Warning: spoilers ahead
I’m feeling a quantum of disappointment with the latest James Bond movie Spectre. But maybe my expectations were unreasonably high. The last Bond movie, Skyfall, was one of the very best. And Spectre has two of the most artful and enticing trailers ever produced (here and here). With such a buildup, maybe I was doomed to disappointment.
What did I like about Spectre?
First, and foremost, there is Daniel Craig, who is the best actor to ever to have played Bond. Craig is not a handsome man, but he is highly charismatic. He is pure masculinity untainted with prettiness. He brings a depth and emotional complexity to the character that were well-exploited in Casino Royale (2006) and Skyfall (2012). Craig was wasted, however, in his second outing, Quantum of Solace (2008), which was a frenzied and unmemorable clone of a Jason Bourne movie. I call it Quantum of Bollocks. (When Craig retires, he should be replaced by Tom Hardy.)
Second, there is the return of Spectre and Ernst Stavro Blofeld (Christoph Waltz) — and the cat.
Third, there are two extremely feminine but formidable Bond girls: the elegant, aristocratic Léa Seydoux as Dr. Madeleine Swann, and Monica Bellucci, still stunning at 51, as Lucia Sciarra, the widow of a Spectre assassin.
Fourth, I very much enjoyed the title song, “Writing’s on the Wall” by Sam Smith. Also good was Adele’s “Skyfall” song. But there’s a long list of pretty forgettable Bond songs before them. Thomas Newman’s score is quite good. And the tentacle porn title sequence is also pretty over the top.
Finally, this film has all the Bond touches: exotic locations; beautiful buildings, interiors, people, clothes, and cars; and spectacular fights, chases, and stunts, all of them stylishly directed by Sam Mendes.
What didn’t I like about Spectre?
The main problem was the plot, specifically the plot in the last 30 minutes. Skyfall was such a powerful movie because in the last half hour it shifted from being just another Bond thriller into something mythic. Bond realizes that his nemesis, Silva, can use any computerized technology against him. So he decides to go back to the old ways. He loads M into a classic Aston Martin from the 1960s and heads to his family home, Skyfall, on the blasted heath of Scotland. There he meets his family game-keeper, played by Albert Finney. Both he and M are about the age that Bond’s parents would have been, had he not been orphaned in childhood. Thus not only is Bond going back in time to his family seat, he is recreating his family. Then the family pulls together to defend their fortress from attackers. It is emotionally powerful because it is mythic and primal.
In Spectre, similar expectations are set up. Bond again goes back into his past. After he was orphaned, a guardian was appointed by the court. The guardian had a son, who was jealous of his father’s affection for Bond. He felt cuckolded, and he says so. Later, he murders his father, fakes his death, and takes on his mother’s name. This is the origin of Ernst Stavro Blofeld. It is the stuff of Greek tragedy.
But once this back story is revealed, the rest of the movie is just a bunch of fights and chases, including the equivalent of Blofeld tying a woman to the train tracks, which is the stuff of Dudley Doright, not Greek tragedy. In short, the enormous dramatic and emotional potential of the back story and the plot so far is simply dissipated in farce.
What should have happened? They should have recapitulated the primal scene of cuckoldry, this time Blofeld trying to cuckold Bond with Dr. Swann as the object of affection. Instead, we have a pointless torture scene followed by a ridiculously easy escape, followed by fights and chases and escapes with helicopters and speedboats and some other things I probably missed as I was glancing at my watch.
Spectre is a good Bond movie. But it could have been a great one.