If there is one thing I can count on James Bond movies to do, it’s to come out with all the razzmatazz it can muster. And Spectre‘s first act, much like Mr. Bond, comes dressed to impress. It’s Día de Muertos (Day of the Dead) in Mexico City, the streets are alive with music and dancing and skeleton masks, and behind one of them hides 007. With a dame draped on his arm he works his way through the crowd. The camera follows him and the lady up the elevator and inside a room, in one continuous suave long shot. Just before the lady could give herself to the charms of 007, we have him out of his skeleton costume and buttoning an impeccably pressed suit. “I won’t be long”, he says. And off he goes out the window. A botched assassination attempt later, has him running and scaling walls to get off the path of a collapsing building, and eventually winding up in a fisticuffs in mid-air, inside a spiraling helicopter. Then in comes the customary opening credits sequence, the spectacular visual imagery with naked girl silhouettes, and smoke effect and octopuses, with Sam Smith’s intense and dramatic ballad, Writing’s On the Wall. Now if that doesn’t razzle dazzle you, nothing will.
But by the second and third act, things start to become a little helter skelter. Bond jumps from one country to another: Mexico, Rome, Austria, Morroco. It’s great, visually. But it seems like Bond is merely touching base on all these places, if only to showcase the set design. it is unecessary, plotwise. It’s kind of more Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego freeplay than anything.
Spectre (2015) tries to imitate the emotional pull of Casino Royale (2006) and Skyfall (2012) but somehow it comes up short. Supposedly the whole James Bond family tree backstory was the film’s emotional core. Through this we are supposed to understand James Bond a little more, care for him a little more. But the revelation of his parentage feels rushed and very expositiony for me to be truly quite invested in them. Now about the bond girl, who is pivotal in any Bond movie as 007 himself, does the best she can with what she’s given. Lea Seydoux is a great actress and has a dazzling presence but she really isn’t given very much to work with in the first place. The rest of the story is very paint-by-numbers spy flick. Bond is after a shady, sinister organization, the key to them is through a beautiful woman, they fall for each other (the woman not the sinister organization) and the villain (Christoph Waltz being, well, Christoph Waltz) who is moustache twirly and seems to be very hard to kill, uses the girl as bait, and Bond comes running, and so on and so forth.
In Skyfall, Q once remarked: “Were you expecting an exploding pen?” “We don’t really go in for that anymore.” But with Sam Mendes’ Spectre they kind of did. Okay, it’s more an exploding watch (literally) really. But it’s basically a different version of the same trick. But here’s the deal Spectre may be paint-by-numbers but it’s not boring, it’s more like getting back to the Bond basics. Spectre feels like one of those old school spy movies where it’s more romantic and fantastical than realistic. The film revels in its sexiness and glamour. We get fast cars, spiffy clothes, lovely damsels and more martinis than you can shake a stick at. Add Hoyte van Hoytema’s cinematography and it’s a visually stunning photo finish movie. Everything looks absolutely radiant.
Ultimately Spectre doesn’t stack up with Casino Royale or Skyfall. It leans heavily towards the abysmal Quantum of Solace (2008), only a notch or two higher perhaps. But it’s a good enough last hurrah for Daniel Craig, who with his engaging performance here, goes out in a blaze of glory.