Attempting to follow the greatest success in a fifty-three year old film franchise was always going to be a tough task. Spectre does have plenty to offer both James Bond fans and casual viewers alike, however, unfortunately a weak plot and confused tone prevent it from reaching the dizzying heights of its predecessor, Skyfall.
Daniel Craig’s latest Bond movie starts with a terrifically exciting five-minute long one-shot scene at Mexico’s Day of the Dead parade. The camera swoops over thousands in the precession, finally settles on a masked couple pushing through the crowd, and without seeing the man’s face, we follow them. A stunning sequence then follows, which really kicks Spectre off with a bang. Sadly, this is probably the high point of the plot, as it gradually descends into absurdity.
After a message from the previous M. (Judi Dench), Bond goes on a worldwide trail in search of secret criminal organisation that eventually leads him to the mysterious Oberhauser (Christoph Waltz). Meanwhile, the entire ‘00’ project is threatened in London by a new global security initiative, “Nine Eyes”. To paraphrase Young Mr Grace, it’s all done very well, but often feels like it’s trying too hard to top the franchise’s previous successes.
Perhaps influenced by the desire to better the critically acclaimed Skyfall, the film attempts to mix the modern realism of the Craig-era with the more traditional aspects of the Bond franchise. Scheming supervillains, extravagant secret lairs and elaborate death traps had been relatively forgotten about in the previous few films, but return with a vengeance in Spectre. The mixture had potential, but it is jarring to have a handily exploding watch in the film that follows one where such contrivances were written off, as “we don’t do that sort of thing anymore”.
Despite the production’s best intentions, Spectre falls apart in the final third. It lacks an intriguing twist to pull the audience through to the very end of the picture; after setting up two torture devices that both fail, the villain simply tells Bond his plan and Bond stops it from happening. The double agent working inside the British Government is so painfully obvious from the moment he first appears, I had hoped there would be some reversal of expectations, but there isn’t. The plot moves from set piece A to B without a coherent linking narrative or audience surprise.
Spectre is rather frustrating to review, as it is a very engaging film; it zips along at such a pace you hardly notice the rather excessive running time or the plot deficiencies until it is all over. It’s beautifully shot, exciting and highly dramatic, but the failure of the narrative to last across the whole movie means it isn’t a golden entry to the James Bond franchise. At least it’s not as bad as Quantum of Solace.