There are plenty of decent bond films. There’s something charming about the goofy absurdity of the older flicks. Even when Austin Powers satirized the genre, it did so with a clear love for the Bond franchise. Sadly, Spectre is a bland and disappointing entry in the series.
The first half of the movie was enjoyable, beginning with a great opening sequence. Despite an unfathomably dull credit song that will have the McCartney’s rolling in their near-future graves, there was a solid buildup of expectation with a smattering of action. The problem set in by the hour and a half mark, when you found yourself wondering when it was going to finally pay off. Spoiler alert: it didn’t. There were several points in the third act that felt like they could have been an anti-climatic ending. When the credits rolled, the whole thing felt like a giant tease.
When Bond movies work, they work for a reason. He’s an impossibly cool guy who knows all the right moves. At their core, the films are simple wish fulfillment. We all secretly want to be suave and quick witted enough to murder-pun bad guys. That’s why Bond generally has no family history or personal life. Seeing 007 playing with model trains or go shopping for toilet paper breaks the illusion and reminds you that he’s human. Sure, neither of those things happened, but they might as well have. Hearing about Bond’s childhood ruins the blank slate he’s meant to be by the simple fact of reminding you that he was once a kid. Did a film executive wake up in a cold sweat one night and suddenly realize that one of the world’s most popular fictional characters never had an humanising backstory for the last fifty years? It’s so unnecessary. I could not give less of a shit about who Bond’s parents were or what happened to them.
Simplicity works well. If you have complexity in a movie, it better have a damn good reason for being there. The old “bad guy was expecting you, come in” trope was seriously used twice. I’m sick of being baffled by the motivations and goals of villains. If you wanted the spy to enter your evil lair all along, why did you try to kill him with expendable minions? You’re just giving him XP to level up with, you fool!
Movies like this live and die by their villains. If the protagonist is an empty vessel upon which we project ourselves, the bad guy has to be a symbol of something we can all collectively agree to hate. In this case, it was meant to be a vague fear of surveillance. Christoph Waltz seemed to be coasting on the amazing job he did as the antagonist in Inglorious Basterds, but that villain only worked with a great script behind him. We never really were given a reason to fear or hate him beyond his personal vendetta against Bond, and ultimately his character came off pathetic and ineffective rather than sinister and powerful.
Then, on top of that, the gender politics. Have you ever wondered why we will never see a Jane Bond? No? That’s because 007 is a symbol of raw machismo seething under a calm, socially acceptable exterior. In a sense, he’s the ultimate male predator. So it’s kind of unsettling to see such a regressive archetype inhabiting a modern world. There’s an actual exchange where Bond’s love interest enters in a beautiful evening gown, and tells him that he shouldn’t stare. His response? “You shouldn’t wear that.” If you don’t see anything messed up about that, perhaps you might want to have a read of the wiki on the male gaze. Don’t ask me, ask the lead actor. The main female character is a confused one; despite a few scenes where we see her being somewhat of a badass, she spends the rest of the movie being a classic damsel in distress. Still, some stuff she said to our hero sways an important decision later on, so she does have some impact on the plot beyond being a desirable object. Also, did I imagine it, or was there a scene where Bond lynches a black guy? Perhaps every movie should just have someone on set who isn’t a white dude, whose entire job is to cough or stroke their chin when something a bit messed up is about to be filmed.
Spectre has a lot of style and little substance. There were some decent action sequences, but far too sparse for a 148 minute runtime. Expectations are always calibrated low for these kind of films; they are meant to be trashy, mindless fun. You don’t go see a Bond flick for nuanced geo-political drama – you go for that unique blend of style and action. This felt like it was trying to be something more. Maybe there is a 007 film out there waiting to be made that’s thought-provoking and serious. If you’re going to try for that, do it properly. Otherwise, stick to the formula that works. There just wasn’t enough meat in my silly action sandwich. Save your money and go rewatch Goldeneye instead.