James Bond digs further into his past as it returns to haunt him in Spectre.
After twenty-four films, the James Bond franchise has built a successful legacy, one that has created such high stakes, both in terms of content and in performance. 2012's Skyfall brought a whole new celebration and nostalgia to the beloved icon of cinema with Daniel Craig bringing to the screen his best, most convincing Bond to date, even with the new inquiry into the protagonist's background. The latest entry in the running, Spectre, tries to pick up where Skyfall left off, literally and metaphorically, but, sadly, doesn't quite measure up.
In step with its release, Spectre opens in Mexico City during Day of the Dead celebrations, with Bond in a skeleton suit and mask disguise, standing out in the raucous joy and colorful energy. After abandoning his lovely companion in favor of scaling rooftop ledges, he watches across the way as Marco Sciarra (Alessandro Cremona), -- the man he has been tailing -- appears. Sciarra speaks with several others about a plot to set off an explosive device in a stadium later that night. After a chase through parades and crowd-stunning fight in a helicopter, Bond succeeds in killing him and stealing a ring from him.
Upon his return to London, M (Ralph Fiennes) is unfortunately none too happy with the spectacle, particularly since Bond was not on assignment. M is suspicious and on edge, particularly with Max Denhigh AKA C (Andrew Scott), an official from the now merged MI5 and MI6, Joint Intelligence Service, breathing down the back of his neck. Bond writes the incident off as a coincidence: He was on holiday, happened to hear about the plot and managed to stop it, nothing else. Of course, that is far from the truth so M sends him to see Q (Ben Whishaw) as a follow-up. Q implants him with nanotechnology that monitors his vitals along with his location, insurance that M has asked for to keep track of Bond and make sure he is staying in line.
Final Spectre Trailer
Of course, the technology does not quite serve its purpose with Bond coercing Q into giving him 48 hours under the radar. Moneypenny (Naomie Harris) drops by to give him some things from Skyfall, but Bond doesn't accept them, instead telling her to meet later. At his flat, Moneypenny asks why he is acting so strangely, keenly aware that he lied about his so-called vacation in Mexico. Bond simply shows her a recording of the former M (Judi Dench) instructing him to kill Marco Sciarra and attend his funeral. Moneypenny agrees to help him on the sly. Ignoring the current M's indefinite grounding, Bond heads to Rome to uncover whatever Sciarra was involved in.
The beauty in Bond has always been the isolated nature of each film. None has felt like a sequel. They just happened to be the next in a long line of Bond movies. As such, it has mostly stood separate from other franchises, but Spectre makes a change with that. And that is perhaps its ultimate downfall. It attempts to play a "gotcha" game on both Bond and the audience narratively by messily tying the past few Bond films together to create some virtual puppeteer of a supervillain (Christoph Waltz), who ends up spending more time in a monologue than striking any sort of fear. The ploy lacks substance and makes for a poorly-paced plot that doesn't quite come together and peters out by the end.
The Bond Women of Spectre
Bond deserves better than this weak effort to create both action and emotion, and in more ways than one. Léa Seydoux, who plays the current love interest psychologist Dr. Madeleine Swann, doesn't quite connect with Daniel Craig, making their so-called love unbelievable. Monica Bellucci, as Sciarra's widow, has better chemistry with Craig and makes more of a mark on-screen than Seydoux, a disappointment considering the latter's talent and record. Even Bond's car and other tools are kind of lame.
Altogether, Spectre may have all the ingredients for success -- talented star and beautiful leading lady to pair, stunning locations, action-dense moments, dazzling special effects and more -- but it fails in execution. In the moments when Spectre works, it really and truly works, but sadly those are few and far between in its 2.5-hour run of mostly listless bobbing. Skyfall may have excelled at soul-searching, but it did not need to become a new formula. For Spectre, Bond needed a new assignment, not a sequel to his backstory.
Images courtesy of MGM.