Stephen David Miller

Startup cofounder, AI researcher, podcaster, person, etc.

Review: Spectre

I finally caught Jurassic World this weekend, and boy was it underwhelming. I’d call it “artless”, but I never expected art from a movie about Chris Pratt and dinosaurs. It’s the sheer joylessness that hit me. It felt like no one was invested, and no one wanted me to be. Impressive visuals are no substitute for awe, and a horde of CG velociraptors are infinitely less scary than carefully placed ripples in a glass of water.

Maybe it’s a fourth-installment curse, but Spectre suffers from that same joylessness. Setting aside the (unflattering) comparisons to Rogue Nation its plot will elicit, there aren’t specific missteps here. In fact, there’s nothing specific at all: it’s the generic average of every Bond movie. Slick locations, countless fight scenes, a hero who seduces and kills with chilling proficiency, a mild-mannered mastermind bent on destruction, and every conceivable vehicle to blow up. That’s the whole script. It’s so confident you’ve seen it before, it forgets to tell a story. Daniel Craig is hurting? Léa Seydoux is in love? Christoph Waltz has a personal vendetta? Why waste valuable screen time convincing me when you can just telegraph beats from better movies and say “you probably see where we’re going with this, right?”

In a year of massively successful Mission Impossible and Fast and Furious sequels, what makes Bond stand out? Certainly not the stakes. Spectre may throw us in a helicopter, sportscar, plane, train, and speedboat, but giddy ridiculousness just doesn’t suit it. And definitely not relevance, unless Snowden-esque conspiracies and a single use of the word “drone” still do something for you. No, the one thing Bond has in its wheelhouse is coolness. Restraint. That put-upon ease of the popular kid in highschool, too comfortable in its skin to try to impress you. Skyfall did things at its own pace, brooding and strange. Spectre bets you 10 bucks it can ollie over your head. Even when it shoots for style, like that long-take opening scene, it feels more like a Goodfellas fan saying “get it?” than a film with a grasp of itself. Sam Mendes is invisible here.

The other weapon it thinks it has is nostalgia; this is probably the most Vintage, and least empathetic, Daniel Craig has been. Everything from the Aston Martin to the decidedly-not-modern female characters screams “remember the good old days?” Like Jurassic World or Kingsman, it wants to mock its cake and eat it too — to be meta about its redundancy while simultaneously using it as a crutch. But pointing out emptiness doesn’t make you less empty…just a little desperate. Sometimes less is more, and in this case less Moore would have been better.

It’s not worse than Quantum of Solance, but it’s hard to feel optimistic about the future.

See my review on Letterboxd