Alongside Star Wars, James Bond was another major part of my childhood. While I grew up during Pierce Brosnan’s skint as Bond, Timothy Dalton has remained my favourite version of the iconic, British spy. Licence to Kill and The Living Daylights are the films that I still have fond memories of. Whether it’s The Pretender’s Where Has Everybody Gone? playing over Necros’ handiwork or a young Benecio Del Toro’s falling into machinery, these were films I watched constantly on TV. In regards to Daniel Craig’s turn as 007; it’s been a rather uneven road. Casino Royale is easily one of the best instalments in the entire franchise while Quantum of Solace is easily one of the worst. Meanwhile I personally felt that Skyfall, while critically and financially successful, was a rather average Bond film that certainly looked the part but failed to truly deliver. Yet even after a few rough patches and Spectre’s poorly conceived marketing months before its release, I was still relatively excited to see what returning director Sam Mendes would do.
However, it’s becoming increasingly clear that there’s a lack of originality within the franchise, and action-cinema in general. It seems that in the wake and success of the Bourne Series, Bond has unsurprisingly been quick to dispense with the light-hearted nature and far-fetched narratives for a more grounded-in-current-affairs approach. And while I agree that this was the direction it needed to take, I feel that in doing so the series is losing its unique charm and character. The last two films attempted to reinvigorate a stagnant formula with a more personal story involving the loss of Vesper Lynd and Judi Dench’s Judi Dench with varied success. Bond has become gritty, dark and emotionless, forgetting the quintessential charm that made the franchise and character so iconic and beloved.
Spectre has all the components of a engaging Bond film, but squanders its composition with poor writing and poor pacing. Hacking, double agents, secret organisations and government corruption sound good on paper, but the film fails to construct a coherent and engaging narrative from them. Extravagant locations, an Aston Martin with gadgets, and a serious henchman offer an sense of nostalgia towards the classic Bond films; On Her Majesty’s Secret Service and From Russia With Love. And while I respect the decision to return to a more traditional Bond, here it feels empty and too superficial. The inconsistent and questionable pacing of the film doesn’t alleviate these shortcomings, but further highlights them. The third act in particular is a scramble to simultaneously wrap up the film’s loose ends while intentionally dragging out the final confrontation, which should be impossible to do.
Daniel Craig has never struck me as “James Bond”. Cold, emotionless and increasingly monotonous, this is his forth outing and while 9 years have passed since Casino Royale, he still hasn’t distinguished this version of Bond. He’s a capable actor, but I feel that whether it’s down to the writing or Craig’s frustrated attitude towards the role, he’s left Bond unlikable and tiresome. Meanwhile Christoph Waltz who usually lights up the screen with his quirky energy and jovial delivery is bitterly disappointing as quintessential Bond villain, Blofeld. Lea Seydoux gives a strong first impression, only to revert to the stereotypical damsel-in-distress that her character ironically deplores. The talent is there, but the writing doesn’t allow it to flourish.
Spectre’s attempts to return to the traditional framework of the Bond series is more of a confused and lacklustre trip down memory lane than a true instalment in the franchise. It’s a shame that while director Sam Mendes, cinematographer Hoyte van Hoytema and production designer Dennis Gassner have created a visual striking film, everything else is left wilted and lifeless. From the writing to the mediocre performances, Spectre was a bitter disappointment and an unfortunate, missed opportunity.