“Spectre” (2015): Where Porn Turns to Punishment (Review)

This review spoils everything you already know.

Here’s the other spoiler: Spectre is terrible. It may take some a re-watch to truly comb the depths of its failure, but make no mistake; it is the experience of simulating waterboarding by expired eggnog. Even on the generous grading curve of James Bond movies, it stacks in near the bottom, squeezing itself right alongside On Her Majesty’s Secret ServiceLive and Let DieDie Another Day, and Never Say Never Again.

Yes, Spectre is worse than Quantum of Solace. As bad as that film is, it at least does us the favor of drowning itself quickly before it can spectacularly disappoint. That’s partially what made Skyfall such an incredible rebound. Its genius was its full-circle completion of the novel Daniel Craig experiment.

Whatever you make of this phase in surface terms, Skyfall declared it over by its end. Driving down the nails of finality, it was the first since 1999 to feel like a genuine Bond movie again, and it made sense of the apparent need to give him a new character-breakdown origin in the post-9/11 world.

From where I was coming from, this was a natural and promising evolution of the franchise, and the first diligent effort since Goldeneye, and before that The Spy Who Loved Me, to more aggressively refocus the character and the franchise in a relevant setting suitable for his enduring charms. It casted a great actor as a colder, rougher, and unpolished James Bond–with all the one-man army skills required of a post ’80s & ’90s action hero of his caliber, and no sense of restraint or empathy. The uncomfortable truth is that Bond was always like that; what you’ve been watching is his projection. He’s scarcely been an authentic character in his own right so much as the pinnacle reflection of manly coolness. His literary origin clash coincides with the foundation of Playboy, both rooted in sexual liberation, and the glorification thereof. The sun never sets in the exotic and exciting world of James Bond, but he never sticks around. JAMES BOND WILL RETURN, so the credits of each film remind, but it’s off to new worlds, new adventures, new gadgets to play with, new villains to thwart, and new women to score. The only consistent woman in his life, Moneypenny, got the cold shoulder for fifty years, a franchise joke about how Bond will never settle down.

I don’t know if Bond needed a deconstruction for what was rather transparently a core element to his serialization. For however much you impute that into the realistic approach to his characterization and world construction in the Craig era, it’s hard to argue with results like Casino Royale and Skyfall. Either way, that was the end of it.

Until now, apparently; though I wouldn’t give Spectre the benefit of believing it amounts to what it apparently thinks it amounts to. For as high an opinion Spectre seems to have of itself, it has effectively nothing to show for it, not even in the action scenes. Two at most are passable. The Craig era isn’t the abomination the ostensible purists claim it to be, but Spectre is undoubtedly the kind of blasphemous abomination they claim to have been seeing since 2006.

What’s baffling is the degree to which Spectre is determined to make a mess of itself when it is apparent right from the beginning that there is a good movie sitting right in front of it that it need only mine for fun. Bond begins in Mexico City with a fun little long take, followed by a street chase, and then a helicopter fight (involving that corkscrew you’re probably sick of seeing in the trailers). With maybe two lines of dialogue from Bond, he kills his target and removes his ring, which has the Spectre symbol on it.

Wow. Here’s a setup that could lead to a fun little spy thriller involving a suave British agent living out the vicarious dreams of every guy ever (reminds me of this franchise whose name I’m having trouble remembering). But no, Spectre thinks it’s too good for that sort of thing, because we then learn that Bond has a “secret” and is going rogue because of some cryptic message from an old associate (gee, I wonder who it could be…) that makes no sense, all while MI-6 is being conspicuously swallowed up and reformulated by a new and potentially shady intelligence organization with Ralph Fiennes’ M, a man in charge of a SPY network waxing like some civil libertarian in protest, which also makes no sense. And wouldn’t you know it, ALL THESE THINGS ARE CONNECTED!!!

Yes, the experience of watching Spectre is watching your typical standalone action intro become shoehorned into a creative black hole, disguised as Captain America: The Winter Soldier the James Bond version, a two and a half hour decay of promising potential reducing itself and the point of itself all the way until the audience is left with nothing but the memory of watching a Charlie Sheen meltdown on stage. This script, reeking of design by subcommittee, edit by committee, and approval by smaller subcommittee, brings throat polyps to its dialogue, the impact of which is as flat and empty as its inspiration is pretentious. The talents of three great actors, one of them a double Oscar winner, are utterly wasted. This film is an embarrassment to even their bad movies.

Christoph Waltz may actually be the saddest victim to this sulfuric digestion. Everyone knew he was playing Ernst Stavro Blofeld, but this film does a jig around it for two whole hours, dropping one insipid reference after another to better movies it neither understands nor respects, before he finally says it. Other critics have made note of its parallel in gravity to the Khan reveal in Star Trek Into Darkness, but Spectre somehow finds a way to do it even worse. The Khan reveal, though pointless and predictable, at least came with a backstory and some context, despite being an obstacle that film placed in front of itself and then couldn’t get around. Here we learn everything about Blofeld and what this migraine of a movie seems to think passes for characterization: his history, parentage, his connection with Bond, vision, the scope of his operation, his overall motivation, and sadistic acupuncture habits. He isn’t actually the complete character Spectre wants to pretend that he is, but even if all of that had been done better, what possible slack does the name changing of Franz Oberhauser (his stated name for most of the film) to a 60’s reference that no character in the film has any reason to appreciate pick up to make him whole?

Am I forgetting Bond and the girl? You can blame the film for forgetting them first. Bond is the stubborn taxi driver going from one daddy-issue problem to another, and so rarely does he have a say in any of it. The girl is there to look like his equal but do nothing but leave and then get captured. The same goes for Monica Bellucci. She has five minutes of screen time.

Spectre is so unbelievable (literally) that it can’t actually gum up the greatness of Casino Royale or Skyfall, despite trying to as hard as its twitching hands allow it to. It almost assumes you just didn’t watch them, or at least sincerely hopes you didn’t. It has so little to redeem itself (decent Newman score aside) from where it conjures up a story from the abscesses of franchise security to its clumsiest efforts to raise the stakes, the fact that it has no ending just seems obvious.

Overall: 2.0/10

Written By Vivek Subramanyam

Vivek is a handsome, talented, well-spoken political aficionado and part-time film critic who totally never ever writes mini-bios about himself.

Follow him on Twitter @VerverkS or check out his blog V for Verbatim.


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  • Dan

    A fun read and an interesting take on Spectre that appears to go against the critical trend. Haven’t seen the film myself but I’m concerned I won’t share your criticism after you related some of my Bond faves to “melted colostomy bags”. That said, I too found Quantum of Solace to be a painful bore.

  • Vivek

    My understanding with respect to those aforementioned titles, perhaps with the sole exception of “On Her Majesty’s Secret Service,” is that they are almost universally despised.

    I will admit up front that I hate “Majesty’s Secret Service” more than any other Bond film, not because of that ostensible stealth-feminist subtext Film Crit Hulk thinks is elevating that film, but because it is poorly plotted, acted, staged, choreographed, and edited. I also hate it because as compelling as Diana Rigg is as an actress the character of Tracy is about as unsympathetic as any Bond girl I’ve ever seen. She only acts like she’s Bond’s equal, but there’s absolutely nothing to her character that would ever make me believe that Bond would fall head over heels in love with her, especially after we’ve seen him replicate nearly all of his charming social behavior with women like Tatiana Romanova, Pussy Galore, and even Domino. Her being capable and durable is entirely plot driven, not character driven. And since Bond isn’t without a purpose at the time this romance is taking place, the way he was in the book, she is entirely a distraction, and not a particularly useful one. The only thing that film does right (and to its credit, very, very well) is her death at the very end.

    But yeah, that’s partially me. That film remains sharply divided among fans. It doesn’t inform my “Spectre” opinion, though. It might have if it was written and filmed as though it was a Bond movie, but it really just isn’t.

  • Dan

    Definitely Die Another Day – perhaps the worst Bond film ever made (in my opinion) – but I have a soft spot for the “unofficial” Bond adventure Never Say Never Again. That’s not to say it’s a good film.

    However, Majesty’s Secret Service and Live and Let Die are two Bond films I have a lot of time for. I’m not Lazenby’s biggest fan but it has an interest level above some of 007’s more run-of-the-mill efforts. It’s not my favourite by any means but I don’t think quite as negatively about it as you.

    Live and Let Die remains one of my absolute faves – but I’m a Roger Moore fan which goes against the majority who put Connery at the top of the tree.

  • Vivek

    I like Moore too but I can’t get behind “Live and Let Die.” Aside from Solitaire being one of the hottest Bond girls ever the attempt at moving Bond into the realm of blaxploitation was nothing short of a colossal failure, resulting in what is easily the most racist Bond film ever made. It has absolutely no awareness of just how ugly and not-cool so much of everything is. Normally I get kind of a weird kick out of stuff like that, but it’s just so dated and tasteless as a movie that I just can’t appreciate it even with irony.

    But if it makes you feel better, I think “The Man with the Golden Gun” and “Octopussy” are really underrated.

  • rich

    Live and Let Die is one of my favorites too, but that’s likely because I was about 16 when i first saw it in the theater, and it was likely the raciest thing i had ever seen at that point. that’s always going to leave a mark, in a good way.

  • rich

    i know you know your shit, so don’t take this as criticism of your review. i haven’t seen the film, so i can’t possible dispute or disagree with anything. once i see it, i’ll probably agree with everything you’ve said. if i don’t, i’ll second guess myself before you when it comes to bond. however, i always enjoy reviews more when there’s some inclination of the plot and story.

  • Vivek

    Here’s your summary: Bond kills a man in Mexico City at the behest of the old M in a message she sent to him after she died. He goes rogue to infiltrate a shadowy organization that man was working for, and discovers a personal connection to an old enemy, who has ostensibly been behind everything that has ever happened in the entire Craig Bond era.

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