‘Spectre’ is overly long and painfully underwhelming

Spectre is the perfect example of a big and beautiful movie that has no idea what its audience wants to see. The premise is good enough, and lead actor Daniel Craig gives an admirable turn as James Bond, but in the end it’s little more than a lot of hot air and well-crafted set pieces.

Some time has passed since the events of Skyfall, and the ever-alive James Bond has been spending his downtime on vacation in Mexico. At least, that is what the team at MI-6 believes. In reality, Bond is making good on the deathbed request of a dear friend, and carrying it out means inciting a bit of an international incident It’s big, impeccably shot and has all the heart-racing action franchise fans have grown to expect. It also happens to be the best sequence in a movie that runs nearly two-and-a-half hours long, which is the first of many problems that soon arise.

Once bond returns to Europe, he’s immediately grounded. With the help of M (Naomi Harris) and Q (Ben Whishaw) he finds a way to follow up on a lead that directs him to a secret society of evildoers working to take over the world through a series of seemingly unrelated acts of terrorism. Their leader is a man who goes by the name of Oberhauser (Christoph Waltz) and whose knowledge of Bond goes deeper than the average villain, but his history is a mystery to seemingly everyone 007 encounters. Learning his true identity is what fuels Bond’s every move, but unfortunately the payoff is nowhere near as pleasing as the chase.

There is also a side story involving a brutish, high-class thug played by Dave Bautista, who is limited to just one line of dialogue throughout the entire film. He’s a good opponent for Bond, but like practically every other person and idea in Spectre, he’s incredibly stunted. There is no arc to his character, nor even any back story. He’s a distraction from the lengthy amount of screen time Bond spends globe-hopping from one fantastic locale to another, intended to ramp up otherwise-dull sequences with needless chase scenes. It’s fun stuff, but only in the kind of way that makes it clear the film would absolutely flatline without it.

Sam Mendes returns to the director’s chair for Spectre, and together with Daniel Craig he attempts to inject a little more fun into the aging spy franchise. Humor has always been one thing Craig has notably lacked in his portrayal of Bond, which has set him apart from many previous actors who have tackled the role, and in Spectre we get a sense that decision was probably for the best. Neither Mendes nor Craig have any idea how to create an authentic sense of fun in this world, and their attempts to do so arrive with the kind of hard narrative thud that leads you think their time with this series is likely nearing its end.

The film’s biggest crime is in its underutilization of almost every supporting character, including Bautista and Waltz in their villainous turns. Monica Bellucci perhaps has it worst of all, appearing briefly as a mournful widow who all too quickly succumbs to her sexual nature when Bond enters her life. The treatment of her character, who exists seemingly for no other reason than a narrative pivot point disguised as a tawdry romantic fling, reveals all too clearly the age of the spy aesthetic that drives this franchise. Bond uses everyone he meets, and in Spectre those who must assist him get less than ever in return. It’s surprisingly cold, and perhaps even heartless in a way.

Bond diehards will no doubt find elements of Spectre worth praising, even if they are few and far between, but I imagine the vast majority of moviegoers will walk away from this overly long drama with a feeling they have been cheated. Mendes and Craig proved their ability to make us care about Bond with Skyfall, but what is presented is here is so devastatingly underwhelming you might start believing the recent upswing in franchise quality was nothing more than a passing fluke. I hope that isn’t true, but I know for certain I won’t be revisiting this title anytime soon.