Sam Mendes made a great Bond film with writers John Logan, Neal Purvis, and Robert Wade in “Skyfall” because they embraced a tricky opposition between the past and the future. Could the unabashedly old-fashioned spy James Bond survive in a more gritty, grey world without sacrificing his core identity? They found that the answer was yes by striking a balance between these two forces vying for the soul of 007.
The band gets back together for “Spectre” (plus an additional writer in Jez Butterworth, architect of many a frustrating script in the past two years) and finds themselves preoccupied by the same kind of debate. This time, instead of the fear of age leading to obsolescence, the anxiety stems from post-Snowden malaise.
When a government has the ability to do its dirty work with drones and collect information on all its citizens through their devices, who needs human intelligence likes James Bond? This question is being seriously debated outside the world of the movie, and kudos to “Spectre” for not ignoring the elephant in the room. But the way Mendes and the writers choose to resolve the tension feels rather disappointing.
They use this threat as an excuse to retreat to some of the most outdated aspects of the character. Womanizing abounds as Bond pity romances a grieving widow to extract a key plot point. And Bond’s reward for neutralizing a key opponent? The “Bond girl,” Lea Seydoux’s Madeleine Swann, immediately feels the need to let him take her to bed. Simply put, there is a way to let James Bond be the ultimate man that does not require denying women agency. “Spectre” does not care to find that way as “Casino Royale” did, justifying lazy misogyny because of a rather facile challenge to Bond’s relevancy.
Sleek cars and glamorous destinations abound like any classic Bond film, although none of it seems to excite Daniel Craig. He appears bored in the role, akin to Bradley Cooper in the last “Hangover” or Shia LaBeouf in the final “Transformers” film. Not to mention, the wrinkles are starting to show for the 47-year-old actor. Age, presented as a major theme in “Skyfall,” is no longer a central concern in “Spectre” – though its effects are frequently felt in Craig’s fraying commitment to the role. He’s good enough, however, that his autopilot still manages to entertain just fine.
Christoph Waltz, similarly to Craig, fails to inspire as he does yet another half-baked knockoff of Hans Landa. (Is anyone else tired of this yet?) “Spectre” somehow expects us to believe that his Blofeld somehow masterminded the prior three Bond films, pulling the strings quietly to cause mayhem like some kind of Marvel villain. Blofeld’s menace really only threatens Bond himself, which makes his touch of evil all too easy to brush off as a viewer. B- /