Spectre is Bond by the numbers, and worryingly, it’s Bond by the even numbers. Quantum of Solace all on its own created the idea that even-numbered Bond movies would stink. Casino Royale was a good movie, and Quantum was an expensive mess. Then Skyfall was not bad at all, and the worry started about the next even-numbered movie. I relaxed a bit when they cast Christoph Waltz as the villain ...
Well. There’s a top secret villain base in the desert, just like in Quantum. Which blows up something awful as soon as there’s a harsh word. Just like Quantum. I worry about international villainy, I really do. I get it that they’re going to ignore planning regulations, but it’s the lax attitude to health and safety in key facilities that gets them in the end. It’s not just what it does to employee morale and staff retention, it’s the simple idiocy of having key facilities which aren’t even vaguely bulletproof. What kind of risk strategy do they have? Bond starts the fireworks in this HQ with a single well aimed bullet fired at an exposed valve; everything just ripples out from that as if fire suppression systems aren’t even a thing. This is a billion dollar surveillance centre full of computers; there ought to be automatic halon dump valves all over the place - sure, all your staff will suffocate, but we’ve already discussed supervillain indifference to employee welfare - to protect the hardware. Then again, our evil geniuses have decided to put equipment almost defined by its need for a) cooling and b) bandwidth in the middle of the Sahara desert hundreds of miles from any infrastructure bigger than a tumbledown sheep pen.
Other standardised Bond issue equipment. There’s an Aston Martin. There’s a bit of deputy-villain squeeze for him to seduce midway through and get key information from. Spoiler; for the first time in ages, she lives through the experience. There’s a younger woman for him to hook up with after he’s done the mid-game seduce. There’s an exploding gadget to be deployed in the nick of time. There’s a bit of torture for Bond. There’s a big thug for him to beat up (they almost got away with paying Dave Bautista the half-rate for a non-speaking part, but then relented and gave him a single line just before he gets ironically murdered to bits). There’s any god’s amount of property damage. There’s a car chase, and then another chase with cars and something which isn’t at all suitable for car chases. There’s complete bollocks about computers. There is, as though by cosmic law, a title sequence with a terrible song and weird animation which comes on the heels of a slam bang opening that’s got nothing to do with anything really but looks great.
And of course, as with all Craig era Bond, my god did they throw talent at the problem. The movie’s just crawling with talent, though sadly it’s not crawling with dialogue equal to their abilities, because it never seems to occur to anyone that acting needs a script as well as actors. You’re doing something wrong when Lea Seydoux has so little to say that I have time to notice that her nose is ridiculously asymmetric, something which I didn’t notice in any other movie, not even a Mission Impossible one. More importantly, you’re doing something super-wrong when Christoph Waltz leaves me thinking Javier Bardem’s magnificent hamming in Skyfall was better acting. Yup, Bardem’s mommy issues work better than Waltz’s sibling rivalry.
But above all, SPECTRE are idiots. A massive criminal conspiracy to do God knows what, but the centrepiece of the operation is a scheme to fill the world with surveillance, aka, the thing which is guaranteed to make it hard to do bad deeds in the shadows. Not that massive surveillance would make all the much difference in practice. Their operations are not exactly discreet. When they decide to hold a top secret meeting to decide who should replace their latest senior management retirement, they make sure that his widow knows just where it’s going to be held, even though they trust her so little that they’ve sent two goons to kill her the same day to keep her quiet. Security at the meeting seems limited to checking if people are wearing a ring.
Oh, about the ring. Bond pulls it off a guy while they’re having a punch up in a helicopter, and it’s covered in his blood. He cleans the blood off it for dressy wear later. A few days later, Q can run a DNA test on it and pull up DNA from seven different people, all of them dead, one of them reported dead before there even was DNA testing. Also, it’s got an octopus on it, with seven legs. Where’s the missing leg, people?
Sorry, I was talking about stupid. Waltz has schemed like a son of a bitch to blow up Bond in London in a trap which is like an overdone replica of the rather brilliant ending of Casino Royale; as usual, the bigger the physical stakes, the less serious the emotional stakes seem. But Waltz sticks around in his helicopter to watch the explosions, as you do, so of course he’s hovering over the Thames as Bond makes a daring last minute escape in a motorboat. Bad move. Bond shoots the helicopter with his Walther PPK, a gun generally held to be dangerous only to people you could just as easily have stabbed, and brings it down with the last bullet in the magazine. Let’s imagine that this is the slowest helicopter in the world, and that the motorboat is the fastest thing afloat. It’s still a helicopter. Climb, you fools! After the first shot clanged off the body work, they should have been getting up and out of there.
All in all, it’s a time passer. There’s bit of good acting, because with that talent there has to be, but it’s bigger and dumber when it ought to know better. And two years from now, we’ll all have to hope that they’ve found a writer who can really give Waltz something to do.