'Spectre' can't recreate past Bond success

Monday, November 9, 2015 - 12:00pm

NOSELL

MGM and Columbia Pictures

 

Despite the hype,“Spectre” falls short of being something spectacular. While not the worst of the recent Bond films, it definitely isn’t on the same level as “Casino Royale” and “Skyfall.”

In the 26th installment of the series, a video message from the deceased M (Judi Dench, “The Vote”) sends Bond (Daniel Craig, “Munich”) on a mission to hunt and destroy the leader of Spectre, Franz Oberhauser (Christoph Waltz, “Big Eyes”). Predictably, Bond must seek out a woman,  the easily irritable Madeleine Swann (Léa Seydoux, “The Lobster”), the daughter of “Quantum of Solace” villain Mr. White (Jesper Christensen, “Ich und Kaminski”), to locate the enemy. While Bond frantically travels through Austria, the rest of his team faces an infiltrator at MI6’s headquarters.

Cinematographer Hoyte van Hoytema (“Her”) does an excellent job with the cinematography; however, his efforts aren’t capable of preventing the film from being a disappointment. The postproduction crew executed the opening scene perfectly by synching the on screen images with the film’s theme, Sam Smith’s “Writing’s on the Wall.” Transitions from Spectre’s logo to shards of glass to snakes wrapping themselves around women’s bodies are seamless, and instantly draw the viewer into Bond’s world. In the film itself, the extended tracking shots during the opening fight sequence in Mexico elevate the action’s violence. Long lenses blur out the background, making it impossible to see what or who is coming into the frame, and thus heightening both the intensity and the suspenseful mood. The helicopter and Aston Martin DB10 stunts are spectacular — especially when Bond grips the outside rail of the helicopter as it does a 360 in mid air.

Craig excellently portrays Bond’s suave, seductive ways with his piercing blue eyes and smooth voice, while his stern facial expressions and sharp suits exude an alarming sense of confidence. Of course, his massive muscles also add a degree of intimidation to Bond’s character — they’re even powerful enough to battle the freakish Mr. Hinx (Dave Bautista, “TripTank”). However, without the help of Q (Ben Whishaw, “The Danish Girl”), he would be a much less efficient agent. Q, which certainly stands for quirky, provides an interesting depth to the film with his stark contrast to Bond’s character, which creates an almost brotherly relationship between them. Unfortunately, Q’s role is very limited in “Spectre,” so his ability to salvage the film is naught.

While Bond’s MI6 teammates strengthen the film, his enemies do not. Although their hatred for Bond is obvious, it’s hard to believe they’re actually evil. Oberhauser’s ‘villain creds’ are quickly diminished by his affection for a fluffy white Persian cat, not to mention the lackluster dialogue that makes him seem anything but menacing. Instead of being brashly threatening, the conversations between the villains and MI6 agents feel inappropriately colloquial, much like the typical dialect of spiteful siblings.

Bond’s newest love interest doesn’t fare much better in terms of credibility. Except the fact that she can expertly put a bullet through someone’s head, Swann is just like most other girls who has crossed Bond’s path — foreign, promiscuous and moody. It’s hard to believe Swann’s occupation as a psychologist given the degree to which she struggles with maintaining her own emotional composure. Her constant whining and false-sounding grieving is painful to both watch and hear.

Essentially, “Spectre” feels more like a tribute to past Bond films than an entirely new one. Bond’s skull mask during the Day of the Dead celebration in Mexico mimics Baron Samedi’s mask in “Live and Let Die.” His asking for his dirty martini to be shaken, not stirred refers back to the classic line in “Dr. No.” For the final hurrah, the camera tracks Bond running for his life through the old MI6 building; behind him is a wall lined with posters of all (Craig era) Bond’s previous villains and deceased lovers. Although all these references, and others, may enhance the experience for a Bond fanatic, they exist for the sole purpose of being cutesy and add nothing to the film overall.

Unfortunately, what made past Bond films so incredible can’t effectively be recreated, and definitely cannot be thrown together to produce another movie. Had it been more focused on continuing Bond’s adventure from where it left off at the end of “Skyfall,” rather than filling its time with callbacks and references, “Spectre” could have been another critical success in this new era of Bond.