We get it, Mr. Craig, you’re done.
The prevailing sense throughout Spectre is the ghosts of the past tugging at the desire for closure, a desire to wrap things up nicely using the strands of disparate elements to conform to a whole. What ties things together isn’t an organically predetermined narrative structure, or even the many iterations of Ian Flemming’s character that have appeared on screen for decades. No, this Bond film is about this Bond, saying goodbye and putting into context, in sometimes clumsy ways, the Craig years.
As such, much of Spectre feels like denouement, as if much of what transpires is busy work. You see glimpses of the past – a dash of Casino Royale, a pinch of Quantum of Solace, a slice of Skyfall. It’s all, we’re told, leading up to this grand finale, we’re promised to finally unmask the darkness at the core of everything that James has gone through.
We’re promised catharsis, and we’re left unsatisfied. I wonder, sometimes, whether the Bond girls ever feel the same when he rushes out to his next conquest.
It behooves one to compare this Bond to one of its ill begotten children – like many of Broccoli’s productions over the years, the Fast and Furious films have been oftentimes completely ridiculous and forgettable, a series of gratuitous stunts with porno-levels of storytelling wrapped as some sort of sheath. Yet the last couple the screenwriters have taken the most tangential of connections and crafted this big, bloated, beautiful meta narrative, expanding something never meant to be expanded and finding, preposterously, grandeur.
The writers of Spectre try to pull the same trick, but they’re foiled, in part, that the materials they’re cobbling together are better standalone projects. Plus, we’ve got enough baggage to the Connery years in these films, the beautiful Aston Martin still managing to survive even if only one piece made it out from the hills in Scotland. The fact that it’s a steering wheel maybe an apt metaphor for how to resurrect the past with only a sense of direction, but I’m not quite sure they though that hard about it.
So we’re left here with a swan song of sorts for a particular phase in the Bond franchise. Sam Mendes’ direction is still fun to watch, and a bravado opening reel is the equal to anything that’s come before. It’s not Cuarón-levels of single shot madness, but it’s pretty damn close, and even if it’s showy and silly and obnoxious and resonant of Touch of Evil it’s still thrilling, and isn’t that all we really want from these flicks?
We go to Mexico, then Italy, then Switzerland, then some desert for dessert, but it all feels by the numbers, especially as we’re treated to another in an increasingly tedious turns by Christoph Waltz. His dance is getting tired, I fear, and from the electric intensity of Inglourious Basterds we’re now quickly devolving into mere caricature of what this performer can bring.
There’s a fancy car chase with fancy cars, but even that feels somewhat lackadaisical and by-the-motions. There’s no passion there, no real drive in the driving, feeling tacked on and superfluous.
So as a standalone work Spectre doesn’t work. But I admit I had fun watching much of it, simply enjoying Bond bonding, traipsing around and doing his thing. I also steadfastly believe that when we do watch these as a marathon, tying all the Craigy iterations together, we’ll have something a bit more synergistic indeed. It’s a capper, if not a particularly effective one, and tied together with its siblings I think it will nicely round off this period in the character’s history.
It’s a big, bold action movie that’s rivalled by many other big, bold action movies this year. It lacks much in the way of finesse or originality, and feels very much that the franchise needs to have a real interesting tack to once again revitalize itself. I’ve got full faith they’ll be able to pull this off – the character is malleable, the concept fine, and we need not once again merely echo the past in order to craft a new future for Bond. The ghosts laid out in Spectre are put to rest, and if the process isn’t quite as seamless as one would hope, there’s still a satisfaction of seeing the man shaking it up, if not quite stirring our hearts.
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