Directed by Sam Mendes
Screenplay by John Logan, Neal Purvis, Robert Wade, Jez Butterworth
Director of Photography Hoyte van Hoytema
Starring Daniel Craig, Christoph Waltz, Léa Seydoux
When Sam Mendes’ Skyfall hit theatres in 2012 to almost unanimous critical acclaim and unprecedented box office success (over $1 billion at the worldwide box office, the new target for many Hollywood studios), the bar was clearly set for Spectre, the recently released 24th Bond film. While Spectre has a talented cast and excellently maps out individual sequences, the age-old Hollywood trope of favouring bigger at the expense of better is unfortunately in effect in Mendes’ second go at the Bond franchise. The film, unsure of how to balance many storylines, is ultimately too convoluted, long, and poorly edited to match up to its predecessor.
Matching its predecessor shouldn’t be a necessity, though, because the James Bond films are reliably standalone – for the most part, you can enter into the franchise at any film and fully understand what’s going on. In Spectre, Blofeld (Christoph Waltz), the film’s main antagonist, is revealed to be the mastermind behind the conflicts of the last three Bond films which lead to his and Bond’s eventual meeting. Any explanation for how this is sensible or possible is absent, though, and so too is any accompanying dramatic tension.
This is just the beginning of Spectre’s script issues, though. The story suffers from abrupt shifts in setting: in what one can assume is a response to Skyfall’s huge global success, Spectre flits between 5 countries, jumping from a useless scene in Tokyo to Mexico City to Tangier in order to distract from a glaringly incoherent plot. Bond must go here to interrogate an old enemy; then he must travel here to save someone’s daughter; and now he’s back in London. Only sporadically do these varying locations serve a purpose other than to introduce new characters.
When the script necessitates it, Mendes throws in an action scene in one of the film’s beautiful locations, with inconsistent results. A hand-to-hand combat scene between Bond and Hinx (Dave Bautista) is exceptionally crafted: Hoyte van Hoytema’s tight photography and the sharp-as-glass mix and sound design plant the audience in the midst of the drama. The opening scene introduces the film with an impressive unbroken shot in Mexico City on Day of the Dead to similarly exhilarating results. However, the film is equally loaded with action sequences that fall flat: one scene devoted to Bond landing and destroying a plane is hopeless and dull, with slight inconsistencies in spatial geography. There are many action scenes in Spectre, but the film’s convoluted script renders them, at times, purposeless. Bond’s love interest, Madeline Swann (Léa Seydoux) is kidnapped (twice) in a contrived attempt to further plot, not to create real tension.
The script also lets down the majority of the cast. Monica Bellucci (Irreversible) is all but wasted in a glorified cameo: she’s introduced, has sex with Bond, and exits. Léa Seydoux (Blue is the Warmest Colour) seems to have been the victim of a horrible cutting room floor joke whereby all of her character development was discarded: Swann resists Bond’s advances until she doesn’t, with few signs of actual evolution. Consequently, her final declaration of love for Bond cheapens the chemistry that has developed between them.
Unfortunately, the film’s most upsetting writing is centred around Blofeld. Waltz, a talented actor, is saddled with a hollow character with unclear motivations. Rather than giving Blofeld any meaningful traits of his own, John Logan and co. poorly relate the character’s backstory to Bond’s. This flaw, coupled with Blofeld’s little screen time, makes his and Bond’s eventual showdown feel unearned.
Is there a trend starting here? By overstuffing the film with too many characters, the writers leave little room for relationships to be organically developed. The script has too much going on – a secondary (or tertiary?) villain played by Andrew Scott (Sherlock) only warrants mention because of how slight an effect he has on Bond’s arc. Since the plot is so busy, very few emotional moments feel impactful. With better editing, superfluous storylines could have been cut down, making for a much more engaging and coherent film.
Will the frustratingly edited, often all-over-the-place Spectre end up hurting the James Bond franchise? It’s unlikely. It will be back in full-swing with Bond 25, a fresh director and quite possibly a new Bond, but whether future Bond films will cater to the same old clichés remains to be seen.