Monday, December 14, 2015
People keep telling me that they're exhausted by Spectre. It's the most common criticism I've heard, circulated in a handful of clickbait features and now repeated by many wary about even seeing the film: Daniel Craig looks bored, he's getting too old for this, it's uninspired, it's no Skyfall. Some of that is par for the course, the rest I completely disagree with. This is Daniel Craig's fourth outing as James Bond, and while 007 himself may be more jaded than ever, the saga continues. Craig's Bond has slowly evolved. We've watched him suffer tragedy after tragedy, he has long been marked, doomed, left to exist as a shadowy figure only occasionally reaching out for something that feels like genuine human contact. In the wake of Skyfall we find him with fewer support systems than ever before, carrying out jobs he knows need to be done in much the way many would go about routine errands. There's a sense of business as usual that's made more exciting only by MI6's repeated attempts to keep him grounded.
The film is consistent, the action works, and the legacy has reentered in ways that feel at times strained, at times sly. It's a clean, stylish thriller with a keen sense of the power of its cinematography. Histories have been condensed and subverted so that we can see the results reframed from Casino Royale to this new present. This is where it has all been leading: we needed to understand the earlier travails, the personal histories, and all of the governmental intricacies to be able to pull back the camera and see the interlinked web of terrorists and nations working together for world domination. The enemy has become everyone and no one, and Bond travels from Mexico City to Rome to the Alps to Tangier, a globe-trotting vigilante trying desperately to remain invisible at a moment where surveillance threatens everything.
Slowly, the moves fall into order and the pattern reveals itself. Though Spectre comes dressed up in cinematographically slick trappings and with a quarter ton of captivating long shots, it is essentially the last phase of a return we saw motioned towards in Skyfall. We're done with the Dark Knight era of Bond, basically, and it's time to move back to some of the more episodic adventures. We move step by step towards the type of Bond film that allows us to meet Ernst Stavro Blofeld (Christoph Waltz) and have him - without fanfare - hold and stroke a cat in the midst of a brief bout of torture. This happens, and while Waltz holds back the scenery chewing, there's something promising about the nostalgia being evoked. Frankly, as much as I've enjoyed this excursion into Bond's psychology, it's time to have a little more fun. I'm ready for island compounds, gold-hungry megalomaniacs, exotic animals, and a few more one-liners.