Movie Review: ‘SPECTRE’ – A Poorly Tailored Bond Outing

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Preston Barta // Features Editor

SPECTRE | 148 min | R
Director: Sam Mendes
Cast: Daniel Craig, Léa Seydoux, Ralph Fiennes, Ben Whishaw, Naomie Harris, Andrew Scott, Rory Kinnear, Jesper Christensen, Monica Bellucci, Dave Bautista and Christoph Waltz

In 2012, Sam Mendes gave us the riveting SKYFALL: a bleak, morally uneasy James Bond film. Mendes channeled filmmaker Christopher Nolan (THE DARK KNIGHT) by taking a highly-acclaimed franchise and developing it even further with an infusion of real world problems.

With high expectations surrounding SPECTRE, Mendes avoids the trap of retracing his own steps by retracing Bond’s instead, returning to the super-spy’s more classic vintage. Although often absorbing and on par with the quality of spectacle we’ve come to expect from our tuxedoed hero, the film proves its predecessor a tough act to follow and finds itself caught in its own tentacles.

“I’ve been here before,” warns British singer Sam Smith during the theme song of SPECTRE. Accordingly, we’re back in London going from one random, stunning location to the next while Bond (Daniel Craig) follows the breadcrumbs of a sinister organization.

We begin in the midst of Mexico City’s Day of the Dead parade, a grand set piece of skeletal extras affording Mendes a flashy entrance with which to follow SKYFALL. In one, long take we sweep through the crowded streets, a hotel room and along the ledge outside to the film’s first lapel-grabbing shootout and chase sequence.

Unfortunately, the film throws its entire weight into its first punch, and after its opening it fails to throw any more that land. The tone after the title sequence is askew. Bond’s conversations with MI6 colleagues M (Ralph Fiennes), Moneypenny (Naomie Harris) and Q (Ben Whishaw) are off-kilter and a touch tasteless, especially Q quipping about the Aston Martin destroyed by the men who killed Judi Dench’s M in SKYFALL. The joke deflates the conflict of the prior film, and the laughter it draws is filled with shame.

Craig's fourth outing is ambitious, messy and overlong. Photo courtesy of Columbia Pictures.

Craig’s fourth outing is ambitious, messy and overlong. Photo courtesy of Columbia Pictures.

The movies featuring Craig’s Bond are known for their hefty run-times, and SPECTRE marks the longest in the franchise, clocking in at whopping 148 minutes. Unlike some more artfully executed films, it feels long as well. The narrative sprawls uncontrolled across the screen, with wearily tangled subplots and overstuffed characters aplenty.

Most notably, SPECTRE introduces villain Franz Oberhauser (Christoph Waltz), a mysterious man with a mysterious personal connection to 007. Waltz’s presence (INGLOURIOUS BASTERDS) as the film’s nemesis was a no-brainer in casting call sessions. However, once Oberhauser emerges from the scant glimpses we’re allotted during the film’s first half, SPECTRE doesn’t know whether to let Waltz enjoy himself or keep him reduced by understatement.

Waltz isn’t alone either. Among the new faces, Léa Seydoux (MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE – GHOST PROTOCOL) rarely looks comfortable as Bond’s psychologist love interest, Madeleine Swann. While she is a tougher and more capable Bond girl than many of his previous partners, their chemistry doesn’t quite ignite the same flame as Craig did with Eva Green’s Vesper Lynd in CASINO ROYALE.

If there’s something good to be said of this entry, it’s that Mendes continues to make Bond compelling on a human level. He veers away from the over-the-top, explosive side of the franchise by honing in on Bond’s personal life and vulnerability— making him a character to relate to. It’s just unfortunate that the story around our titular character stirs the formula instead of shaking it.

Grade: C-

SPECTRE opens tonight at 7 p.m. in participating theaters and everywhere on Friday.

About author

Preston Barta

I have been working as a film journalist since 2010, dividing the first four years between radio broadcasting and entertainment writing in the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex. In 2014, I entered Fresh Fiction (FreshFiction.tv) as the features editor. The following year, I stepped into the film critic position at the Denton Record-Chronicle, a daily North Texas print publication. My time is dedicated to writing theatrical film reviews, at-home entertainment columns, and conducting interviews with on-screen talent and filmmakers, as well as hosting a podcast devoted to genre filmmaking (called My Bloody Podcast). I've been married for seven happy years, and I have one son who is all about dinosaurs just like his dad.