The Daniel Craig led James Bond movies have been a little brainier than past efforts. They've also been the best of the Bond films.
With Craig, the franchise has dared to let a little thing called genuine emotions into the mix. The series peaked with 2012's Skyfall, directed by Sam Mendes and featuring Javier Bardem as a classic Bond villain.
For the latest installment, Mendes returns, and this time out the action gets amped up. Spectre has some terrific set pieces, including a dizzying helicopter sequence to open things up and a nasty fight on a train. That's what's good about the movie.
What's bad? Actually, a good chunk of it is bad. After the full experience that was Skyfall, Spectre feels incomplete and shallow.
During a layover in Italy (this one hops around a confusing amount), Bond finds out a few hard truths about his origins, and discovers that much of the pain he's gone through in his last few chapters is attributable to one man. Christoph Waltz shows up (barely) as Oberhauser, a past acquaintance of Bond now leading a dark society called Spectre, responsible for terrorist attacks worldwide.
Of course, Bond will get a girl along the way. This time out it's Madeleine Swann, played by Lea Seydoux of Blue is the Warmest Color. Not only does she fall for Bond, she falls for Bond in a way that kind of makes her look like an idiot.
Throughout the film, there's a pervading feeling that Craig is getting a little tired of the Bond shtick. He just doesn't seem fully committed at this point.
Also—and this is a rather strange observation but I'm going to just put it out there—he looks totally gross when he's kissing women in this movie. I'm going to go ahead and call him the worst Bond kisser ever (Yes, worse than Roger Moore). He looks like he's out to eat somebody's face in this film, like they smeared the actresses' faces with peanut butter before calling "Action!" Seydoux probably had to check for her lower lip after takes.
Waltz is fun in his few scenes, but saying his villain is underdeveloped would be an understatement. He barely gets a chance to register in the movie. Ralph Fiennes returns as M, and his portion of the story, where Secret Intelligence Service is in danger of being shut down, is actually interesting. It's a bad thing when the subplot is more interesting than what Bond is actually doing.
At 148 minutes long, with a price tag in the $250 million range, you are looking at a major case of bloat with Spectre. For all of that money they had, couldn't' the art department come up with a better-looking staged photo of Bond's youth? This movie has one of those photos where young pictures of the actual actors are photo-shopped together to make it look like their characters coexisted in a past moment. The staged photo looks like somebody used scissors and Scotch tape.
No complaints about the action sequences. Dave Bautista shows up as a Spectre goon named Hinx, and he's the one who dukes it out with Bond on the train. He makes for a good Bond monster. The beginning sequence, in addition to the excellent helicopter sequence, includes a building collapse where Bond narrowly escapes being crushed. It's good stuff.
The emotional stuff is what drags the movie down. Yes, it was welcomed in Skyfall, but this film feels like it is trying too hard. There are certain things we don't need to know about James Bond and his past. The past the film paints is a completely unnecessary one.
Craig is contracted for one more picture, but something feels awfully final about Spectre. If he should return for another go, somebody behind the camera or typing the screenplay better find a way for Bond to have fun again, because Spectre is a drag.