For better or worse, James Bond is a cultural icon: a character well known even by those who have never seen one of his movies. His fame, in some respects, is certainly well deserved: Agent 007 has starred in some of the best action films ever made. But the name of the British secret-serviceman carries negative connotations, as well. Bond is a paragon of misogyny and old-world imperialism, whose attitude toward women has become increasingly outdated with the passing of each new installment in his franchise.
The writers of the latest incarnation of Bond – who is played by the granite-faced Daniel Craig – have attempted to address the problematic aspects of the agent’s character: in all four of the Craig films, including the latest, “Spectre,” Bond has been portrayed as a deeply faulted human being.
While all of Craig’s Bond films are praise-worthy in their complex interpretation of the character, they have varied greatly in overall quality. “Casino Royale” (2006) and “Skyfall” (2012) are near-masterpieces that combined heart-stopping action sequences with great writing, while 2008’s “Quantum of Solace” is a subpar film – its lack of storytelling made it boring, despite the incredibly well-shot violence featured throughout.
Unfortunately, “Spectre” has more in common with “Solace” than its immediate predecessor, “Skyfall,” which raked in enormous amounts of both money and critical praise. It features chase scenes and explosions in spades – all of which look incredible upon the big screen – but its plot falls flat when the film tries to reconcile the gritty realism of Craig’s Bond with cartoony elements borrowed from the series’ kitschy past.
As mentioned before, the visuals of “Spectre” are phenomenal: the set pieces of Craig-era Bond films are always lush, without being garish. The actors who inhabit the movie’s locations are equally photogenic: average-looking people simply don’t exist in Bond’s universe.
Craig is, as always, excellent as 007. His portrayal of the martini-swilling agent is second only to Sean Connery’s, who propelled the character to fame in the first Bond film, Dr. No (1962).
Bond’s fellow members of MI6 – M, Q and Eve Moneypenny – are played with consummate skill by Ralph Fiennes, Ben Wishaw and Naomie Harris, respectively. Harris’s performance is especially noteworthy, as she brings agency to a character previously depicted as a secretary perpetually lusting after the uninterested Bond.
The “Bond Girls” of “Spectre” are hardly noteworthy, although Monica Bellucci’s brief appearance as a widow bedded by Bond marks the first romantic partner of 007’s to be remotely close to his own age – it’s gratifying to see depictions of older female beauty in a Bond film.
Christoph Waltz is disappointing as the movie’s ultimate villain. A frequent Quentin Tarantino collaborator known for his over-the-top performances, Waltz sleepwalks through his performance, and it comes as no surprise when he is revealed to be a revamped version of Bond’s classic arch-nemesis, Ernst Stavro Blofeld. It’s a disappointing plot twist: moviegoers familiar with the character of Blofeld will recognize him immediately, while those who don’t will simply be confused.
“Spectre” is not a great movie, but make no mistake, it’s still pretty good: the action is exciting, the people are beautiful and the martinis are shaken, not stirred.