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I’m convinced that Daniel Craig is the best James Bond since Sean Connery. I liked a few of the Roger Moore movies (For Your Eyes Only and The Spy Who Loved Me are both really good), but Craig really delivers the goods in a way no one has since Connery. I found Brosnan to be decent, but he really aged badly over the course of four movies. I’ve never been a big fan of Timothy Dalton’s two Bond films, and the less said about George Lazenby the better. For my money, it’s Connery followed by Craig on any day of the week.
Having said that, Spectre, Craig’s latest turn as James Bond, is a disappointing film. That doesn’t lie on Craig’s shoulders, however; he is great as James Bond, clearly comfortable in the role. He really picks up and continues from 2012’s fantastic Skyfall in a very comfortable and assured way. He was a terrific rookie agent in Casino Royale, and while I’m not a big fan of Quantum of Solace, it’s once again hard to blame him for that film’s failures. Spectre is disappointing as a film in almost every regard outside of acting. It is glacially paced, not particularly well directed or choreographed (nothing in the film stands up to the Shanghai scene in Skyfall), incredibly boring in stretches, and almost entirely plotless for the most part.
Spectre is a lot like Quantum of Solace – it’s a total mess with an incredibly weak villain. The most egregious thing about Spectre, however, is how it tries to tie all of the recent Bond movies into one “expanded universe” of James Bond films and fails spectacularly. It does not succeed at this at all. It’s almost as if John Logan, who I tend to like as a screenwriter, took the worst parts of Star Trek Into Darkness and the Marvel movies and shoehorned them into a film that didn’t need this kind of treatment at all. Bond is a strong enough brand to stand on its own. Why Sony and MGM thought to make a connected universe out of him in such a manner is confusing and questionable.
Of course, the attempt to tie Craig’s Bond films together goes back to Quantum of Solace, in which Bond attempts to find a quantum of solace after the death of Vesper Lynd, a turncoat spy who Bond was also in love with. Vesper’s ghost haunts Quantum of Solace and by extension Spectre. But Vesper died on screen nine years ago and Quantum is not particularly well remembered, so dwelling on her seems counterproductive and bogs the film down in its own mythology. Also featured needlessly in the film’s narrative are previous villains Le Chiffre (from Casino Royale), Mr. Greene (from Casino Royale and Quantum of Solace and also the least threatening villain in the history of James Bond), and Raoul Silva (from Skyfall). But it’s Vesper who continually haunts Bond. It’s just that, as a throughline from Casino Royale to now, it just doesn’t really work.
The big bad in this film is Oberhauser, played by Austrian actor Christoph Waltz. Waltz is a fantastic actor and theoretically he should be a phenomenal villain for James Bond to duel with. In practice however, he is absolutely terrible. Waltz isn’t particularly interesting in the underwritten role, and he’s about as menacing as the night manager at Staples. He seems somehow less threatening and intimidating than Mr. Greene, who as noted early was one of the worst villains in Bond history. Not much better is Dave Bautista (of WWE and Guardians of the Galaxy) as the seemingly mute Mr. Hinx. Hinx is apparently supposed to be a throwback to the days of Odd Job and Jaws. I’ll take either of them over him any day of the week. Though Hinx is visibly imposing, his character is almost treated as a total joke. Like Oberhauser, Hinx is incredibly underwritten. What is his motivation outside of pleasing Waltz’ character? There’s no reason at all to fear him other than that he’s 6’5”. He seems like he’s just going to be around long enough to slightly inconvenience Bond and that’s his entire character arc.
Speaking of no motivation, Spectre goes out of its way to create motivation for Waltz’ Oberhauser, but it just doesn’t work. As Nick pointed out in his review, connecting the Craig films the way this film attempts to do is a good idea on the surface, but it’s done so half-assedly that it negatively affects Waltz’ character. There’s no believable or credible threat to Bond in this movie at all. The most disturbing part of the film finds Bond in a torture chair, but I was never on the edge of my seat because I didn’t believe Oberhauser was credible enough to do anything menacing. And the plot to Spectre is also incredibly thin. Oberhauser has a man in the British government who wants to push world leaders towards using a worldwide surveillance system in order to …. accomplish something? It seems like Oberhauser doesn’t need the British government to do this at all. It really seems like he can just do it on his own – he could probably just cut out the middleman here.
Spectre does have its strong points, however. As noted earlier, Craig is great as Bond. I wouldn’t mind seeing him play the character a few more times. I really fear for the next guy to step into Bond’s shoes, because Craig kind of owns the character at this point. Sam Mendes did a better job handling Skyfall, but at least Spectre still looks good, and Nick is right about that tracking shot at the beginning. Speaking of which, the beginning is super rousing and interesting. I kind of wish the whole movie was just that opening scene. The supporting characters are good for the most part as well, particularly Naomie Harris (who gets a few big laughs) and Ralph Fiennes. I like what the film has done with the Moneypenny and M characters a lot. Bond girl Lea Seydoux is adequate, but doesn’t hold a candle to Eva Green’s Vesper Lynd, the best Bond girl of the Craig era by far (sorry Olga Kurylenko).
On the whole, Spectre is kind of a mess. It isn’t nearly as interesting or engaging as it should be. In fact, I nearly fell asleep three times. The two-and-a-half hour running time is butt-numbingly interminable. It feels like a total slog, which is really disappointing considering how great the previous film in the series was. Even Quantum of Solace felt tighter as a film. Between Mendes, possible producer interference (rumor has it the big wigs at Sony were not happy with the script), and writer John Logan, I’m not entirely sure where the disconnect is. But Spectre ends up being wholly disappointing on almost every possible level. The film is just a huge letdown and the whole thing is kind of a mess.