This review will contain spoilers, because I need to tell you what happens in order to explain why I felt Spectre was a disappointment.
“Wasted potential” is the best way to describe this movie. Throughout the film there were so many things done right with regards to setup, only to lead into something that completely took me out of the moment and ruined the immersion. It’s generally not a good thing when a movie reminds you that you’re watching a movie, and so many bizarre things happen that you can’t help but remember this is a Bond movie, and Bond is invincible. But there were other things as well, decisions made that spoiled a film that had good atmosphere.
(1) Most of us saw Blofeld’s introduction in the trailer, and even though I saw the trailer the scene still got to me. Here you have a room full of high-level baddies talking casually about how they’re controlling the world, and then they all stop and stand up when a shadowy figure walks in. None of them sit until they’re told to, and the shadowy dude is established easily as the head honcho of this criminal syndicate, all without saying anything the audience can hear. That was well done.
But then he disappears for the majority of the movie, and it turns out he’s nothing more than a jealous sibling. This was the movie’s biggest fail, in my opinion. A Bond villain should be bigger than life, because that’s what it takes to match Bond’s charisma, resourcefulness, and general persona as an agent of good. Blofeld’s noticeable absence weakens his presence. He never feels like a menace or a threat, because there’s this huge gap in between scenes where he is present. We don’t see him doing anything sinister, and so even worse than failing to make him intimidating, we just forget about him.
The “twist” that he is Bond’s stepbrother felt strange and irrelevant. It made Blofeld petty, and thus even more inconsequential. The reason his set up was good was because the villain is supposed to be badass and intimidating, and you achieve that by giving him motives beyond unresolved childish problems (note: childish, not childhood). Killing your father because he paid more attention to your brother? There are more convincing and effective ways to portray a psychopath.
Compare Spectre‘s Blofeld to Goldeneye‘s Janus. Both have a vendetta against Bond, but the great thing about Goldeneye is that we see Trevelyan’s reason for hating Bond, right at the beginning: Bond chose to carry out the mission rather than save his partner’s life. Of course, in the end Trevelyan’s character was evil to begin with, but the film did an excellent job of making the audience understand he has something personal against Bond. Blofeld’s grievance against Bond happens off screen, and in the past no less, when they were children! It’s difficult to make the audience care about something so far removed from what they’re seeing on screen, cause that’s all we got, and that’s why Blofeld just doesn’t seem to matter afterward.
Thinking about it now, I don’t think Christoph Waltz was an appropriate casting choice. A villain can use dark humour to great effect, but Blofeld only comes across as being silly and immature (and this is perpetuated by his overall identity as a squabbling sibling). This may work in Tarantino films, but I think the audience has the right to expect something more serious from a Bond villain.
(2) There’s a great fight scene on a train, where it’s Bond versus Spectre’s top hitman. The fight feels real because they’re completely destroying their surroundings, there’s not a lot of shaky camera, and it feels like Bond might actually lose, because he gets hurt and is seen running away from his adversary a few times.
Immediately after (as in, right after, with no other segue way) this scene Bond and Dr. Swan have sex. You could feel the collective groan from everyone in the theatre. I actually understand why this was written; Bond is Bond and Dr. Swan is the daughter of an assassin, so this sort of thing is what gets them off, but it felt so abrupt and corny, since Dr. Swan’s character was set up as an independent woman who can take care of herself. She even says to Bond in a prior scene: “Don’t expect me to fall into your arms”, and then this happens. It’s nonsense, and even though Swan is Bond’s romantic interest, I don’t think the train love-scene was necessary, and it frustratingly took away from the scene previous.
Furthermore, after that they depart the train in the middle of nowhere. Bond was just involved in a situation that destroyed three of the train’s cars. You would’ve thought that he’d be arrested or questioned or something, but nothing happens. Also, during the fight Swan gets smacked twice, real hard, but there’s not even a mark or blemish on her face afterward. I know this sort of thing can be interpreted as nitpicking, but I’m trying to make a point about suspension of disbelief. This goes back to the movie making me realize I was watching a movie. The train-love-scene felt so out of place I had to remember I was watching a movie, and that made me think about what just actually happened. There’s a difference between suspension of disbelief and seeing something that actually doesn’t make sense, and unfortunately Spectre takes it too far, too often.
(3) The torture scene was another great moment. Bond is strapped to a chair and of course some exquisite method of torture has been thought up for him to endure. Amazingly, the scene didn’t feel cheesy at all, even though it’s an obvious throwback to the Bond films of old. The villain had a good reason to be doing it, and it was unique and had serious consequences other than death. The escape is also well done and believable, and is appropriate for Bond the secret agent.
But as soon as he escapes he gains the “aura of invincibility”. Remember how I said the train fight was good because it felt like Bond might actually lose? This is the complete opposite of that. Even after taking two drills to the skull (whose purpose was to affect Bond’s brain, and consequently his memory and motor skills), Bond walks out of the base shooting every henchman in sight with 100% accuracy while remaining unscathed by presumably movie-magic. He’s even escorting an NPC while he does it! And to further insult the audience’s intelligence there’s a fantastic Michael Bay explosion of the base at the end (which is caused by Bond shooting a pressure gauge?). Again, an excellent scene that is concluded by crushing audience immersion.
The ending continues the trend. It ends with the stereotypical “last bullet that can’t miss”, and with that one bullet Bond takes down a helicopter. It was completely unbelievable, and I hated it as soon as I saw it. Apart from ruining immersion, I had commented earlier that Bond is charismatic, and resourceful. This type of thing spoils that completely. Bond is just a man, that is why when he wins against impossible odds it’s supposed to be amazing. Giving him a magical force field that deflects all bullets, and the final luckiest shot of all time shatters that image. Bond becomes just another stereotypical hero who can’t lose, and we can go to any other movie for that.
I framed this review by describing the film as one of great potential but failed expectations. It does a great job setting up a scene, but cannot get past tired and used tropes and deus ex machina. On top of this, Blofeld’s character is trivial, and the audience has no reason to consider him as a threat of any magnitude outside his introductory scene. I’m not a hardcore Bond-fanatic, so I don’t care that Blofeld’s character had been retconned, but I do think how the character has been portrayed is a failing.
Most people will watch this movie simply because it’s a Bond movie, and they’ll get what they’ll expect, but the experience is unlikely to be satisfying, as the entire project felt lazy and uninspired. This is a movie with great setup and disappointing results. It’s worth it to go see in theatres because the visuals are nice (especially the opening title sequence and its song), but you won’t get much if you intend to watch it for the story or a good overall cinematic experience.
This has been a gamobo review.