The James Bond series was never a favourite of mine. Being far from an expert on the franchise, it was even apparent even to me that Spectre, the twenty-fourth film in series, was just borrowing from previous films in the series. I am unsure if Mendes was attempting to pay homage to the previous films in the series, but it comes across as purely imitative filmmaking. Spectre, while periodically engaging, lacks the fluency that has made the best Bond films work so well. Unfortunately, most of Mendes’ best material is wasted in the first act. In fact, the most impressive scene in the entire film is the tracking shot that opens the film. The opening tracking shot is not just some simple tracking shot. It is one of the most impressively photographed sequences in all of cinema so far this year. Taking over after Roger Deakins is no easy task. Hoyte van Hoytema, Spectre’s director of photography steps up to the plate and knocks everything that Deakins shot in Skyfall right out of the park in the opening shot. The camera weaves in and out of building in such an astonishingly smooth fashion as Craig tracks his prey in a crowd of over 3,000 extras.
No one ever remembers a Bond film for its narrative. Whenever a new one is released, all that is talked about is the elaborate set pieces, the theme song, the cars, etc. In short, Bond films are noted for their glamour, which is why the narrative is never that much of a big deal in any of the films. The plot is just there to allow for whoever is directing the latest instalment to showcase the trademark elements into a relatively straightforward three-act narrative. In Spectre, it is clear that Mendes is not focused on the plot. For the most part, Spectre is just a cumulation of previous elements from Bond films wrapped into one overstuffed film.
Many were ecstatic when word broke that the latest Bond film clocked in at two hours and twenty-eight minutes. When a blockbuster begins to approach the two and a half hour mark, I start to get extremely weary before even going into it. Blockbusters that run for that long of a time are rarely ever able to sustain my interest for such a long stretch. After awhile, the bombardment of explosions begins to numb me out to the point where the spectacle has completely evaporated. This is the case with Spectre, but much to the film’s dismay, the entertainment value has long dissolved by the time Mendes begins to set motion, which is not until the second act when the incredibly underused Christoph Waltz finally appears on the screen.
A problem that I have with all of Mendes’ work (outside of Away We Go) is that he never appears to care about his characters’ motivations. This is a major problem in Spectre, especially with Waltz’s character, Franz Oberhauser. While Waltz is such an incredible onscreen presence, his character’s plan just feels an afterthought of a way to link the previous Bond films together, mainly Casino Royale and Skyfall. While Casino Royale and Skyfallsuffered from entirely different problems, they at least had some sort of an emotional center, which is something that Spectredesperately missed. The relationship between M (Judi Dench) and Bond in Skyfall was something that had a surprising amount of emotional profundity to it. Mendes fails to explore the consequences that losing M has had on him. Instead, Bond appears to be unaffected by this tragedy, which just comes across as careless directing on Mendes’ part.
Maybe it is due to the fact that 2015 has offered quite its fair share of exceptional big-budget spectacles that is why Spectre feels like such an incredible disappointment. It is obvious that Craig is at his wit’s end with the Bond series just by watching him in Spectre. Compared to his previous three portrayals of James Bond, where Craig brings some genuine emotion to his character, he comes as a genuinely dispassionate actor in Spectre. If Craig does have one more in him, which I pray to God that he does not, he needs to bring what he brought to the table in his very first film almost ten years ago, because he is a considerable factor to what makes Spectre an absolute bear to sit through.