“SPECTRE” is nothing and everything that you’d expect it to be. The fourth James Bond film in the Daniel Craig era continues the work of its three predecessors in rebuilding 007 for the modern era, going for grit and substance instead of the over-the-top theatrics that defined the Bond films at their worst.
Now that audiences are well acquainted with Craig’s Bond, some of the patterns become a little obvious in “SPECTRE.” For one, you know Bond will travel all over the world and operate anything known to man that has a motor and “goes.” You also know that it’s likely some other part of the golden years of Bond will get rebooted in the way “Skyfall” surprisingly (or not surprisingly) revealed Naomie Harris to be Moneypenny.
What is most surprising, however, is the way modern Bond screenwriters Neal Purvis and Robert Wade (along with fellow “Skyfall” scribe John Logan and newcomer to the franchise, “Edge of Tomorrow” writer Jez Butterworth) continue to build continuity into cinema’s most famous spy series. Although past Bond eras have kept the same supporting characters, even around different Bond actors, most films in the series are episodic—the events of one don’t play into the next. The last three Bond films have all had some semblance of continuity, but “SPECTRE” dives in on that front. It might be the only “Bond” of all time that necessitates viewing previous entries in order to best appreciate it.
Crafting a “Bond” movie is an awful lot like checking off a list. There’s so much iconicity to this franchise that you can’t be too careful in writing it lest you upset the integrity of “Bond.” “SPECTRE” meets all the criteria in terms of action, gadgetry, witty dialogue, beautiful women, beautiful cars and more. That’s what any good “Bond” ought to do. But a great “Bond” ought to make you forget that the movie is a sum of these parts. That’s what “Skyfall” did so well, and it’s what “SPECTRE” doesn’t do. You see this one for the formula behind it. That said, hard to fault director Sam Mendes and the writers, cast and crew who also had a hand in “Skyfall” for setting their own bar too high.
“SPECTRE” dazzles with a Dia de los Muertos helicopter fight over Mexico City, a car chase in Rome, a fight onboard a train in North Africa and more, of course. The sets, costumes and cinematography are all as first-rate as they have been the last few films. And the acting and characters are among the best overall collection in a long time. Lea Seydoux is a terrific Bond girl; she’s smart and fearless, not just a sexy and emotional damsel in distress, and how can you go wrong with Christoph Waltz as the main villain? Well, you can go a little wrong if the part isn’t especially well developed, but the performance – delightful.
In a word, “SPECTRE” is satisfying. So many of its components will meet “Bond” fans’ expectations, almost to the point where it’s a wonder that there’s anything to be critical of at all. Yet there’s a slight hollowness to the story – something doesn’t fully add up. Maybe that’s because its biggest surprises are not surprises, or maybe it’s too busy trying to check off every qualification on the list that the big picture got lost. It’s not the best of modern-day “Bond,” but it fits perfectly in the 007 pantheon.
Directed by Sam Mendes
Written by John Logan, Neal Purvis and Robert Wade, Jez Butterworth
Starring: Daniel Craig, Lea Seydoux, Christoph Waltz, Ben Whishaw, Ralph Fiennes, Naomie Harris