Spectre is the 24th James Bond film. Of all the Bond films that have been released since 1962, I've seen eight. I've seen the first three Sean Connery Bonds (Dr. No, From Russia With Love, and Goldfinger) the first Pierce Brosnan Bond (Goldeneye), and the four Daniel Craig Bonds (Casino Royale, Quantum of Solace, Skyfall, and this one). Having watched a third of the James Bond movies, I've seen a lot of bad guys killed and bad places explode, Bond girls come and go and sometimes die, and too many shaken drinks consumed- and had tons of spy movie fun.
While Spectre offers all of these Bond staples enough to satisfy, it's undoubtedly the weakest of the Daniel Craig Bond films- and most likely the weakest Bond film out of the eight I've seen.
We've seen Craig overcome many hardships in the last three movies, but Spectre finally corners Daniel Craig's James Bond in a trap that he can't escape: the camp of a Pierce Brosnan James Bond movie. It starts out promisingly, but eventually descends into equal parts bombast and camp, complete with ridiculous plot twists and an overemphasis on action setpieces rather than character development. It's not bad, but it's a betrayal of what the first Daniel Craig Bond films set up thematically.
It is still a James Bond film though, so let's talk about those explosions, villains, and girls! The spy action is undoubtedly Spectre's strong suit. The gorgeous cinematography and staging gifted to us by Roger Deakins in Skyfall is sorely missed, and Spectre never reaches such visual heights- but the ideas driving the setpieces are inspired enough to keep the action genuinely entertaining. They're also certainly the least realistic of this run of Bond films, especially when flying vehicles are involved, but that can be forgiven when they're so novel.
The primary performance that doesn't belong to James Bond or the signature Bond girl is, as always, the Bond villain. Ever since Inglourious Basterds, Christoph Waltz has been typecast as the through-and-through evil baddie, but he's far too capable in such a role to complain. He's expectedly menacing as the mysterious head of Spectre, but he has little to actually do. His performance would have created a memorable Bond villain if he had more than three key scenes throughout the long movie. Making Christoph Waltz forgettable must have been a difficult task for Spectre to pull off.
Daniel Craig, arguably the most deeply layered Bond put to screen, seems decidedly bored here. I don't think he'd disagree with me, seeing as he recently responded thusly when asked if he'd like to play Bond again: "I'd rather break glass and slash my wrists... Not at all. That's fine. I'm over it at the moment. We're done. All I want to do is move on."
Uh... yeah. That attitude creeps its way into his performance. He still commits to character- oozing suave confidence and conflicted morality- but he always seems like he's ready to finish doing so the next minute. It's a shame especially because Spectre's most prominent Bond girl, Léa Seydoux's savvy French assassin Madeleine Swann, gives a wonderfully authentic and convincing performance alongside Craig. If Craig was as game as Seydoux, their pairing would have been a rare equally matched Bond relationship, but their romance fizzles due to the former's tired acting.
The story lives on the line between exciting and riveting, consistently driven by enough intrigue to be interesting and fun but only occasionally enough to be impressive. It's satisfying for a Bond film up until the climax, when Spectre tries to pull off two insane plot twists in a row that both fall flat. One of them would normally be a game changer, but the way the screenplay handles it renders it inconsequential- the movie would not have played out any differently had it never happened.
The second is what I like to call a How I Met Your Mother twist. In case you've already forced its godawful memory out of your brain, HIMYM's final episode ends with a twist so horrible that it not only ruins the finale, it retroactively ruins the entire show. Because the show we used to adore turned out to be building up to such a twist, every previous episode and beloved event is painted in a disappointingly different light, and the whole show is set on fire in retrospect.
Spectre's absurd twist does that. Not only is it a bad idea in and of itself, it threatens to undo the complex character and thematic development that the past Craig films touted. The three previous Craig films did a terrific job of creating a James Bond that lived within an uneasy compromise between action and devastating consequence, but Spectre basically nullifies that effort with its HIMYM twist. It's beyond campy: it's a betrayal.
At what might be the end of Daniel Craig's run as James Bond, we have a compelling action movie that falls short of being another classic in the vein of Casino Royale or Skyfall. The main narrative and subplot are enjoyable spy adventures, but a few aspects sink it slightly to the level of a middle of the line Bond film.