Three years after the release of Skyfall, one of the best of the best of James Bond’s big screen adventures, is it a mission impossible for Spectre to soar even higher as the follow-up? Daniel Craig’s fourth turn as the iconic MI6 super spy has its share of stand out moments, but ultimately falls short of the sky high Bond benchmark set by its predecessor.
As it turns out, Spectre is a perfectly satisfying Bond outing, packed with the expected globe trotting set pieces, great action sequences and manages to really bring the Daniel Craig-era of films full circle with the introduction of the series’ staple terrorist organization Spectre.
The film opens with an impressive tracking shot in Mexico City while Bond is on an unsanctioned mission during the Day of the Day festival. The cold open eventually takes to the sky in a pulse pounding helicopter climax. The hunt for a wanted villain south of the border takes him to a top secret council meeting where 007 comes face to face with a ghost from his past Franz Oberhauser (Christoph Waltz). Spectre is going to start blowing up cities all over the world unless of course, MI6 can put a stop to it.
But back in London, Her Majesty’s Secret Service is under heavy fire for the destruction that took place in Skyfall, and sees its Double 0, i.e. license to kill, program on the verge of being retired as an outdated means of combating terrorism. M (Ralph Fiennes), Q (Ben Whishaw) and Moneypenny (Naomie Harris) hold the fort against the a new head of the Joint Intelligence Service, duly dubbed C (Andrew Scott), who is hell bent on replacing super spy assassins with drones and cyber hackers. If this reminds you of the very first conversation between Bond and Q in Skyfall, yes the views on the obsolete nature of the “00” agents in the modern world is not new for the series.
Throughout the film, 007 is also tasked with protecting the two latest Bond girls, Madeleine Swann (Léa Seydouxthe) daughter of Craig-era villain Mr. White (Jesper Christensen) and to a lesser extent Monica Bellucci’s Lucia. Unfortunately not much ground is broken here with the latest additions to the rich line-up of Bond femme fatales.
Stopping Spectre while proving the Double-0 program a worthy active entity are the main double plot arcs of the film, while also bringing numerous call backs to Craig’s previous three films. There was nostalgic joy when Skyfall embraced Bond’s 50-year history for some off the cuff lighthearted moments, but Spectre holds firm on enclosing the Craig era into its own little pocket of time.
Where Spectre falters for the most part is in its pacing. For every breathtaking action scene there is as much or even more down time when you’re longing for the next pick up. Spectre is an unfortunate roller coster of ups and downs in the adrenaline rush department, and despite boasting some amazing sequences, doesn’t break enough new ground to make it a stand-out outing.The impressive Spectre passport earns stamps from Mexico City London, Rome, Austria and Morocco. It wouldn’t be a Bond film without numerous exotic locales and director Sam Mendes (who also helmed Skyfall) captures each various set piece individually in a gorgeous way.
Let’s be honest, with over 50 years of its own history to contend with plus competition from the Mission: Impossible and Bourne franchises, its no easy task at this point to put forth groundbreaking action or mind boggling plot twists. A visceral hand to hand brawl between Bond and new villain Hinx (Dave Bautista) on a train left the biggest impression on me, but even that was just a new version of the numerous ‘train brawls’ we’ve seen over the years. An overall ‘been there, done that’ virus plagues the film for certain.
The new villains are hit and miss. WWE and Guardians of the Galaxy star Bautista plays Hinx as a silent but immovable object, with obvious call backs to Bond icons Odd Job and Jaws. It’s not to say that Bautista has managed to put forth incredible screen presence in all his big screen roles (even in Riddick), and here is no different. Hinx is a force to be reckoned with and you honestly are left wondering how badly Bond will have his ass handed to him each time he appears.
Waltz’s Oberhausen is predominately a puppet master pulling the strings from the shadows for most of the film, which despite his connection to Bond’s past and Spectre, still leaves him as almost the secondary villain to Hinx’s front and center juggernaut. Waltz plays him with the flawless charisma we’ve seen in Inglorious Basterds and Django Unchained, but nonetheless still lacks the raw wrath we saw from previous Bond villains.
Overall Spectre is more in line with Casino Royale than Skyfall in the Daniel Craig 007 run (I found Quantum of Solace to be such a soulless entry in the series, I can’t compare it to Spectre). The ups in action don’t balance out the film’s lulls, making it a very uneven entry in the series. Casino Royale was a great re-introduction to the character, but still had many low key scenes and went 20 minutes past its proper end point.
As one would and should expect, Spectre delivers several solid action sequences and all the traits you want to see in a James Bond film, making it well worth seeing on the big screen. But when its up against its own rich history and tasked with following perhaps the best entry in the series, Spectre unfortunately can be classified as a very routine and uneven mission for the world’s best know super spy.
Spectre hits theaters November 6th.
REVIEW RATING: ★★½★★★
Director: Sam Mendes
Starring: Daniel Craig, Christoph Waltz, Léa Seydouxthe, Monica Bellucci, Dave Bautista
Screenwriters: John Logan, Neal Purvis, Robert Wade
Studio: Sony Pictures, EON
Running Time: 148 minutes