I treated myself to a double-feature at the cinema this weekend. On Sunday, I finally got out to see The Martian, which I've been wanting to see for a whole month. But on Saturday, I also went to see a newer release: the latest 007 James Bond film Spectre. Casino Royale still stands proud and tall as my favorite Bond film. Spectre did little to change that. The movie is entertaining, but its attempts to retroactively tie together the previous Daniel Craig films felt very forced and unnatural. Christopher Waltz worked fine as a re-imagined Blofeld, but the ham-fisted half-brother back story seemed silly and unnecessary. I was tolerant of the Bond backstory from Skyfall (which I very much enjoyed), but Spectre goes a bit too far.
I admit that I found the first half of the movie a bit hard to follow. I didn't think to re-watch the other Bond movies prior to going into this one, so when names and references from the past movies start getting dropped left and right, I had trouble remembering who was who, what was what, and why I should care. Was the guy in the white suit in Mexico a recurring character? How did old M know about him, and why did she think Bond should bother attending his funeral? Heck, I wasn't even sure it was his funeral, as I half thought it was supposed to be M's funeral. Who were the Spectre leaders trying to replace? Was it the guy killed at the beginning of the film, or somebody from one of the previous movies? Who was Mr. White, again, and why does Bond meet up with him? I'm almost ashamed to admit that I had so much trouble following this movie's script. The first half just moves so fast, glances over certain important details, and pushes forward.
Spectre is basically just another version of Quantum of Solace, with a similar "Bond gone rogue for revenge" kind of set-up. The writers just replaced Quantum with the original Spectre, and made Spectre a parent organization of Quantum. The film's attempts to tie the villains of all the previous films to this single Spectre organization just completely fell flat for me, and in hindsight Quantum of Solace might even have been a better movie (but don't quote me on that until I've had a chance to re-watch it).
Spectre plays up many references to old Bond films and their primary antagonist.
The highlights of this film were probably the encounters with Mr. Hinx (Blofeld's henchman played by Dave Bautista). In a movie that leaned very heavily on the classic Bond films, Mr. Hinx worked very well as an amalgam of classic Bond villains Jaws and Oddball. All the action in the movie was surprisingly reserved (with the exception of the barrel-rolling helicopter in the opening), but they were surprisingly tense. This was due, in part, to Bautista's imposing size and sheer physicality. There was a real sense of futility in Bond's struggles against him, and the need to be more clever than his bigger, stronger foe. Sadly, Bond's final trick to defeat Hinx was easy to see coming from a mile away, but the ride was nice at least.
After Hinx leaves the film, things start to fall apart again. Waltz does a fine job as a rebooted Ernst Blofeld, but the writing completely betrays the actor's capabilities. Perhaps the writers spent all their time doing an excellent job of writing in plenty of references and homages to the old Bond films. The octopus-insignia ring. The ski-lodge repurposed as a medical clinic. The shadowy figure in a secret meeting. Mr. Hinx's resemblance to both Jaws and Oddball. The white cat. The scar. The list goes on. Waltz's ",No Mr. Bond, I thought you came here to die" was a perfectly serviceable re-imaging of the classic "No, Mr. Bond, I expect you to die" line from classic Blofeld. It was all clearly catering to a sense of nostalgia, but I thought it all worked.
Dave Bautista's Mr. Hinx is an excellent amalgam of the classic Bond villains Jaws and Oddball.
Waltz's line delivery was great. But the script was just bad. His plot doesn't come off as particularly devious, his forced relation to Bond felt completely unnecessary, and his attempts to drill into Bond's skull were pointless. Honestly, what was the point of that whole scene? He's supposed to drill into Bond's brains to disrupt Bond's balance and ability to recognize faces, but neither of these has any effect! Bond breaks free, and shows no impairment as he swoops his female sidekick away and effortlessly dispatches over a dozen guards on his way out of Blofeld's installation.
Then things kick up a bit for a stellar final act, only to fall back down again with an awkward final scene. This movie was just all over the place. Skyfall wasn't a masterpiece, but it at least flowed much more smoothly than Spectre. And Quantum of Solace may have had an unsatisfying conclusion, but at least it had some gravitas. Spectre is just clumsy and mediocre all the way through. I've loved Daniel Craig's James Bond, and I wish that Skyfall had been his final sendoff rather than this jumble of loose plot threads.