What makes a Bond movie a "BOND MOVIE?"
For many people, that's a personal question. It depends on when you saw your first film in the series (Spectre is the 24th official entry into the series - Hollywood's longest and oldest film franchise), or which actor played 007. It depends on your taste:
- Do you like Bond bad-ass and brutal or witty and winking?
- What do you want out of your villains - megalomania or revenge?
- How do you take your henchmen?
- Are you pro-gadget or anti-gadget?
All of these questions are a matter of taste and all will influence how you respond to Sam Mendes' latest, longest, and seriously action-packed entry into the granddaddy of all film series. For most people, there are some essential elements to a "classic" Bond film and Spectre boasts them all: amazing action set pieces, great villains, beautiful women, gadgets, martinis ordered 'shaken, not stirred,' tuxedos, and incredible locations from around the globe. Rest assured, those interested in seeing James Bond travel the world, fight bad guys, and get the girl - you're in for a treat.
For long-time fans, Spectre contains a number of references to classic Bond films without being too on-the-nose about it. A cold-open helicopter scene evokes For Your Eyes Only, a parade in Mexico City on Dia De Los Muertos hearkens back to Live and Let Die. Bond has a knock-down, drag-out fight on a beautiful, old train a la From Russia With Love and even wears the same tuxedo he sported in Goldfinger. I am sure there are several allusions to classic Bond films that I missed and will pick up upon repeated viewings. All of this is candy for Bond fans.
Unfortunately, what Spectre also has is some of the Daniel Craig-era baggage: endless talk about the state of global intelligence gathering, a subplot requiring MI-6 to prove the value of the double-O program (didn't we JUST do that in Skyfall?!), Bond "going rogue" (Craig has done it in four out four films), and a need for unnecessary plot twists and networked relationships. In trying to force Craig's outings into a shared "cinematic universe" like the Marvel films, the producers have backed themselves into a corner. Bond cannot simply have an adventure, he cannot simply save the day or defeat a threat - it all needs to mean something. It all needs to be interwoven. And Spectre is a bit weaker for it.
While boasting some of the best action set pieces I have ever seen in a Bond film, the movie feels forced at times. Mendes stretches the film out. Don't misunderstand me - there are long, slow, quiet stretches - and they work. Mendes allows the film to take a stately pace, and I loved those scenes. The absolutely gorgeous cinematography of Hoyte Van Hoytema (Interstellar, Her) takes your breath away during these scenes and gives Spectre the title of best-looking Bond film, for sure. The scenes where Mendes loses things is in the forced web of connecting not only Craig's previous films together but in binding them to the broader and five-decades-long franchise history. These efforts only make the film feel long, forced, and a bit Hollywood-by-the-numbers. I wish Mendes and company had been more brutal in their editing and left some of these allusions to the audience's imagination.
I am one of those people who will be debating the merits and follies of Spectre for years to come, so allow me to close with this: dollar-for-dollar, pound-for-pound, Spectre positions itself in the top echelon of the Bond film series. While not at the top of the list, it is a more-than-solid outing in a long lineup of impressive action films.
- Craig - he still kicks ass and has allowed Bond to find a slightly more playful tone. He's not all doom and gloom like Quantum of Solace
- The villains - Christoph Waltz adds another charming sociopath to his resume and Dave Bautista's Mr. Hinx offers memorable menace.
- The visuals - this is a beautiful picture from start to finish.
- The theme song - this one is a clunker (though still world's better than Die Another Day and Quantum of Solace - two nearly unforgivable errors)
- The MI-6 subplot - just not necessary
- The third act plot reveals and early-era Bond-baddie hijinx.
- For newer entrants into the Bond franchise, or Craig-era-only fans: B-
- For lifelong devotees: A-
Also: Look for a new Spoiler Alert Podcast episode on Spectre featuring mega-Bond fan Danny Pavlovich coming soon!