Spectre: a Hit at the Box Office, a Miss with Audiences
by Sam Brigham on Friday, November 20th, 2015
The twenty-fourth James Bond film, Spectre, was released in American theaters on November 6th. Once again starring Daniel Craig, Spectre will be Craig’s fourth appearance as agent 007. The film revolves around Bond’s dealings with a multinational terrorist organization named Spectre. Perhaps because Skyfall (2012)—the previous Bond film—achieved such widespread critical acclaim and grossed over 1.1 billion dollars at the international box office, the creators of Spectre became overly ambitious with their newest movie. While Spectre was relatively interesting, its underdeveloped and occasionally convoluted plot confused its audience and detracted from the movie’s debut.
At the movie’s onset, Bond goes on a mission assigned by M, the now-deceased leader of the M16 secret intelligence agency. The first scene contains a beautiful, uninterrupted shot that lasts for several minutes: Bond stalking a target through a Day of the Dead celebration in Mexico. The ensuing helicopter battle is visually stunning and thrilling to watch. After returning to London, Bond is suspended indefinitely by the new head of M16 for his rogue operations.
However, this initial plot development sets a somewhat confusing context for the rest of the film because the script does not play up the “rogue-agent” dynamic later on as much as one would expect. In fact, the takeover of a corrupt global intelligence corporation becomes a major plot point in the film, perhaps reflecting the directors’ wish to condemn NSA-style surveillance in the real world. However, the issue of unwanted surveillance practically disappears later on, making viewers wonder why it was even introduced in the first place. Moreover, the movie’s dialogue does not clarify exactly why Bond decides to travel to certain exotic locations. While quick, unexplained transitions to new settings within movies can be exciting if well-executed, the scenes in Spectre usually conclude before we understand their significance. Before we know why Bond has traveled to a certain place to accomplish a mission, the scene ends and leaves us wondering what just happened.
Later, Bond travels to Rome to find the leader of Spectre—the global criminal organization that also appeared in earlier James Bond films. He discovers that its leader, Ernst Stavro Blofeld (Christoph Waltz), a reimagined version of the villain from earlier movies, appears to know him, and the connection between Bond and Blofeld remains an unresolved question for most of the film. Unfortunately, the ultimate resolution of this mystery, when Bond and Blofeld meet again face-to-face, does not make sense in the context of Spectre’s plot or the audience’s previous knowledge of Blofeld from earlier films. In Spectre, central thematic elements fall flat, doors are closed before viewers understand why they were opened, and certain plot developments are simply unreasonable.
The acting in Spectre was an amalgam of strong and weak performances. In Casino Royale (2006), Quantum of Solace (2008), and Skyfall (2012), Daniel Craig’s performance was a highlight. In these films, Craig comes off as a more serious and athletic version of Bond, like earlier actors Sean Connery and Timothy Dalton. According to the November 6th issue of Entertainment Weekly, Darren Franich comments that the British actor made Bond feel “real” in his four movies and “gave Bond a past”. Léa Seydoux plays Spectre’s primary “Bond girl”– a woman who functions as both a lover and ally to Bond– and convincingly portrays the youthful but knowledgeable Dr. Madeleine Swann.
On the other hand, Christoph Waltz’s dry performance does not evoke the sense of maniacal calmness that the character of villain Ernst Stavro Blofeld requires. Waltz instead combines sarcasm and indifference into his interpretation, not only confusing viewers, but also making Blofeld seem less intimidating.
Despite being exciting and containing plenty of action-packed and occasionally disturbing scenes, Spectre failed to create a sense of originality. It contains token Bond moments, like car chases in snow, train fights, and narrow avoidances from buildings about to explode, but it didn’t have much else. Thankfully, viewers still get a healthy dose of the comic relief that is present in nearly all Bond films, including an incident where eager skiers flooding a gondola help a supporting character flee danger, and a scene in which Bond jokingly shakes his pistol at an intimidated rodent.
Although Eon Productions has already earned back Spectre’s 250 million dollar budget at the box office, this new James Bond movie had way too many flaws. The plot ineffectively oscillated between various themes and at times, didn’t even make sense. Although Daniel Craig had another strong appearance as James Bond, the equally important performance of Christoph Waltz as the film’s antagonist fell flat.
In terms of current spy movies, I’d personally recommend Kingsmen: The Secret Service over Spectre because it had an original, easily understandable plot and many interesting characters. Still, if you have seen the other twenty-three James Bond films and don’t want to miss any new additions, Spectre may be worth watching.
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