ALERT: THIS POST CONTAINS MAJOR SPOILERS FOR THE JAMES BOND FILM SPECTRE. IF YOU HAVE YET TO SEE THIS MOVIE, FLY, YOU FOOLS!
A couple weeks ago, my boyfriend and I went to see Spectre. I’d never seen a James Bond film in theaters, so the experience was quite exciting for me. Said excitement was also enhanced by the fact that even though the movie was in English, it had Polish subtitles, so I spent part of the movie comparing the dialogue to the subtitles and figuring out what the differences were (For example, one character said “Go ahead,” but the subtitle read “słucham,” which means “I’m listening”). Anyway, the film had some great elements, but it also had some pretty awful ones, particularly from a story perspective. Read at your own peril…
The Good Elements
Music: One of the defining characteristics of every Bond film is the opening credits and the song, which has something to do with a theme or event that takes place in the movie. While some thought that Sam Smith’s theme, “Writing’s on the Wall,” was overwrought or trying too hard, I actually loved it. Granted, no one can live up to the truly sublime Adele and her incredibly powerful Skyfall theme, but Smith does an excellent job with some beautiful emoting and vocals (even though I will admit to rolling my eyes at the literal writing on the wall near the end of the film). The opening credits are also bizarre and gothic in a wonderful way; they’re unlike any opening credits I’ve seen in a Bond film, and I think they really work here. I wish there was video of the song with the credits, but I’ll just give you Smith’s music video for the song. The song itself is still stuck in my head, two weeks later. I can’t escape it.
The acting: Let me admit up front that Daniel Craig is my favorite James Bond (and I’ve seen all of them but Dalton). I never really cared for Connery’s Bond; ever since Casino Royale, I’ve held that Craig is the best, and I think Spectre is a great example of why. He’s got the suave sex appeal of the character, combined with the ice-cold killer that I never quite saw in any of the previous portrayals. Christoph Waltz chews the scenery with an incredible menace, as he always does; Lea Seydoux’s Madeleine, while no Vesper Lynd, was cool and competent; and Andrew Scott (Sherlock‘s Moriarty) was sublimely chilling, though criminally underused. Overall, I have no complaints with the casting. It was spot-on.
The pre-title scene: The absolute best part of the whole film was the stunning pre-title scene. All the reviews I’ve read agree: those 5 minutes are some of the best in modern film history, with the choreography, scenery, camera angles, and directing. The Dia de los Muertos setting, with the eerie, Gothic parade is the perfect setting for a darker, scarier Bond. It also has just the right amount of whimsy for a Bond film, with Bond in his skeleton’s attire, accompanied by a beautiful girl in a skull mask, weaving their way through the macabre revelers in the dance of the dead. It took my breath away with its sheer perfection. The transition into classic Bond was seamless, as he rips off his costume to reveal the flawless suit and walks along the narrow ledge in a gorgeous panning shot that got my heart racing with excitement. The assassination, the helicopter fight, and the requisite explosion, were pure James Bond with a modern edge. I loved every moment of it.
The Tragic Flaw
Spectre suffers not so much from an Achilles Heel as it does an Achilles Circulatory System. Other than the abysmal Quantum of Solace, one of the hallmarks of the new Bond films has been an attention to plot-craft that earlier Bond films neglected. Casino Royale and the truly incredible Skyfall had well-crafted, intriguing, detailed plots that went beyond “shadowy organization wants to take over the world for some inexplicable reason.” Spectre, alas, missed the memo in this area. The plot, which is the heart and lifeblood of a film, went into cardiac arrest after the opening credits and never fully recovered. I think the major issue in this regard is character motivation. Madeleine, who starts off as a strong and competent woman who can hold her own and rebuffs Bond’s advances, inexplicably throws herself into Bond’s arms in a whiplash-inducing character reversal; after she does so, she instantly becomes the usual helpless sex object, down to the kidnapping and eventual race-against-time to rescue her from certain death. *sigh* C’s motivations for treachery are never fully explained, nor do they make sense (though of course C was going to be a villain; the moment Scott was cast, we all knew it to be true). The vendetta against the Pale King is also baffling…it’s set up as very mysterious and threatening, something Blofeld considers to be of utmost importance, and turns out to be just because he left Spectre some years ago. No actual threat, just an annoyance.
I think the biggest problem in regards to motivation comes from Blofeld and Spectre themselves. One of the reasons Skyfall was so good was that the villain’s motivations were personal and believable: a burned agent out to destroy M because of being abandoned by her. Everything he does streams from a very real grudge against one person for believable reasons. Blofeld, on the other hand, has set out to destroy Bond’s life because…er…he thought his dad liked James better? Huh? That makes no sense. At that revelation, in tandem with the “every woman in your life is dead because I somehow inexplicably had something to do with it” line, it was all I could do not to burst out laughing in the middle of the theater. It’s not believable at all, and the story suffers for it.
Then there’s Spectre itself. Another big shadowy organization that wants to dominate the world, and they never really explain why, or what their plan is, or really anything. It also didn’t have nearly enough buildup to be a credible threat. They had to shoehorn in references to earlier films (don’t even get me started on that ridiculous McGuffin, the ring) and throwaway lines to try to explain how big of a problem Spectre should be and why we should be afraid of it. As my astute significant other pointed out, if the filmmakers had planned better, they could have started building up Spectre back in Casino Royale and then seeded references to it in the other two films so that by this one, we’d know it was a big deal, and we’d have much more information to go on. Instead, we don’t know enough about the organization to really consider it a threat, and the motivations are just as much in shadow as Spectre itself.
Perhaps with a lighter tone, this film would work as a classic Bond film: sexy, lots of violence, villains with ridiculous names and motivations, and not much else. But the precedent of Casino Royale and Skyfall has given us a taste of a different, more complicated Bond, and we’ve come to expect more of the franchise. Now, we tend to like our Bond films shaken, not stirred, and Spectre just doesn’t meet the mark.