Spectre, dir. Sam Mendes, scr. John Logan, Neal Purvis, Robert Wade, Jez Butterworth, st. Daniel Craig, Christoph Waltz, Léa Seydoux, Ben Wishaw, Naomie Harris, Monica Bellucci, Ralph Fiennes
It's not unfair to say that Daniel Craig's four outings as the eponymous Double-O agent have been nothing if a little uneven. Martin Campbell's 2006 Casino Royale (for my money, still the best in the franchise) introduced a grittier, blonder Bond - a welcome relief after Pierce Brosnan's joyless sojourn, while in 2008, Marc Forster gave us a ropey sequel in the unwieldly-titled Quantum Of Solace, complete with the super-misjudged, migraine-of-a-theme-song Another Way To Die. Theatre director Sam Mendes took on Skyfall in 2010 with a superb little narrative that dove into Bond's backstory, but this year's Spectre, the film he instinctively balked at making, brings Craig's stint once more crashing to the ground with all the fiery ferocity of an obliterated Ken Adams set.
It's not that Spectre is boring per-se, although at two-and-a-half hours it certainly tests the franchise's formula for succinct storytelling, but it's just that there's an awful lot of waiting around for something to happen that isn't illogical, misogynistic, kinetically hollow, or just plain unexciting. An early opening tracking shot set amidst the throng of a busy Mexican street celebrating the Día de Muertos establishes cinematographer Hoyte van Hoytema (who lensed Christopher Nolan's Interstellar last year) and his skill with a tightly choreographed camera, but this gives way to a tedious and strangely unimmersive back-of-a-helicopter punch-up that feels like an unnecessary and unsubtle nod to the past. If this is to be Craig's last, it's a funny kind of send-off. Unfortunately, Spectre is hell-bent on these kinds of call-backs; there's a villain, a shadowy criminal organisation (based in a suitably unsuitable and remote location), evil staff that hunch over computer terminals doing... stuff, a fluffy white cat, expository dialogue for the benefit of no one but the audience... it goes on. In one scene, Bond forces himself on the grieving widow of an assassin whose funeral they both attended literally hours before. Like with Skyfall's Séverine, whom Bond identifies as a former victim of child sexual-trafficking before sleeping with her, it's near-unpalatable. Granted, Bond's capacity to exploit those around him in order to facilitate his endgame has always been something that's made the character unsettlingly compelling, but without the context and benefit of an intelligently-authored scene, it just feels grubby.
As the plot lurches from locale to incoherent plot-point (Christoph Waltz's Oberhauser introduces himself as the author of all Bond's previous pain, but not how, or to what end) there's a rather painful realisation as to what Spectre actually is - a celebratory traipse down memory lane that does nothing to advance Bond's character and motivation that films like Casino Royale and Skyfall took such great pains to establish. Even his relationship with Seydoux's Madeleine Swann, ostensibly billed and forged as some great romance, has but a fraction of the chemistry of the kind between Bond and Vesper Lynd, and yet we are asked to place some kind of swooning faith in the couple come the film's end despite being granted nothing in the way of a plausible character arc between them.
At its best, Spectre is a stylish and handsome-looking film, at its worst, an ungainly, and embarrassingly reductive entry into the canon. What inherently makes Bond Bond is undoubtedly a fascinating question, and I refuse to believe that the character can't change with the times whilst retaining the essence of who he is. Hollywood is littered with fascinating anti-heroes after all. But on the evidence here, Bond deserves to take some much-earned extended leave and soul-searching, before inevitably returning in his new incarnation that evolves rather than devolves.