The James Bond films celebrate a strange kind of 50th anniversary this year: “Thunderball,” which came out in 1965, marked the last time three good Bonds were released in a row. (It followed “From Russia With Love” and “Goldfinger.”)
Ever since, they’ve veered all over the map, often following a daring high with a depressing low. But no combination of George Lazenby, Roger Moore, Timothy Dalton or Pierce Brosnan has given us three top-rate outings in a row.
Daniel Craig debuted in the gripping “Casino Royale,” stumbled through the gibberish of “Quantum of Solace,” then topped himself with the terrific “Skyfall.” Now, in “Spectre,” he presides impassively over 2 1/2 hours of mediocrity. He and almost everyone else seem to be fulfilling an obligation so they can make films they care about.
After the dull opening chase in Mexico, highlighted by a helicopter battle in which Craig’s stuntman is all too evident, the movie plods on with dull chases, dull escapes, a dull race against a clock to save a kidnap victim, a dull bureaucrat trying to replace double-O agents with drones and computers, a dull madman out to dominate the world, a dull hulking assassin who never speaks, a dull love interest 20 years younger than Bond and a dull torture scene in which the bad guy pets – wait for it – a white Persian cat! Bond fans will know what that has meant in films that put this one to shame.
My fingers itch to explain the absurd motive behind the villain’s malevolence. Suffice to say it ties up all of Craig’s Bond films with an explanation none of the others prepared us for, a revelation no doubt conceived at the end of some sleepless, bong-fueled night by the four credited writers and uncredited counterparts. (Though the quartet was never conceived as a unit, this picture pretends it was.)
Did I say the dialogue was dull? Try these samples:
Bond girl: “You shouldn’t stare.”
Bond: “You shouldn’t look like that.”
Bond girl: “Why should I trust you?”
Bond: “Because right now, I’m your best chance of staying alive.”
The film awakens occasionally in London, when the new M (Ralph Fiennes) teams with computer whiz Q (Ben Whishaw) and alert Moneypenny (Naomie Harris) to guard the home front. They oppose C, who wants to dismantle British intelligence, a role in which Andrew Scott displays the conniving menace of a doodlebug.
The story slumbers when we’re left with Madeleine Swann (Léa Seydoux), the daughter of a Bond nemesis and a doctor who falls in love with him because the script says to. It goes into a coma when Christoph Waltz turns up as the ruthless criminal madman, a man so deranged he never wears socks.
At the center of the film, like a man trying to pull a donkey out of a peat bog, stands Craig: inexpressive, uninflected and obviously tired. Perhaps he’s trying to play a chap who never allows himself access to his emotions, for fear loved ones may be snatched away, but he just looks like an actor who wishes he could quit his job.
By the way, Sam Smith croons a title song with the ominously prophetic name “Writing on the Wall.” It’s dull.
Cast: Daniel Craig, Christoph Waltz, Léa Seydoux, Ralph Fiennes, Monica Bellucci.
Director: Sam Mendes.
Length: 148 minutes.
Rating: PG-13 (intense sequences of action and violence, some disturbing images, sensuality and language).