SPECTRE: Craig’s Fourth Bond Is His Third Best
By Christopher Ortiz · November 8, 2015
“The dead are alive."
With these words begins SPECTRE, the 24th installment in the interminable 007 franchise. And true to its promise, the ghosts of Bond's past, present, and future loom like shadows over his latest adventure — from the opening sequence set amidst Mexico’s Day of the Dead, to forgotten foes, lost lovers and fallen mentors. Yet despite this, SPECTRE is decidedly less maudlin in its approach than the past couple of Bond films. In more ways than one it pays homage to the franchise's history, going as far back as From Russia With Love, all the while bringing the surprisingly rounded arc of Craig’s Bond to something of a satisfying close.
Unfortunately, SPECTRE fails to stand alone as a compelling Bond film due to a number of script weaknesses, including a convoluted attempt at interlacing the connective tissue between the previous few films. SKYFALL brought Craig’s Bond to a world in which the human assassin seemed obsolete. Javier Bardem’s wonderfully chilling Silva, a disgruntled former agent left to die by MI6, supported SKYFALL'S (and by extension SPECTRE’S) ideas about the declining value of a license to kill in the more transparent information age. Silva’s motivations were timely and meaningfully explored, and his frightening cyberterrorism and physical might proved him to be the most compelling Bond villain of the 21st century.
SPECTRE’s baddie Oberhauser, played by Christoph Waltz, isnt given as much to work with. He's less meancing as a result, and far less relevant. While his entrance is patient and unsettling, his later scenes don't exactly sync up with the ever-looming presence implied by his intro. Given his supposed personal history with Bond, Oberhauser, in theory, represents an opportunity to up the emotional stakes considerably. Instead, he's little more than a mustache-twirling baddie with unclear motivations, and a hatred of Bond that fails to resonate thematically. He's undeniably one-dimensional, and his dialogue delivers some of the film's clumsiest exposition. The writers don't meaningfully explore who Oberhauser is or what SPECTRE does and it leaves us unfulfilled. For a series full of expertly crafted villains (particularly in Craig's run), it’s a letdown that SPECTRE falls short in this category.
Despite this, SPECTRE is expertly crafted. Hoyte van Hoytema delivers brilliant photography that might just earn the franchise back-to-back Academy Award nominations. The opening sequence draws inspiration from Touch of Evil — it's a three minute steady-cam shot that weaves through madness of the Day of the Dead parade in Mexico as Bond stalks his prey. Such ambition and direction in those three minutes alone is inspirational and a level of filmmaking seen rarely in blockbuster cinema. Exotic locales have always been a staple of the Bond franchise, but SPECTRE'S artistic ambition proves that traditional filmmaking in this ever-evolving action-franchise is only getting better. The visuals are matched by SPECTRE’s haunting score. Admittedly bombastic at times, much of SPECTRE’s composition is eerie, particularly after Oberhauser's introduction about 45 minutes in. The score creates a palpable sense of dread, which goes a long way in selling the breadth of S.P.E.C.T.R.E's many tentacles.
The action sequences are exciting and suitably well-shot, but they lack the brutal punch of recent installments. SPECTRE is, without question, the most explosive of the Craig films, but this is undercut by the fact that Bond is more untouchable here than he was in SKYFALL, Quantum of Solace, and Casino Royale. It’s a jarring shift given that Craig's been tortured, killed, and ressurected in a tenure that has pushed Bond to his absolute limits. In SPECTRE, even when he has to crash a plane into a jeep or escape a well-guarded secret fortress, he too often emerges unscathed by way of a quick fix or convenient twist. For the most expensive Bond film to date, one would think the action would have the upped the ante for Bond, but unfortunately that isn't the case. The action sequences still thrill and dazzle, but they fall short of providing meaningful obstacles.
SPECTRE is a lush spectacle that attempts to close out the Craig-as-Bond saga with a combination of revelations and closure. It also attempts to say something new about the value of virtuous assassins in an increasingly transparent and accountable world. Unfortunately, it does not explore its timely subject matter enough to make it more than a companion piece – politically – to SKYFALL. Nor does its villain have enough to work with to make any sort of lasting impression. The ingredients of a fantastic Bond film are all here and the filmmaking is astounding, but it falls short of the thematic ambition of its predecessors. With some elbow grease in the screenplay department, this would have been one of the best Bond films ever made. Instead, it is a good but somewhat formulaic Bond film that leaves the character at a meaningful cross-roads. There's just enough left open for one final go, should Craig desire, but make no mistake: this is unequestionably the closest thing to an ending the franchise has ever seen.