“Skyfall” was undeniably a peak in the recent reboot of the James Bond films. With director Sam Mendes taking the reins, the franchise was given a fresh sophistication, cleverly combining unexpected plot twists, a truly complex and dark villain and the sharp elegance that really distinguished it as an impressive cinematic experience. However, after setting such an imaginative and striking standard, Mendes gave himself a tough act to follow. “Spectre,” sadly, falls short.
We rejoin Bond (again played by Daniel Craig) mid-chase, clearly hitting the ground running after suffering the tragic loss of M (originally played by Judi Dench). Despite its later flaws, the opening sequence is particularly stunning, with swooping camera shots of the Day of the Dead festival in Mexico City immediately launching the audience into the high-octane 007 world. From there, however, it only goes downhill. After his escapade in Mexico City and a mysterious message from M’s grave, Bond is set on a rage-driven mission to uncover Spectre, the global organization that brings chaos and havoc to the world through terrorist attacks that give it economic and political gain. Such a journey, of course, involves not one but two beautiful women being thrown in his path: Italian screen goddess Monica Bellucci as the widowed wife of one of the Spectre crew and French ingenue Léa Seydoux who plays Madeleine Swan, the daughter of an assassin Bond previously came into close and near-fatal contact with. There is little need to explain how these relationships develop.
Mendes surely can’t be faulted in his aesthetic vision for his James Bond world. From the eerie opening sequence in the dusty Mexico City streets, to grand Italian villas, to an incredibly impressive high-tech lab in the middle of Moroccan desert, Mendes succeeds in seducing the audience into his glamorous world. In addition, the music credit sequence that these films have now become famed for was a highlight. Sam Smith’s “Writing’s On The Wall,” accompanied by an exciting graphic sequence that combines elements of the classic Bond theme with a darker, more modern twist, is a worthy successor to Adele’s “Skyfall.”
The choice of the division of screen time between what is by all accounts an extremely impressive cast seems highly questionable. Monica Bellucci is offered to the audience in only two scenes in the first half of the film. While they are albeit beautifully shot scenes, it is hard to not see the slightly pointed choice for the older Bond woman to only fleetingly appear in preference for the younger (note: far younger than Bond) one. In addition, despite having the immensely talented Christopher Waltz playing the chief villain, Spectre’s cold-hearted leader Franz Oberhauser, we see very little of him. Understandably, his being hidden in the shadows with his voice creeping into the scene may be deliberate, exaggerating his enormous power and thus the enormous threat he poses. However, after Javier Bardem’s startling “Skyfall” performance as a villain who in large part stole the show, it’s hard to not be saddened by the limits of this role, especially when it is filled by an actor who has already proven his transformative acting ability.
It is particularly discouraging to watch this, the 24th Bond film, unravel and increasingly reveal itself to be uninspired and fatigued. For the first time, many viewers may be able to predict the end of the great Bond rollercoaster only halfway into his journey, which, after the breath-taking and complex plot twists of “Skyfall,” is a heartbreaking disappointment. While the visuals may be as smooth and enticing as Bond’s charms, the plot often stumbles.
Back in London we have the parallel plot to Bond’s adventures, where we follow the new M (Ralph Fiennes) struggle with his own new boss, Max Denbigh (Andrew Scott), the head of the Center for National Security and a disciple of Big Brother-esque surveillance. The dialogue and interactions between the two are so awkward that they are at times hard to watch, and the plotline itself is one that seems so overdone and trite that it really has no place in a Bond film. The charming interjections of Moneypenny (Naomie Harris) and Q (Ben Whishaw) salvage these London scenes. Nonetheless, it does leave the impression that so much effort was spent on the huge-scale production that little was left for the plot intricacies that had come to define this recent batch of Bond movies.
As with almost any Bond film, the stunning aesthetics, Craig’s smooth albeit sometimes ridiculous performance as Bond and the action stunts will still ensure that audiences will be contented and left with that unique satisfaction that surely can only come from watching a 007 adventure. However, it’ll be hard to leave the movie theater without having the feeling that perhaps this time Mendes and Bond left their best tricks and imagination back in Q’s lab. Let’s hope they can revisit before the next attempt.
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