As much fun as James Bond movies can be, they usually suffer from some serious leaps in logic and other half-baked plot setups. The rushed explanations about cutting-edge spy or hacking technology; the arbitrary shooting accuracy of various heroes and villains; the supposedly strong-willed women who fall for 007 at the drop of a martini. They’re all series staples, which , the 24th full-length film in the series, also adheres to.
We stomach that stuff in a Bond movie because we expect landscapes and action sequences as smooth, svelte, and stunning as the actors who make them come to life, and nails those as well. Big buildings go boom, sexy cars go vroom, and Daniel Craig’s effortless 007 cool makes hearts swoon.
But we wouldn’t go so far as to call this a series pinnacle, which is a particular shame, given that the film’s conceit—and even its name—recall an attempt to tie up some of Bond lore’s loose ends. The problem with this Bond film is that it teases big fanboy payoffs but comes up short.
C and M B-Plot
Dia de los muertos gets a few more… muertos in .
“Where are the bloody bunny slopes around here?”
Enhance, Q! Enhance!
Nope, this isn’t a still from .
Watch out, Bond! He’s got hands!
Hello, Lea Seydoux.
A weekend getaway.
The series bid Dame Judi Dench farewell in 2012’s , but while she has since passed her duties as M on to actor Ralph Fiennes, her character appears for a brief moment in ‘s early stages—and sets the rest of the plot into motion as a result.
Dench’s M left a final request behind for Bond that he discovered upon her passing: to kill a mysterious Italian mobster, then attend his funeral. The film opens with Craig’s Bond walking through a crowded Dia De Los Muertos parade in Mexico City to do just that, passing gorgeous, centuries-old stone architecture and magnificently costumed dancing crowds while seeking the mysterious Sciarra on foot.
This opening sequence is one of the best in recent action-film memory. It sees Director Sam Mendes build tension with beautifully lit and arranged shots of giant, crowded streets that Bond chases Sciarra through before they eventually board—and exchange fists inside of—a helicopter that careens over the thousands-strong crowd.
Bond gets what he wants, but he comes home to an unhappy M who admonishes Bond for the chaotic scene: “You blew up half a bloody block!” “Better than an entire stadium,” Bond retorts, but he’s still punished with an indefinite hiatus from duty. This sets up the film’s painfully flimsy premise: that a new, data-hungry initiative, led by a man code-named C (played by Andrew Scott), has been set into motion with aspirations to replace MI-6’s entire double-O program with precise satellite imagery, constant audio monitoring, and weapon-powered drones.
The film’s B-plot, which carries on while Bond sneaks out of his bedroom window to save the world, mostly involves C and M facing off over the moral implications of a total espionage state. M calls it “Orwell’s nightmare” and makes a stink for the human nature required for such world-saving efforts: “You have to look [bad guys] in the eye and make the call. A license to kill is also a license to kill.” Never mind that most every Bond movie has, in one way or another, seen the “good guys” enjoy full access to unwarranted, unapproved surveillance and espionage technologies. Nope, the whole idea of it is creepy.
It’s a harder detail to laugh off than, say, the flamethrower-powered Aston Martin Bond eventually pilots, because this surveillance argument, and C’s blatantly telegraphed descent into power-hungry madness, wrap the whole movie up in a suffocating bear hug. The best respite from that issue is seeing the film’s scenery steal the show so frequently. That’s certainly the case in the action sequences, including a nighttime chase between Bond’s Aston Martin DB10 and a villain’s Jaguar C-X75 down Rome’s cobblestone streets, bathed in sparse street lights and expanses of dark night sky, and a snowy mountain chase between giant Jeeps and a prop plane.
Impressively, Mendes shies away from frequent, jarring cuts and edits, the kinds used to oversell a punch or a sharp turn. In terms of cinematography, really respects its viewers, whether by making room for giant landscapes and wide shots in action scenes or by slowing down to let viewers take in gorgeously lit architecture, sweeping mountain and desert vistas, and impeccably decorated interiors.
“The author of all of your pain”
The same can’t be said for the plot, however. In addition to the tough-to-swallow protests against espionage, also absolutely miscasts Christoph Waltz as the film’s chief villain. Waltz’s capacity for restraint and for making threats through polite smiles are here in full effect—and had the character been written differently, we’d absolutely appreciate his performance—but the villainous aspirations we eventually learn about simply do not match up with the performance seen in this film.
The man who describes himself as “the author of all of your pain” comes off more like an annoyed guidance counselor than an architect of an ancient, sinister plot. By the way, we never really get to appreciate the plot that eventually unfolds, or at least appreciate it as this long-running cancer in Bond’s past. Thanks to the film’s use of the word Spectre—the name of the shadowy organization referenced over the 007 series’ years—it’s no spoiler to say that this film’s evils have obvious ties to prior entries, but this year’s film breezes past any attempt to tie the series’ referenced past moments tidily. Instead, the script simply lists a few old elements during the inevitable “villain tells Bond his evil plan” monologue, as if hearing a single familiar name counts as either lore building or fan service.
We’d have preferred the subtle, restrained Waltz cast as C. Andrew Scott is intoxicatingly smug but ultimately plays his role as C a little too on the nose—he may as well hold up a sign five minutes into the movie that reads, “I’m full of BS.” Craig, to his credit, holds the show together with a serviceable Bond performance—which means he comes off as equal parts charming and stone-faced, witty and pained, but you won’t walk away remembering anything particularly steely or hilarious about his turn.
We’re not sure that the 007 franchise handlers quite know what to do with Ralph Fiennes’ M, a character who, as written in , seems mostly bored about having a job behind a desk (and has to fake like he hates technologically charged espionage, at that). Fiennes takes that out on viewers with a performance that’s more fussy than commanding. Ben Whishaw deserves credit for elevating the character of Q to bonafide sidekick status, at least (though, man, does he under deliver in terms of cool gadgets), while leading lady Lea Seydoux gives an emotionally charged, believably preoccupied performance—at least, until she nonsensically turns into “I love you, James” mush by the end.
Truly, we had a good time with much of , even stomaching portions of the protests against drones, but we wish we could go back in time and leave about an hour and a half into the movie. The film’s final descent, both in plot and in an overwrought “get out before the bomb explodes” climactic sequence, is turbulent in all of the wrong ways. We advise filmgoers to drink so much cola at the film’s start that they have to excuse themselves to the bathroom by the time unravels.