Spectre ★★

It's so interesting that the question at the center of Skyfall was whether Bond is still relevant in the modern world, and the follow-up to that film seems to answer that question with a very resounding no. To be clear, the answer at the end of Skyfall was yes. Yes he's relevant, yes he'll always be relevant, because what Skyfall proved was that Bond was malleable. Bond can change, Bond has to change, and that film brilliantly changed just about everything we know about a Bond movie while still somehow managing to deliver as one. Spectre takes precisely the wrong lessons from that unbridled success, much in the same way that Quantum of Solace took the wrong lessons from Casino Royale. While Skyfall leaned more into classic Bond in the context of Daniel Craig's newer, grittier take on Bond, and in so doing subverted those classic elements, Spectre is literally just a classic Bond film.

Everything the previous three movies had rejected are back in full force in this movie, and while I love the classic Bond movies, Daniel Craig's Bond has no place in those movies. I love Tim Burton's gothic take on Batman and I love Chris Nolan's fresher, newer take on Batman, but I would never want the Tim Burton elements resurrected by way of Christopher Nolan. It simply wouldn't work, because they are two entirely different approaches to storytelling, both of which would undermine the other. That's the problem with Spectre. I love the Bond movies of the '60s and '70s, and I love the modern take on Bond by Daniel Craig, but trying to resurrect a '60s Bond film through Daniel Craig is entirely antithetical to what both of those takes on Bond were trying to be. They were approaches diametrically opposed to each other, and when Skyfall did try to bring back a few of the older elements, it at least had the good sense to look at them through a modern lens, reassessing what they meant and reapplying them to the story in fresh, clever, new ways. Spectre doesn't understand that, and so you end up with a classic Bond film with the tone and approach of a Daniel Craig Bond film. It's the splashy set pieces and silly evil plots, approached with the grittiness and self-seriousness that has defined Craig's run of the franchise.

The reason why those elements worked during the Connery and Moore eras was because that's simply what they were: silly, goofy movies. Their stories were not in conflict with their tone; the over-the-top nature of those films was the whole point. I can't believe this needs to be said, but this approach obviously doesn't work for Daniel Craig. His movies aren't silly or goofy; they have always been an attempt to see Bond as a real person, and how he would actually function in the 21st century with 21st century threats. To try and do a hollow imitation of classic Bond -- particularly On Her Majesty's Secret Service and The Spy Who Loved Me -- makes no sense when the approach remains as serious and grounded as it does. Again, the story isn't grounded -- far from it -- but the approach still is, and the film is an absolute tonal mess as a result; a '60s cartoon by way of modern action thriller. It doesn't want to reassess these elements, look at them through a new lens, subvert your expectations of what they will be. No. It just wants to indulge in them, full stop.

The film itself is sloppy and lazy in its storytelling, and I don't even want to get into the "it was all connected the whole time" shit and the long lost brother subplot because its stupidity is self-evident. Instead I'll talk about the action, and, for a film with as much action as this, it is strangely one of the most boring Bond movies ever made. The car chase through Rome earns particular scorn from me as one of the very worst car chases in the entire Bond franchises; two luxury cars gently speeding through a largely empty city, with so little stakes that Bond even makes a phone call in the middle of it because even he's getting pretty goddamn bored. The big alpine sequence should be great, but strangely isn't, because the setup isn't there and you don't feel the stakes. Compare this to the courtroom sequence in Skyfall -- one of the greatest sequences in all of Bond -- which in the end amounts to little more than a shootout in a courtroom, but is so well set up and executed, and establishes its stakes so well, that it is ten times more thrilling than anything in this film. The best action scene in this movie is the fight on the train, because it's the only time where it feels like Bond is even remotely vulnerable, and might have to actually put in some effort if he wants to best his opponent. Everything else is just Bond lazily waltzing through a video game; no stakes, no obstacles, no nothing. On top of this, the humor takes a considerable dive from Skyfall and Casino Royale, which, for as serious as they were, were legitimately funny movies. The jokes in those movies were sharp and clever, and never overdone. Here, it pains me to say that the influence of Marvel has reared its ugly head in the Bond franchise, and we are treated to a heavy helping of Marvel humor. The music in the car from 009's playlist during the car chase. Bond being served Q's protein smoothie by mistake. This is not Bond humor. This is Marvel humor. How dare you.

Watching this was very reminiscent of rewatching the Spider-Man franchise a couple months ago. This is the Spider-Man 3 to Skyfall's Spider-Man 2, where you almost can't blame the movie for being as bad as it is because the previous installment was so great and left nowhere else to go thematically. And yet, at the same time, you have to wonder how they possibly thought that this was the right approach to take. In both cases, it's the same director returning again, delivering one of the worst movies of both respective franchises after delivering a franchise best. Spider-Man 2 proves that Sam Raimi understands what makes Spider-Man so great, and Spider-Man 3 makes you think that maybe he doesn't have a clue. I feel the same way about Sam Mendes with his two Bond films. In its attempt to be a more joyous, nostalgic Bond film, it somehow manages to be more depressing than the other three Craig movies combined. I don't care what anyone says. Quantum of Solace is loads better than this. At least, for all its faults, it tries something new.

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