Movies in the James Bond genre are an interesting breed. And don't get me wrong, they are their own genre, one that has managed to exist for over 50 years now. I recently rewatched the entire collection, and something occurred to me: most of them are not all that good. Plot-wise, they are all basically the same. There are notable characters or sets or music, but they are very often essentially the same movie. And if you are a fan there is no real problem with this. You watch them to experience your inner playboy English gentleman.
Enter Spectre. It is a movie which does little to subvert expectations or plumb new depth in the way that the series has attempted since Daniel Craig's ascension to the role. Some have argued that it is the worst of his entries for that reason, especially since it seems to claim to do otherwise. But I am not so sure. It may well turn out to be that, but I am hopeful that time will prove otherwise.
Let us now speak frankly of the plot, or at least a part of it. I am at once happy to see the return of Blofeld, and a little disappointed. I am disappointed because the filmmakers pulled a Star Trek Into Darkness on us by pretending he wasn't Blofeld until it was time for a dramatic reveal. The trouble with this gimmick is that it only works on fans of the movies, in this case, movies that are now more than 40 years old. The change of character name (as with Into Darkness) means nothing unless you are. So it is an unfortunate, self-aware fanboy concession that adds only sentimental value.
But, I am happy because it now opens up wonderful possibilities for the future. The films have lasted so long in part because of their nondependence on each other for continuity. Each is (for the most part) its own separate episode. Blofeld is far and away the most iconic and sinister Bond villain, as well as the only recurring one. I also like how personally connected to Bond he now is. Now Spectre leaves me thinking that perhaps this pattern will be broken, and that the film will be something like the first of two parts. Which makes me feel mostly okay about the relative incompleteness of plot and emotional resonance with a 160-minute film.
I say mostly because Spectre, considered on its own, is fairly mundane. The action meets the series' high standard, but the emotional side of Bond explored of late is pretty muted. The plotting (as with them all) is a little silly at times, but the concern over surveillance and its misuse by desk jockeys feels at least timely, if a little unoriginal. I also tend to hate the kind of wait-til-next-time-for-the-real-story world building so many franchises are now guilty of, and one thinks that this film is that kind of link in the chain. It is enjoyable, manages something of a light heart, and is certainly better than anything else out this week at the multiplex.
But such it is to be a fan of a film series: quick to forgive so long as there will be more to come. As long as whatever comes doesn't include Sam Smith.
Spectre features Daniel Craig, Christoph Waltz, Léa Seydoux, Naomie Harris, and Ralph Fiennes, and is rated PG-13 for general Bonding throughout.
Written by John Logan, Neal Purvis, Robert Wade, and Jez Butterworth
Directed by Sam Mendes
by Chase Harrison