At a point late into Spectre, the new James Bond movie, a helicopter is going to crash and the pilot, some extra buckled into set on a green screen somewhere, yells the unfortunate sentence, “Brakes, brakes, brakes!”
Maybe there are brakes in helicopters, and maybe those brakes work in mid-air, and I’m sure every helicopter pilot reading this is going to tell me in exquisite detail that very thing, but in the meantime “Brakes, brakes, brakes” is a very dumb thing to find in this big-budget action extravaganza, which has an inordinately high number of dumb things going on.
There’s also, for example, a scene in which Bond decides that stealing a cargo jet is the best way to chase after three SUVs on a forested alpine mountain. Nevermind that the plane is much faster than the cars, can’t drive on the road like the cars, can’t stop like the cars, can’t turn like the cars and can’t be evacuated like a car, yet there Bond is taking a plane to a car chase. A Roger Moore Bond could have gotten away with this, as could have a Pierce Brosnan Bond, who once took a tank to a car chase (that turned into a train chase), but Daniel Craig Bond just looks silly as he strafes his landing gear through the snow to save the day, which leads me to this ultimate question: is this a new James Bond or an old James Bond?
The Craig series is straddling the fine line between the two, and that ain’t going to fly anymore, especially since Casino Royale set an unprecedented tone for Craig’s darker, more realistic turn. Quantum of Solace, while a critical misfire, maintained some of that raw energy. And Skyfall exemplified it. Now here’s Spectre, which wants so hard to be campy, goofy fun, but swears allegiance to Christopher Nolan’s brand of gritty brooding realism.
Spectre begins in Mexico City during a stunning Day of the Dead parade that could only exist at this level in a big-budget movie. It looks gorgeous with men in skeleton suits and women in corpse makeup. The film opens with a single take that bobs into and out of crowds, through the parade on the street, into grand lobbies and up to hotel rooms overlooking the festivities. It’s a marvelous shot that might be the best thing in the whole damn movie.
Bond kills some dudes and stops a terrorist event, but in the process he gets the Double-0 program sacked. (The guy doing the sacking is Andrew Scott, Moriarty from Sherlock.) Super spies just aren’t needed anymore … you know, with drones and all. But after he gets a video file with an urgent warning, Bond hightails it out of London to Italy to visit the dead dude he killed in the first scene. In Italy he discovers Spectre, an organization of supervillains who are set on destabilizing economies, governments, Facebook newsfeeds or whatever else these shadowy figures hate so much. Dr. Evil’s lair of ultra-villains in the Austin Powers movies was supposed to be parody, but here it is in a very serious movie.
The real stinger here is who leads Spectre. I’ll tell you it’s a character played by Christoph Waltz in a performance that is bland and tasteless, one that is begging for a Tarantino rewrite. Who he is and how Bond knows him is best left for you to figure out. A lot of people are angry about where this all leads, but let me remind you this franchise once went to space and fought with space lasers, so maybe we can forgive the implications of Spectre’s origins.
Spectre careens forward using clues that originated from some of the earlier Craig films. A man who appeared in several of those movies is here again, this time to tell us about his daughter, Dr. Swan (Léa Seydoux), who takes Bond to Rick’s Café Américaín, or a heartfelt knockoff, in Tangiers, where they almost have sex — rejection must feel very foreign to 007.
Much of the film is uneventful chases and fight scenes. A supercar chase in Rome feels more tedious than anything else, as if director Sam Mendes was required to have a car chase so he put it in begrudgingly — “Ian Fleming’s last will and testament stipulates a chase scene every 20 minutes,” a lawyer tells him on the set. A train brawl later is kind of cool, if only because it establishes a new Bond villain, Hinx (David Bautista). Following the weirdness of Oddjob and Jaws, Hinx has little silver shields on his thumbnails that he uses to gouge out eyeballs. They must do wonders on beer bottles and pop tops.
Back in London, M (Ralph Fiennes), Q (Ben Whishaw) and former spy/current secretary Moneypenny (Naomie Harris), are left reeling from all of Bond’s globe-trotting disasters. And all they can do is sit on their hands, because “the double-0 program is dead.” Ugh, these characters deserve better things to happen to them. For much of the movie, they simply wait for a phone calls with bated breath.
Meanwhile Bond is in North Africa, where he surrenders his weapon and the upper hand just so he can hear the Spectre CEO lay it all out in a scene that is so stupid and clunky that the best remedy might be an oil job and tune-up. All this leads nowhere, either because it actually goes nowhere or because Mendes doesn’t have all the pieces to make it more meaningful. What started with a bang, ends in a whimper and a sigh. What needs to happen now is there needs to be one more Craig movie that ties everything up neatly, and what the hell, maybe even kill Bond.
Let me go on record by saying I think Daniel Craig is a brilliant James Bond. He’s exactly what the franchise needed when he took on the role. But now the plots are getting a little thin, and he seems a little weary from it, especially here in Spectre. It made me realize something: Bonds aren’t replaced because they get older. They’re replaced because we tire of them. We get bored, and they no longer intrigue us, which is what I fear is happening here with Daniel Craig, who may or may not be telling his agent “brakes, brakes, brakes” on future Bond movies.