The Lackluster “Spectre” (2015) Lacks a Punch


6.5/10

Spectre_poster

The lesson to be learned from “Spectre” (2015), the first James Bond movie since the stellar “Skyfall” (2012), is that just bringing back the star (Daniel Craig), the director (Sam Mendes) and the screenwriters (John Logan, Neal Purvis and Robert Wade) from a critically-acclaimed, commercially-successful predecessor is no guarantee that the magic can strike again.

The Bond franchise tried something similar once before with “The Spy Who Loved Me” (1977) and the dud “Moonraker” (1979).  In fairness, “Spectre” is no “Moonraker,” but it certainly fails to meet the high standards filmmakers set for it when they chose to revise the classic villainous organization from the 1960s and name the film after it.

“Spectre” opens with a bang in Mexico City, where James Bond has gone to take out several terrorists, including Marco Sciarra (Alessandro Cremona) whom Bond kills after a thrilling sequence involving a helicopter flying over a crowd of people during the Day of the Dead festivities.  It’s later revealed that Bond was not on an official assignment but rather was following the posthumous orders of predecessor M (Judi Dench).  Ignoring orders from current M (Ralph Fiennes), Bond follows up on the lead from Sciarra with the help of Eve Moneypenny (Naomie Harris), the assistant to M, and Q (Ben Whishaw), the quartermaster.  These three interesting characters played by talented actors don’t get nearly enough screen time.

Instead, the film introduces the criminal orgaizanization Spectre, which Bond later learns is headed by a man named Franz Oberhausen (Christoph Waltz) who has renamed himself Ernst Stavro Blofeld.  Bond also learns from Moneypenny that one of the man involved with Spectre is Mr. White (Jesper Christensen), a familiar face from “Casino Royale” (2006) and “Quantum of Solace” (2008).  Mr. White, who is facing certain death at the hands of Spectre, asks Bond to protect his daughter Dr. Madeleine Swann (Léa Seydoux) in exchange for information.  Bond agrees and goes to Austria to find her, but she is unwilling to get involved with anything related to her father.  Only after she’s kidnapped by Spectre and Bond rescues her does she help Bond track down Spectre to a clandestine location in Morocco.

It takes a while for the film to get to this point, and the biggest problem with “Spectre” is that for all the waiting, there is little payoff.  When Bond finally faces Blofeld, he learns that Blofeld’s plot is to gain access to surveillance and intelligence information gathered from the coordination among nine major world players.  Such a villainous scheme may be a reflection of Bond entering the 21st century, but it’s hard to get overly excited about techies typing away in a server room in the middle of an African desert.  At 148 minutes, “Spectre” is the longest film in the franchise, yet it has the least menacing scheme by the villain since the underwhelming “For Your Eyes Only” (1981).

Perhaps realizing that the story involving Blofeld lacks a punch, screenwriters try to add depth to the Bond and Blofeld characters, without much success.  To be sure, the better Bond films of the past had a personal element, but in “Spectre,” the effort seems like a desperate attempt to infuse excitement into an otherwise uneventful plotline.  Worse, the personal history between Bond and Blofeld that screenwriters come up with are likely to border on the sacrilegious for the fans of the films from the 1960s.

With so little in the screenplay, “Spectre” is left mostly for Daniel Craig to carry.  In that, Craig is a pleasant surprise.  It probably helps that this film is his fourth outing, for he finally seems to have found the comfort zone in defining his own version of James Bond.  He may not have the suaveness of Sean Connery or the playfulness of Roger Moore, but in “Spectre,” he finally pulls off the James Bond with an edge in a way that wasn’t as compelling in his earlier outings.

Craig can only do so much, though.  The film loses significant amount of steam the further it gets going, partly because Christoph Waltz’ depiction of Blofeld comes off as twisted but not imposing.  The result is that the scenes of confrontation between Bond and Blofeld, of which there are several, are all rather anticlimactic.

Director Sam Mendez shares the blame for the insipid final product.  Bond hops from Rome to Austria, then to Morocco and back to London in an attempt to foil Blofeld’s scheme, but there is little suspense in-between.  By the time the action ratchets up a few notches in the climax, it’s hard not to feel that this movie has given the audience far too little excitement for far too long.

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