Except for Casino Royale, the Daniel Craig James Bond films have all left me feeling slightly disappointed on first viewing but have seemed better on a second. So it should be taken with a grain of salt that I found Spectre slightly disappointing. It’s not that it lacks ambition. Like Casino Royale and Skyfall it tweaks the Bond mythos, and in fact it tries its damnedest to connect the dots between those two movies and expand on their revisionist take on Bond and thus provide a final wrapper for the Craig Bond mini-series, as it were. It has some interesting ideas about Bond’s relationship with the villain, Blofeld (Christoph Waltz) and about his relationship with the Bond girl (Léa Seydoux), but in both cases I didn’t feel that the ideas were worked out convincingly. It’s hard to get into either of these things without spoilers, so suffice it to say that both Blofeld and Madeleine Swan struck me as pretty bland characters on the first pass, and the attempts to give them special meaning to Bond felt correspondingly weak. (Compare and contrast with Mad Max: Fury Road, which has a much more radical re-imagining of the place of its iconic hero in the story.)
That said Spectre does provide the requisite elements of a Bond film that make them so attractive: exotic and scenic locales (Mexico City, Rome, Austria, Tangiers), swank decor, elegant outfits, cool gadgets, and spectacular action set-pieces. It also manages to feel almost contemporary in taking on the national security surveillance state as the villain of the piece — although perhaps Christopher Nolan was more honest in The Dark Knight (2008) in having his ambivalent hero resort to all-encompassing surveillance. I have mixed feelings about the way the Craig Bonds have attempted to grapple with the fact that the character is a brutal relic of the Cold War, and here it feels a bit strange that his license to kill is held up as somehow morally superior to the surveillance state.
In any event, I’m quite prepared to like this one better on later viewings, after I’ve gotten over the fact that it’s basically just another Bond film, albeit one with ambitions to be revisionist. Craig is my favorite Bond since Sean Connery, and it’s always a pleasure to watch him tug at his natty suit and smile unpleasantly.