It’s been three years since the last James Bond film, SKYFALL. That’s not such a long time as far as sequels go but it was long enough for me to have already forgotten what that film was about. Sure, I remembered the song by Adele, which played on the radio incessantly for weeks both before and after the film made it to Hong Kong, but the film itself? That was a blur. So I decided to watch it again before I went to see SPECTRE. As I suspected, the best thing about SKYFALL was the song. The rest was just 2-1/2 hours of elaborately staged chase scenes, dramatic locales, a few fights interspersed with some sexual encounters and the now-obligatory shameless product placement. Yes, M (Dame Judy Dench) dies but so what? I was sadder when Jon Snow died in last season’s final episode of GAME OF THRONES.
It seems to me that four films into the Daniel Craig incarnation of MI6’s most lethal weapon and all we’ve gotten so far is a bunch of hooey. I like the actor; the problem I have is with the writing. It’s uninspired. Yes, there is plenty of action and Craig has the athleticism to pull the stunts off, but if it weren’t for the accent and the snugly fit Tom Ford suits, I would have a hard time distinguishing between James Bond and his American, high-powered, action hero counterparts, Jason Bourne and Ethan Hunt.
Whatever happened to the nifty gadgetry, the evil characters (whose nefarious plans for world domination may not have been completely convincing but were entertaining nevertheless), the memorably iconic henchmen and henchwomen, the martinis (shaken, not stirred) that were actually drunk and not just ordered, and the over-the-top stunts? They all disappeared with SKYFALL, and they’re absent with SPECTRE too.
In this latest outing, we find Bond in Mexico City fulfilling a posthumous wish of M. During a colourful and massively attended Día de Muertos (Day of the Dead) celebration, Bond tries to assassinate Marco Sciarra, who, we learn, is plotting to blow up a packed stadium on behalf of his organization. Typical 007 mayhem ensues complete with a huge explosion, crumbling buildings and a spectacular hand-to-hand fight inside a helicopter taking place over the heads of hundreds of thousands of revellers. Surprisingly, though, while all this is going on, panic on the ground never ensues. Is it really just another day in the Mexican capital or is everyone too drunk to care? But as far as opening sequences go, this one has nothing on the ones in GOLDENEYE (where Bond bungee jumps from the top of a 750-foot tall dam) or THE SPY WHO LOVED ME (where he skis off a sheer mountain face). Now these were classic openers! Yes, SPECTRE’S opening was nicely shot but it was hardly memorable.
And that’s the whole problem with SPECTRE, if not all the Daniel-Craig-as-James-Bond films. It’s as dull as dishwater. Even this film’s baddie, Ernst Stavro Blofeld (Christoph Waltz), barely generates a single tingle down the spine. We know the actor can play chillingly evil characters (Col. Hans Landa in INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS), but Blofeld is completely unimpressive and unbelievable as a mastermind who runs a cabal as sophisticated as Spectre.
The same can be said about the film’s gadgetry (aka blatant commercialism). An Omega watch that tells the time, a Sony telephone that receives calls and Vuarnet sunglasses that (presumably) protect one’s eyes from harmful UV rays are all less than heart-palpating. I’ll grant that the bulletproof Aston Martin DB10 looks nice and has some of the handy features that we’ve come to expect from Bond films but it lacks future vision, which is what made some of the pre-Craig Bond films both interesting and fun to watch. In one scene, Bond, driving the DB10, is being chased by the film’s troglodytic henchman, Mr. Hinx (Dave Bautista, GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY), who is driving a Jaguar C-X75. The two cars race along Rome’s conspicuously empty streets, past St. Peter’s Basilica, through narrow lanes, down winding stone staircases and even along the banks of the Tiber. I was expecting Bond’s car to turn into a hovercraft and zoom down the river to safety but no such luck. (No spoilers on this site!)
I will concede that there are some exciting helicopter stunts and a few picturesque aerial shots but those alone do not save the film. Moneypenny (Naomie Harris), who showed some spunk, sassiness and sexiness in SKYFALL, seems to have morphed into being a boring civil servant. Even the film’s two “Bond girls” – Madeleine Swann (Léa Seydoux) and Lucia Sciarra (Monica Bellucci) – fall flat. Neither of them can hold a candle to Honey Ryder (Ursula Andress) or Octopussy (Maud Adams), to name just two of their predecessors.
M calls 007 a “dinosaur” in the film GOLDENEYE. After watching SPECTRE, I think the same could be said about the state of the franchise.
My last gripe goes to the film’s song, “Writing’s On the Wall”, sung by Sam Smith. In a recent interview he gave on The Graham Norton Show, even he admitted that he’s not crazy about it. “It’s just so high. I have to grab my balls; it’s awful.”
Listen to the review online on Radio 4. (Click on the link. Select Part 2 and slide the time bar over to 37:10.)
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