If you’re anything like me, Spectre was one of the most anticipated movies of the year for you, up there with Age of Ultron and The Force Awakens. It came hot off of the heels of arguably the best movie of its franchise. It showed off a brand new M, new Q and new Moneypenny, not to mention esteemed character actor Christoph Waltz’s fresh take on long-time Bond baddie Blowfeld. Top that all off with one of the spine-tinglingest trailers in recent memory and Spectre promised to be nothing short of the best movie to ever come out of the decades-long series.
And, sadly, that’s Spectre‘s problem. It’s not a bad movie at all. In fact, it’s hands down one of the best movies from the 53 year-old movie franchise and will invariably prove to be one of the best movies of the year when all is said and done. It just falls short of all of the hype and the impossibly high standards that it set for itself leading up to its release.
The sad fact is that everything Spectre was trying to do, Skyfall simply did better. Both were intensely personal narratives that delved into the murky pasts of the series’ chief protragonists. Skyfall chiefly did this with Judi Dench’s M: a character who at the time had been in as many Bond films as the series’ two longest running Bonds (Sean Connery and Roger Moore). She was the most iconic version of her character ever put to screen, beloved by fans the world over for her soured grit and steely glare.
Spectre didn’t have M (or at least not Dench’s M). She was dead and buried. The new M wouldn’t do either, as this was only his second appearance (and ultimately his first as M). So the movie really only had Bond to work with, but the problem was that Skyfall was as much about how he came to be 007 as it was about the sins of M’s past. We’d already seen what Bond’s past had to offer and were more than satisfied by it. The new material that the movie dredges up – which I won’t actually spoil here – did the job just fine as far as the movie was concerned, but wasn’t up to snuff compared to Bond’s previous outting.
The thing is, though, that Spectre borrowed more from Skyfall than just the cut of its narrative. More than any previous Bond films, both tried to come to terms with the Cold War-styled nature of Bond’s line of work to in the context of an increasingly digital world. Rather than isolated acts of international terrorism or attempts to use laser-powered super-weapons in low-hanging orbit, both Spectre and Skyfall were concerned with information. And although Spectre‘s digitized terrorism was far more ambitious, Skyfall ultimately pulled off its plot better, focussing on the havoc wreaked by hacking a select number of computers with just the right set of files stored inside.
That’s not to call Spectre a rehash at all, just that it falls short of doing exactly what its predecessor succeeded so memorably at achieving: Bond stripped to his core and laid bare for all the world to see. No more charm to hide behind, just a man. The repartee is suitably witty. The action scenes are exceptionally rivetting. The opening theme is as engrossing as any of the franchise (even if the particular images of a naked women engulfed in tentacles doesn’t seem like it was perfectly thought through for the internet age). Its story is captivating and its tone perfectly matched to it.
The sad fact is that despite everything the film achieves, Spectre won’t even go down as being the best spy movie of 2015. That honor belongs to Kingsman: The Secret Service, which is in every way its ideological opposite. It is light-hearted, rather than dour; irreverent toward its genre, rather than fidelitous to it; and, yes, sloppy, rather than cooly composed. That’s not to say that there’s not room for both kinds of spy movies in the world today. Maybe Gideon was right, that “nowadays, they’re all a little [too] serious.”
Regardless of how it measures up to the competition, Spectre is a more than worthwhile way to spend an afternoon. It holds its own against previous Bond outtings and delivers on its tightly wraught narrative. Throw in Cristoph Waltz as one of Bond’s better nemeses you get the full 007 package in one film.