On this we completely agree. It's one of the film’s rare grace notes, a brief moment of relief from the overplotted onslaught of the film’s two hours and thirty minutes. Bond soon saves her, and the plot machinery once again kicks into high-gear, but it’s the only moment in SPECTRE that has any humanity. This comes as a great disappointment, given that Mendes’ previous Bond outing, Skyfall, had a few more keenly-observed, human moments. But Skyfall was, plotwise, a much slighter picture, and it allowed for such breathing room. SPECTRE is much more over-burdened.
The trajectory of the Daniel Crai era of Bond has painted Bond as a fundamentally tragic figure. Casino Royale, Quantum of Solace, and Skyfall sees Bond as the product of a series of tragedies—the death of his parents, the death of Vesper, the death of M—all of which have hardened him into a killer and denied him a potentially more fulfilling life. SPECTRE attempts to offer Bond a happy ending of sorts, and in the story arc that Mendes sketched out with SPECTRE’s various screenwriters, Bond reckons with the ghosts of his childhood, of his great failed romance, and of the death of his mentor.
Each of those ideas gets a subplot. Bond’s childhood is evoked in his conflict with Blofeld, here reimagined as Bond’s foster brother. Bond’s romance with Vesper finds an echo in his romance with Madeleine Swann. Bond further faces the ramifications of M’s death both by responding to her orders—delivered from beyond the grave—and by overcoming the sinister forces that seek to lay ruin to MI6 (the ruined façade of the old MI6 headquarters looms over many of the film’s sequences, a metaphorical reminder of M’s departure). That’s a lot of plot for any film, and the unfortunate thing is that the three strands each seem to choke the other out for attention.
The Blofeld storyline has been structured around Bond’s recognition of his own past, but is carelessly written. Bond never expresses any genuine interest or concern about the connection (in fact, all the important beats of the mystery are indifferently tossed out as interludes between larger set-pieces). The opening title card boasts that “the dead are alive,” indicating that we might read SPECTRE as a ghost story, but there's little of that ethereal mood in the film itself. Additionally, in characterization, Blofeld feels confused: he’s every bit the traditional villain (Waltz feels like a combination of all the screen actors who have previously inhabited the role), but with a wholly extraneous origin story and motivation attached.
The core romance with Madeleine Swann is little more than bullet points. Where previous Bond films, On Her Majesty’s Secret Service and Casino Royale, took their romances seriously and attempted (at least in part) to structure the story around them, the romance here is relegated to a handful of too-brief scenes that cannot possibly carry the weight. It doesn’t help that Lea Seydoux and Daniel Craig do not have instantly-perceptible chemistry, so they are unable to fill in the gaps.
The worst of the three storylines, involving the impending demise of old MI6 and the rise of a new surveillance state, lacks any tension or surprise, and largely plays out through very rote scenes involving the MI6 “home team” (M, Moneypenny, and Q). Bond somewhat comes into play during the film’s limp climax at the old MI6 headquarters, but he never feels intimately involved in the fight, even after Blofeld is revealed to be behind it all.
Sam Mendes, working with editor Lee Smith, moves through all of this material relentlessly, to the point where none of it carries any weight. Even the action setpieces, with all their glorious stuntwork, fall flat (excluding the opening sequence, which is admittedly fun, even if it, too, is too-tightly edited). Given that Smith's other films--particularly his collaborations with Nolan--lack variety of editing rhythm and display a near-indifference to the dramatic undercurrents of scenes, I'm inclined to mostly blame him for this. Mendes' collaboration with Stuart Baird on Skyfall displayed a much keener attention to the performances and characters' internal tensions.
The one element that remains absolutely impeccable is Craig himself. For the first time since the early sections of Casino Royale, SPECTRE allows Bond the freedom to enjoy himself, and Craig relishes the opportunity. If Craig does not return for Bond 25, SPECTRE has given us just enough of Craig to be satisfied.