I make no secret of the fact that I am not, in general, a big fan of the direction the James Bond movies have taken with Daniel Craig playing the role. The movies have been largely well received by both critics and audiences, but they have left me cold. From Casino Royale on the movies abandoned the more fantastic elements of the series, attempting to be more serious and realistic in tone. That tone carried over to Craig’s portrayal of Bond as a conflicted, tormented killer. While it does make it feel more real, it is also less charming and no fun at all. Skyfall backtracked a little to the more traditional Bond set up, and Spectre brings back even more of those silly fantastic elements. Unfortunately, the tone sticks with the dour realism, making the fun stuff seem out of place and attempts to be serious look ridiculous. Despite some good moments and performances, the movie seems hacked together and inconsistent. No matter whether you prefer the recent vintage of Bond or a more classic flavor, Spectre is sure to leave you unsatisfied.
Spectre starts with Bond on a secret, at least from MI6, mission in Mexico where he tries to kill someone on the orders of the previous M and manages to cause an international incident while doing so, and by happenstance thwarting the bombing of a Mexican stadium. From there he is grounded by the new M. MI6 is again under scrutiny about their place in the modern world, with a young punk working to supplant them with a new intelligence gathering system. Meanwhile, Bond evades his watchers to follow a lead on a secret organization that both his target in Mexico and Silva, the villain from Skyfall, belonged to. In Italy, he finds this organization and it leads him on missions around the world trying to stop the villain.
The movie brings back even more classic Bond elements that were excised in Casino Royale. Bond ends up with a super car, a gadget watch, Q and Moneypenny and a great big villain lair. Despite this, Spectre remains as somber and charmless as the previous three movies. The two different elements, the serious and the ridiculous, could be forced to work together, but the movie makes no attempt to do so. It plays the ridiculous stuff with as much seriousness as it did with the relatively realistic Casino Royale stuff. Reading a description of Spectre makes it sound so fun, but the movie sucks all the fun out of the concepts.
Take the villain, who [spoilers, I guess] is Blofeld. Except, he is known as Franz Oberhauser for the bulk of the movie. He whispers the name Ernst Stavro Blofeld to Bond during the requiste torture scene, but that didn’t need to be a twist. That name means nothing to Bond, it only has meaning to the viewers. And for reasons that will never makes sense, he is also given a childhood connection to Bond, because the fact that he is a master villain that is trying to destroy society is not enough of a reason for Bond to hunt him down and the fact Bond is a superspy that keeps ruining his plans is not enough to give Blofeld a grudge. Instead, there had to be a personal connection, even though it adds nothing. The whole movie is like that, trying to make things serious and personal that are inherently ridiculous.
If they had stuck to the serious stuff, Spectre would likely have been another movie on the level of Casino Royale and Skyfall. Craig is a fine actor and does good work with what he is given. Lea Seydoux and the rest of the supporting cast are great as well. Only Waltz and Bautista seem to come from a more fun version of this movie. Like many of the different pieces that make up Spectre, they are fine on their own, but the just don’t fit together and little effort seems to have been put forth to make them fit.
In a summer that had spy movies like Mission Impossible 5 (the plot of which bears a striking resemblance to this movie’s) The Man from UNCLE and even the comedy Spy, Spectre seems half-baked and wholly unsatisfying. It does give this version of James Bond an ending that is fitting for a more serious take on the character. Hopefully next time Bond comes with another fresh take, because this one is getting pretty stale.