Growing up with every single Bond movie prior to the current Daniel Craig Era, accepting the new take on James Bond where he was basically thrown into Christopher Nolan’s Serious Filter took some time and a hell lot of getting used to. Personally, I thought that Daniel Craig had a rocky start with two Bond movies that felt like they were fucking ashamed to be labeled as James Bond movies and even if he made a great rebound with SKYFALL which is by far one of the best Bond movies in recent memory since GOLDENEYE, Daniel Craig’s Bond movies never really felt like a classic Bond Movie. Instead of having Agent 007 save the world from some evil world domination plot, courtesy of some mad motherfucker with too many nukes up his bootypipe, Bond was turned into some sort of Brooding Uber Serious Anti-Hero who’d reflect on every fucking thing he’d do. For all intents and purposes, Daniel Craig’s Bond felt like it took the whole Spy Movie thing way too fucking seriously, ignoring everything that made James Bond famous in the first place.
With that problem in mind, SPECTRE attempts to fix this continuity snarl by going back to roots with the James Bond story. Here, James Bond finally gets to face off against the nefarious shadow organization S.P.E.C.T.R.E after a nearly 40 year absence (they were last seen in DIAMONDS ARE FOREVER way back in 1971) in a conspiracy that threatens the security and privacy of the entire world. For a James Bond fan such as myself, that return to form sounded promising as fuck since this was meant to be the follow up to the Spy Epic that was SKYFALL but the final product was anything but grand. It was entertaining and it’s definitely miles better than the Bourne-copy called QUANTUM OF SOLACE but as the supposed conclusion to Daniel Craig’s run as Britain’s number one sleuth, it was more of a fart in the wind than a bang, which is a pity since the Craig Era is home to the best narrative seen in any Bond Actor’s time as the character (for one, it has a great sense of continuity and cohesion instead of being episodic adventures).
While, overall, SPECTRE is a good movie on its own, the main problem with it is that it never knew if it wanted to be a Pure Homage or a New Spy Movie since elements of those two types of Spy Movies kept clashing at every given second.
On one end, many of the elements that made the older James Bond movies memorable made a welcome comeback. From the humor to the action to the mere presence of the titular villainous organization, SPECTRE felt right at home with Sean Connery’s time as 007. Hell, the damn movie even opens with a sensual song number where the silhouettes of certain characters were humping romantically to the tune of Sam Smith’s new song while tentacles groped their bodies. Classic James Bond indeed.
Now on the other end of the spectrum, SPECTRE rightfully decided to modernize some elements of the Classic Bond Formula, such as turning S.P.E.C.T.R.E. into a pretty fucking intimidating shadow organization instead of the collection of ham it was back in the days of Connery and making the action more natural than cartoonish, with Bond relying more on his wits than fancy gadgets brought to him by Q. Okay, a plane chasing a car on its fucking wheels after losings its wings and pretty much half of its entire body may sound outlandish but it sure as shit beats the fuck out of Bond using an invisible car or fighting a near immortal dictator-wannabe who uses power armor in a hovercraft.
As mentioned earlier, the problem lies in the lack of balance between Tribute and Modernization. Retaining many of the older elements from previous Bond Movies, SPECTRE fails to update many of the tropes that made 007 look more like a sleaze than a smooth agent of MI6, as seen in the pretty useless cameo from Monica Belluci who just gets bonked by Bond for some intel and is never seen again. Conversely, in its desperation to prove that it’s a Bond Movie for the new generation, SPECTRE takes itself way too seriously and dedicates the entire middle act (roughly an hour) to nothing but the paper trails and bread crumbs Bond has to follow in order to locate the shadow organization with a cute octopus as its logo. Bond Movies DO need character development and that’s one thing Sam Mendes’ two Bond movies deliver in spades but it’s not so well executed in SPECTRE as it was in SKYFALL since, here, the same fucking thoughts are just repeated over and over again to emphasize that yes, Bond is a Brooding Motherfucker with a lot of baggage on his back. The themes of decay and the passing of the torch are nicely put, continuing what SKYFALL began to address, but it gets fucking tedious when Bond reflects on the fact that whoever’s calling the shots up there in S.P.E.C.T.R.E is somehow connected to him for nth fucking time. It’s a bloody miracle that despite the excessive brooding, Bond still has his signature sense of humor/sarcasm and he actually likes martinis (shaken, not stirred) this time around.
Speaking of S.P.E.C.T.R.E, while they looked damn foreboding in the few scenes they’re shown, they get shafted fucking badly right after they’re introduced. Sure they’re all evil and shit, controlling the world from behind the shadows for their own economic gain, not only are they not given enough screen time (Christoph Waltz is criminally used in only three fucking scenes, one of which where he’s obscured by too many shadows) but when the movie decides to make things personal between Ernst Stravo Blofeld (That’s not a spoiler because seriously? S.P.E.C.T.R.E. plus Bond equals Blofeld somewhere in the equation) and Bond and show what makes them tick, the motivations behind everything come out as shallow and stupid. The latest Bond Movie claims that everything since CASINO ROYALE was all Blofeld’s doing (including that short-lived stupid Quantum bullshit) but when Blofeld’s motivations are finally revealed, everything looks petty and childishly stupid. Long story short and spoiling a reveal that’s fucking stupid (I’m doing you a favor, dear reader), the only reason why S.P.E.C.T.R.E exists to terrorize the world from behind the scenes can be summed up as Daddy Issues. That’s right, the leader of the Cinematic Illuminati used the immensely powerful machinations at his disposal just because he had Daddy Issues.
Add in the fact that the writers just ripped the shit out of CAPT. AMERICA: THE WINTER SOLDIER’s take on Marvel’s very own shadow organization HYDRA and this rendition of James Bond’s ultimate nemesis comes out as lazy and bland. Granted, they’re still better than the Syndicate from MISSION IMPOSSIBLE: ROGUE NATION which was basically five beardy dudes led by a nerd but that isn’t saying much.
SPECTRE is well acted and well made, with its characters giving their best in all fronts but their prowess in acting is not enough to salvage the story from feeling like nothing more than a retread of a familiar tale. If you’ve seen 20 Bond Movies in your formative years, then you sure as shit saw SPECTRE at least twice. It does a fine job of building up on the themes that SKYFALL brought up while also neatly tying up all the Craig Bond Movies even if they felt disjointed before and it provides a decent enough ending to Daniel Craig’s era should he really opt to slash his wrists instead of playing Bond again but SKYFALL this is not. SPECTRE is a serviceable Bond Movie at best that feels way too nostalgic to be remembered in the long run. Just remove all the nods it makes to SKYFALL and previous Craig Movies and you won’t be faulted for not being able to distinguish SPECTRE from one of the older Roger Moore movies.