I realized something as I was watching Spectre, the 24th installment in the James Bond superspy movie franchise. If I only had to judge Spectre next to other mainstream Hollywood fare, the typical action/adventure big budget escapist entertainment that the studios churn out to drain our wallets and raise their tentpoles, then Spectre would be exceedingly above average and comparatively entertaining. But here’s the problem: Bond movies aren’t measured against other movies, they are measured against other Bond movies. They’ve set their own standard and, with every new installment, we—the audience—expect it to be met and, if it’s not, we consider it a disappointment. And, lately, with Daniel Craig as the current Bond, that bar has been set even higher. Two of the three Craig-as-Bond movies, Casino Royale (2006) and Skyfall (2012) were arguably two of the best in the franchise, critically and commercially (the third, Quantum of Solace (2008), was considerably weaker), so we expect not just good, but great.
Unfortunately, Spectre falls way short of those expectations. It feels as if the creative team behind the camera (director Sam Mendes and writers John Logan, Neal Purvis, Robert Wade and Jez Butterworth) as well as in front (Craig, Christoph Waltz, Ralph Fiennes, Christoph Waltz and Ben Whishaw) are just phoning it in. While Spectre isn’t terrible, it isn’t great either. It feels uninspired and everyone looks bored. There are some decent action set pieces, but the best scene of all is the opening one, so, quite frankly, from there, the rest feels lackluster.
And still, Spectre isn’t bad. After all these years, producers Michael Wilson and Barbara Broccoli have learned from their mistakes, and they know how to put together a team so good that it’s almost impossible at this point to make a bad movie. Director Mendes knows how to tell a good story (although it’s a bit thin this time) and actually build character, while the talent is so jam-packed here, you almost prefer the talky scenes over the action ones (in a Bond movie?!). Ralph Fiennes, Ben Whishaw, Naomie Harris, Monica Bellucci (blink and you’ll miss her) are all absolutely fantastic, and even the horrible Lea Seydoux manages to not ruin anything, as many a bad-acting Bond girl has done in the past. But, of course, the stars are the villains, and Christoph Waltz and Dave Bautista are so good you wonder where they’ve been all these years.
But, in the end, despite the allure of the talent and the legacy, Spectre just can’t live up to its promise. Uninspired and half-hearted, this is a Bond movie that doesn’t live up to all we’ve come to expect from the franchise. And yet, it’s still better way to spend the evening than most of what comes out of Hollywood. A bad night with Bond is still better than most nights with anyone else.