I didn’t come in with high expectations for this film, which might be an odd thing to say considering that I really enjoyed Skyfall. You know Skyfall is a good film when it turns into the plot of Home Alone by the second half and still successfully maintains a serious tone. Even with such high regard for the prior film however, the exploitative nature of contemporary Hollywood has made me forever skeptical and even cynical towards the products of the industry (Perhaps having perpetually low expectations is a good thing, if hype culture is anything to go by). Despite my minimal expectations, I still managed to leave the theater in disappointment thanks to a questionable script and an incredible amount of nostalgia-driven pandering that leaves the film lacking in identity.
The film starts out decently enough, using the Day of the Dead parade in Mexico City as a unique and gorgeous set piece, with music that is arguably at its best in the film; combining mariachi with the classic James Bond theme to great effect. The beautiful environment cannot save the ensuing action scenes however, especially the fight in the helicopter that is simultaneously underwhelming and too over-the-top. After accomplishing his goals, Bond takes control of the helicopter and flies away, marking the end of the best part of the movie and the exact point the film takes a nosedive into mediocrity; that exact point being the title sequence.
As outlandish and nonsensical as Skyfall’s title sequence was, it still worked thanks to an effective transition (a continuation of James Bond falling into the river below after getting shot), music that evoked a feeling of reminiscence over a life gone by, and distorted, confused imagery of death in which James Bond tries to make sense of prior life events in his “final moments” as he slowly descends to the bottom of the river. In Spectre however, the ridiculousness is taken to a whole new level, with a naked James Bond staring stoically into the screen while two naked women caress him. The entire sequence is comprised primarily of naked women posing while CGI octopus tentacles wrap around their breasts, with a horrendous song that tonally does not fit at all. Also everything (including James Bond) is on fire, for some reason. The title sequence’s presence in the movie is a completely pointless affair that lacks any sense of thematic significance and boils down to pure, cringe-worthy hero worship. Even worse, the film chooses to worship a different era of Bond.
In hindsight, I should have seen the very beginning of the film as an indication of the direction the film was trying to take, starting off with the iconic Gun Barrel Sequence that is virtually identical to those found in the classic Bond films. Indeed, all of the elements synonymous with the James Bond franchise-from the womanizing to the cartoonish villains – have been shoehorned in with destructive results. In the film, there are two Bond girls, although the first one has an appearance so brief that she could hardly be considered a character. In order to get information from the first woman, played by Monica Belluci, Bond forces himself onto her and initiates bizarre foreplay until she gives in. Her inclusion is completely pointless and is merely a vehicle for Bond’s power of seduction, nothing more than a check on the block to satisfy the arbitrary qualities synonymous with the James Bond character. The second Bond girl, Madeleine Swann, is the “one true love” for Bond, or at least that is how the movie wants to portray the romance. From the instant they are together on-screen, there is a lack of chemistry between the two actors, and no amount of well-written dialogue (which this film sorely lacks) could make the romance believable or even plausible. Worse still, Madeleine is such a dull personality with very little purpose other than to constantly question Bond’s violent actions in the most cliche way possible.
Like the pre-Daniel Craig films of yesteryear, a secondary villain (or special henchmen) is included for Bond to encounter multiple times, with wrestler David Bautista playing the role of Mr. Hinx. Mr. Hinx, a SPECTRE assassin, combines the silent killer aesthetic of Oddjob with the gimmicky character trait of Jaws, but instead of metal teeth, Mr. Hinx has metal… Thumbnails. As absurd as the character is in this post-Casino Royale setting, it’s even more damning how painfully boring and uninspired Mr. Hinx is, signaling the pitiful lows the writers and director have taken to exploit the audience’s nostalgia towards the older films. Similar sentiments apply to the main antagonist played by Christoph Waltz, whose appearance (or major lack thereof) leaves a lot to be desired. While the antagonist of Skyfall, Silva, was by no means free of cartoonish character qualities, the sheer pompousness of Christoph Waltz’s character makes Silva look like the epitome of “realistic” villainy. As leader of the organization SPECTRE, the antagonist has a hand in every shady business known to man (Human trafficking, drug trades, etc), and it’s almost laughable how thoroughly evil the organization is. Everything about this villain and his actions in the film could be lifted straight out of a Sean Connery Bond film. Even more laughable are the supposed “revelations” behind the antagonist. Whenever the story introduces new information to the audience relating to the villain, it expects the audience to somehow have prior knowledge of everything. The dismissive narrative in combination with incredibly coincidental and petty revelations resulted in a villain that I didn’t care for whatsoever.
Of course, the most important element to any film of the franchise is James Bond himself, and it is unfortunate that the lead star, Daniel Craig, is the outlier to the rest of the film. This conflict in tone isn’t the fault of Daniel Craig, but rather the script. Daniel Craig is very vocal about his distaste for the role, and honestly I don’t blame him, because his appearance is the antithesis of the classic Bond formula. Rather than being a suave charmer, Daniel Craig’s version of Bond looks like he seduces women by punching them in the face repeatedly, making every love-making scene really awkward. Daniel Craig’s rendition of Bond was at its best in the realistic Casino Royale, because he wasn’t the Sean Connery that this film so desperately wants him to be. In Spectre, the outlandish aspects awkwardly stand out because of Daniel Craig’s presence. Almost every action sequence is so over-the-top in contrast to the serious stoicism of Bond, that every punch and every gunshot lacks the appropriate sense of weight. To put it bluntly, the film was boring, and even the protagonist looked bored. The actions scenes were unexciting, and the down time in between the action only highlighted how unremarkable everything besides the cinematography was, from the dialogue to the music, which oddly felt disconnected from what was occurring on scene thanks to a soundtrack that tries to cram in as many musical references from the older films as possible.
Old versus new was a conflict that played a role both in the film and the film’s development. The 00 program could unintentionally be analogous for director Sam Mendez, so desperately trying to cling on to the past, and catering to expectations of a completely different era. Looking at this film as a whole, it is impossible not to see where Hollywood’s marketing obsession with nostalgia intervened, forcing the Classic Bond formula onto an incompatible script and lead actor in order to attract a greater audience and wring out as much sentimental appeal as possible. It’s a shame really, as the film is nothing more than a soulless product and a slave to the franchise’s history.