a complete trilogy. SPECTRE feels like a long and wholly unnecessary post-script. Little to no fun gadgets from Q-Division, villains with no real motivation, meek romantic interests, a sleep-inducing title song from Sam Smith—nothing works for me. I’ve pursued a couple of advance reviews from the big critics and while they clearly don’t love the film they’re very dismissive of the shortcomings, almost apologetic. Did the studio pay them off, I wonder? This film is inexcusable. AUSTIN POWERS had more heart and THE KINGSMAN: THE SECRET SERVCE had more power.  Craig’s no spring chicken anymore but Mendes allows him to come off as deflated as one of Tom Brady’s footballs. He was contracted for five films, I believe, but he’s already the oldest actor to ever play the part. I don’t know if Idris Elba is next in line, or Michael Fassbender, or Peter Dinklage—seriously, I think he could do a great  job in the role—but Craig seems likely to get one more turn. Hopefully he can redeem the franchise and go out with a triumphant bang instead of this pathetic whimper.

 

 

Grade: 
0.5 / 5.0