Daniel Craig’s Swann Song – a “Spectre” Review
I will readily admit that I have had a love-don’t care relationship with James Bond over the years. In my youth, it was Roger Moore in that role, and due to some dynamics in my social circle, I was disinterested in that franchise. It was not until I was in high school and Timothy Dalton had taken the reigns that I showed a glimmer of interest. Since then I have been somewhat hooked, with Skyfall being the only Bond film I have not seen of the ten that have been released since 1987.
As far as Daniel Craig specifically, my feeling has been “he’ll do”. I was neither elated nor dejected at his casting. These last four films, as I’ve understood, have been an attempt to get away from the overblown dependence on gadgets and bombastic action scenes that reached their pinnacle in Die Another Day. This effort panned out well in Casino Royale, not so much in Quantum of Solace, and back to good again in Skyfall. Can Sam Mendes, in a case of repeat directors on a Bond film, pull off another Skyfall two movies in a row?! WARNING. SPOILERS AHEAD.
The opening sequence of this film covers Bond in an assassination gone awry. The subsequent fight inside a helicopter sounds neat on paper. Bond then returns to London to debrief with M. Here he finds out that the double-Oh program is due to be stood down and gutted, and MI6 merged with MI5. On the trail of something that has not smelled right since as early as Casino Royale, Bond has no intentions of backing off and goes rogue.
My main issue with this movie is that all of the performances felt dialed in. There was not an ounce of chemistry that I could detect ever on the screen between any of the cast. Every interaction feels very benign. I’ve realized since walking out that not one of the characters ever raises their voice. Get that? In a 2.5 hour spy-action flock, not one character raises their voice and yells or screams. Even Christoph Walz’ character felt very subdued. There were so many missed opportunities for great performances here that it just feels like such a shame. While it was a neat addition to have Dave Bautista in the film, I’m unclear why he had no speaking lines after the great turn that he gave as Drax the Destroyer in Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy.
The Bond films have also always been earmarked by the ferocity of their violence and I felt this film was way short on intensity. The car chase between Bautista and Craig was incredibly benign. I don’t think more than one car was taken out by Craig, and even that car was parked. The car chase is essentially a bunch of quick turns over cobblestone, Bond hitting the henchman with flaming exhaust, and then escaping via the driver-side ejection seat. It is incredibly quiet, and more akin to a race from Forza Motorsport or Project Gotham Racing than a Bond car chase. Bond and Hinx (Dave Bautista) meet again in a big fight on a train. That fight is a bit more what I normally expect from a Bond film. It has a dissatisfying end, however, as Bond does not really defeat Hinx. It is more that Madeleine Swann (Lea Seydoux) shoots him, or at least at him, that turns the tide. Think something akin to Anne Hathaway finishing off Bane instead of Christian Bale.
I also realize that, with the entry of Craig in the role, the desire was to reset James Bond and allow him to not appear as skilled and worldly as the character has always been portrayed. But by the fourth movie, especially considering that it is Daniel Craig’s last, this Bond should be a bit brighter. I was taken out of my suspension of disbelief in the opening sequence’s helicopter fight. While I know Bond wanted his man, engaging in that fight which would most likely result in the helo crashing into the very large group of people gathered in the square did not feel like the right tone for Bond. And later when he chases down Hinx and some henchmen who have kidnapped Swann using a prop-driven airplane in a tree-covered area of the Swiss Alps (???), he acts surprised when he lands the plane to chase them on the ground and runs out of lateral room and his wings are snapped off. Now, the area he took the plane down into clearly narrowed; you could see that from the air. Are we actually supposed to believe that he did not know that the wings would be snapped off and that he would not have given that at least some cursory thought?
One positive I will mention is that I am so happy that Monica Bellucci finally made it into a Bond film. To me she has been an absolute no brainer to be cast in a Bond film. At 51 years of age and given Hollywood’s typical casting of women, it is a testament to this ageless wonder that she landed the role, albeit short, over younger competition.
THIS NEXT PARAGRAPH IS THE BIGGEST SPOILER ON THE PAGE
And while this movie was supposed to set up this major confrontation with Bond’s greatest enemy, even that tone falls flat. Waltz’ character (Oberhauser/Blofeld) did not make me truly hate him, in contrast to Sean Bean’s 006 in Goldeneye. And the decision to have this film be THE one that would drop a major reveal of Bond, that he was partially raised by Oberhauser/Blofeld’s father, was a major tanking for me. While I like to see most character mysteries resolved and not be interminable, Bond is an exception to that rule. Because he is ever-lasting, and just represents a series of adventures with no real essential chronology, turning 10% of the story into a linear progression is, again, jolting. I never want to know what happened to Bond’s parents or who they were, and I could have done without this contrivance as well.
Spectre is a disappointment, a huge one. While I never had high regard for Craig’s Bond, I regret that he is going out on such a low note. This particular installment of the franchise really makes me question the relevance of these movies in the 21st century. The series of books have been sufficiently honored by the twenty-six films that have been produced. I am not sure how much is gained by doing more. Dame Judy Dench just owned the role of M so much and the chemistry between she and Brosnan and even she and Craig…not sure that can ever be replicated. Cleese replacing Llewellyn as Q worked for two films, the new younger guy does not. The franchise seems to have fallen apart from all of the recasting. Unless they get someone particularly compelling in the seat for the starring role, I’ll likely sit out the next film. My recommendation? You can wait for this film to come to Amazon Prime or NetFlix. There are more interesting movies to see in the theaters right now. If you’re experiencing the November rainy season like I am, this film is, unfortunately, not worth getting soaked for.