There is nothing like the anticipation of a new James Bond film. For 53 years and 24 films, Eon Productions has offered the only consistent cultural touchstone that has lasted throughout my lifetime. I’m only a few years younger than the franchise, and the promise has always been kept: “James Bond Will Return.”
As a five-year-old I stood in line with my dad for “Diamonds are Forever.” I saw “Live and Let Die” at a drive in (remember those?). And I’ll never forget the thrill of watching Roger Moore’s James Bond ski off that cliff in “The Spy Who Loved Me.” This franchise means more to me than just a couple hours of escapism in the dark.
I go back again to the word “touchstone.” The musical score, the “Bond, James Bond,” the cars, girls, and gadgets not only thrill but serve as a kind of photo album that regularly unlock one cherished memory of mine after another — not just memories of watching the movies, but who I was and where I was at the time.
The lights fade. The James Bond Theme swells. A gun barrel searches for its target. A man in a tuxedo holding a Walther PPK steps into view. Shoots in a crouch. Blood drips. The James Bond Theme explodes. Bliss.
Unfortunately, that blissful feeling faded pretty quick into numbness with “Spectre.” Is it as bad as “Quantum of Solace,” which is by far the worst of the franchise? No. But it’s close.
Even the worst James Bond movies, like “A View To a Kill” and “Die Another Day,” are entertaining and therefore rewatchable. You might roll your eyes at times, but you are at least having a good time. “Spectre” breaks a promise made in “Skyfall.” We were led to believe that after three movies involving Daniel Craig’s Bond sorting through his personal baggage, that this anti-hero nonsense was over; the demons were exorcised, let’s return to form!
In some ways, “Spectre” does keep that promise. Big Villain. Big Villain’s Lair. Gadgets. Whatever. The “fun stuff” is all buried beneath the franchise’s stubborn refusal to let go of Bond as a dark, complicated antihero. The emotional baggage doesn’t just return in “Spectre,” it is the whole story — a summation, if you will, of the three previous films. We’re not just rebooting, folks, now we’re universe building. And the third act reveal of just who our villain (a wasted Christopher Waltz) really is, is just salt in this wound.
After a slam-banging opening, the plot plods along. The BIG finish Bond always delivers never arrives. Even after 150 longish minutes, I was surprised it was over. The climax is nowhere near as exciting as the handful of action sequences that came before.
But even the good stuff feels oppressive. Courtesy of his own psychodrama, Craig’s Bond is such a stick-in-the-mud, he’s a buzzkill. Craig recently said that he’d slash his wrists before taking on the role again, and after sitting through “Spectre,” I believe him. Just as oppressive is the creamy, buttery cinematography. The whole movie looks like a digital creation. Everything is unnecessarily dark and brooding. No thanks.
Another major problem is Bond Girl Léa Seydoux, and I do emphasize the word “girl.” She’s plenty lovely but not womanly enough for Craig or Bond. The relationship between the two is of major importance to the story and the lack of chemistry between the two actors ensures you just don’t care.
“Spectre” is a slog.
Follow John Nolte on Twitter @NolteNC