Critic’s Corner: “Spectre” Falls Short

“Skyfall” was a game-changer for the James Bond universe. It featured the death of a major recurring character who, for spoiler’s-sake, will remain nameless. One would expect that “Spectre,” the latest Bond flick, would spend a lot of time delving into the emotional workings of the film’s characters. Unfortunately, such emotional elements go majorly unexplored in the newest Bond installment and thus the film reverts back to the series’ formulaic roots—though that doesn’t mean it isn’t one helluva ride from start to finish.

The end of “Skyfall” sent waves throughout the Bond universe—as it would in any series where a significant character has died—but its effects are hardly felt in “Spectre.” The death should have had a monumental impact, not only on James, but on the series in general. Yet aside from the mesmerizing opening credits featuring the song “Writing’s on the Wall,” by Sam Smith, that includes the faces of the dead from the previous three movies, “Spectre” pays very little attention to what should have been an important moment for the entire Bond universe.

The interesting thing that separates Daniel Craig’s Bond from previous interpretations is his humanity. He isn’t just a brilliant spy—he’s a human being who must deal with both the physical and emotional ramifications of his job. Most of the character’s emotional baggage has been carried from one film to the next since the release of “Casino Royale,” but “Spectre” just doesn’t come off as heavy as it needs to at this point in the series. It is meant to be a sort of grand finale that gives audiences a chance to say goodbye to Craig’s 007 in which multiple plot threads are connected, explained and tied off—but the film fails to capture the sense of closure one would expect from such a cinematic event. Craig brings the same sophisticated, pained man back, but more emphasis on his emotions and immense losses could have brought to light a whole new side of his character.

This time around, both new and familiar faces join Craig on screen. The supporting cast includes the likes of Ralph Fiennes, Ben Whishaw, Leá Seydoux and Naomie Harris, all of whom provide
admirable performances.

Seydoux, a remarkable young French actress, makes a solid Bond girl (if we’re still calling them that). She is a smart, fully capable woman who can hold her own against the typically chauvinistic Bond character. Plus, she has a back-story of her own that allows for a more formed character than Bond girls of the past. She isn’t just a sex-idol, but neither is she a full blown hero like Imperator Furiosa from “Mad Max: Fury Road”—perhaps this is something that will change with time.

What the film lacks in character-building and story, it makes up for with some great action sequences. For as weak as the actual narrative is, the technical and crafting sides of the movie are excellent. From its exquisite, long opening-shot, to its multiple locales, car-chases and gunfights, the movie never remains static—something interesting is always happening on camera.

“Spectre” alludes to numerous James Bond movies and not just the Craig ones, so it is rewarding for long-time fans of the series. However, it also recalls the formula that most James Bonds—excluding “Skyfall”—have stuck to. All of the familiar moments are there—the Bond girl romance, the car chase, the torture scene, the return of the henchman after they were presumed dead, etc. While they are all fun and exciting moments, it’s about time to have a radical shift in the formula.

Villains are tricky to pull off in just about any film. In some cases they make the movie, but sometimes they are just cookie-cutter baddies with the same old plans for world domination. This is not an issue in “Spectre.”

When Christoph Waltz gets cast as a villain, something special always happens and in “Spectre’s” case, he is exactly what the film needs. He may not be present for most of the film, but when he is, all eyes gravitate towards him. His henchman, Hinx (Dave Bautista), also brings a powerful presence to the screen, but his time is also cut short (though the film suggests that audiences haven’t seen the last of him).

“Spectre” is a mixed-bag. On the one hand, it is a solid, fun and engaging action flick. But, on the other, given that the film follows “Skyfall,” it leaves one expecting something a little more in the way of character growth, emotional resonance and a heavier tone.“Spectre” isn’t a bad movie—not in the slightest—but it definitely could have been something more than a carbon-copy of Bonds past.

Scott may be reached at sjohnson@su-spectator.com

Scott Johnson is a senior Film Studies and Journalism double major. You can follow him on Twitter @scott7893 and find more of his reviews at RagingFilm.com


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