After a mission in Mexico City goes successfully if slightly awry, MI6 agent James Bond (Daniel Craig) returns to London and gets an earful from his new boss, 'M' (Ralph Fiennes). He's put on a sort of suspension while things are figured out, things 007 isn't telling M. It hasn't been too long since the Skyfall incident although MI6 is part of a new merger that could completely shake up -- if not destroy the 00 program (the license to kill agents) the entire organization, especially Bond. Trouble or not though, Bond has his objective. Not long after the death of a superior, he received a clue in the mail telling him what to do next. That mission? Pursue a man (who he found in Mexico City) and go to his funeral. From there, he'll figure it out. Now, it's all up to Bond to see where the clues lead. This time, the clues and evidence appear to lead to a sinister organization that is far larger, far more powerful than anything Bond, M or MI6 could have thought of.
This latest Bond installment -- the 24th in the series, 24! -- was in a bit of a lose-lose situation if you ask me. Director Sam Mendes returns to helm 'Spectre' with Craig and much of the cast returning from Skyfall. The issue? Skyfall was an all-timer, one of the great Bond movies and one of my personal Top 5. How do you follow up franchise perfection? The reviews have been pretty mixed, and it's fair to say 'Spectre' isn't a great Bond film. What is it then? Pretty damn good. The criticisms I've read are fair -- the movie's length, the writing, the lack of action -- but none of it is a deal-breaker. I seemed to have liked it more than many reviewers, but I came to a realization as I watched. I think it's better than okay, but for the sake of a quick-hitting review, even an okay Bond movie is still better than most action movies out there.
Ah, Bond, how I missed you. As high as the bar was set with the franchise's previous entry, 'Spectre' is still pretty good, Mendes, Craig and Co. showing a comfort level with the iconic character that seems to get more comfortable with each passing movie. Bond is globe-trotting (as expected) so we get some great location shoots in Mexico City, London, Rome, Austria, and Tangiers. Composer Thomas Newman's score is solid, especially in the second half, with the big sweeping touches in the BIG moments, but also the quieter moments. There is a style and glamour and impressive scale to these movies -- especially since Craig took over as 007 -- that is necessary, perfect consistent throughout the movies, no matter the story or cast or reviews. That's what I love so much about these movies.
So that Daniel Craig fella....man, he's good at bringing James Bond to life. It's been cool to see Craig do his thing as the iconic British agent, making him more than a ladies man, a one-liner spewing killer, a smartass with no actual humanity. Craig makes him a human being, and 'Spectre' again dives into Bond's personal life, especially his childhood. It's little moments where we see Bond as he really is, in a conversation with the Bond girl (more later), in a surprisingly funny conversation with a mouse in a hotel room. We see a man who is very good at his horrifically dangerous job. Death awaits on any given day at any given moment. Craig is smooth and suave, able to deliver a one-liner as necessary, but as he's shown in the other films, there's a menacing edge, an intimidation factor to his Bond. Most importantly though, he's human.
Who else to look for? Bond movies don't disappoint in the cast department so there's no worry here. Christoph Waltz looks to be having a ball as the villain and thankfully it's more underplayed than usual, a little more subtle. His Oberhauser is dripping with intensity. Wish he'd been around more actually! I thought Lea Seydoux was excellent as Madeleine, the beautiful Bond girl who thankfully is no damsel in distress. Pretty and brains, can't go wrong! Along with the always reliable Fiennes as the new M, also look for Naomie Harris (Moneypenny), Ben Whishaw (Q) and Rory Kinnear (Tanner) as our familiar faces at the ever-changing MI6. I loved that Whishaw's Q is given a lot to do, especially some great in-the-field scenes with Bond. Good humor, solid chemistry between the bookish Q and the tough agent. Also look for Dave Bautista as Hinx, a brutal Spectre enforcer (an excellent, imposing part), Monica Belluci, and Andrew Scott as C, a new high-ranking official in the British intelligence community.
This next observation seems rather divisive among fans and reviewers. The Craig Bond movies have been connected, parts of one story impacting the next. Most of the previous entries were stand-alones, some characters popping up from time-to-time but no connecting story. 'Spectre' continues to delve into that angle, both Bond's past (Jesper Christensen's Mr. White makes an appearance) but also a criminal organization that's pulling powerful strings all over the world. There's some twists with Waltz's Oberhauser that I thought was pretty cool, and I'd think many fellow Bond nerds would appreciate but I'm seeing otherwise as I read message boards and reviews. The twist going back to Bond's teenager years was unnecessary, that much I can admit. I'm a diehard 007 franchise fan, and I'm curious where things will go going forward with future entries.
The biggest complaint I've read is the story, a modern world where old-fashioned MI6 and its 00 (License to Kill) agents are dinosaurs, a thing of the past. Sound familiar? It was dealt with in spectacular fashion in Skyfall. It is repetitive (if appropriate in technology-heavy 2015) and not developed rather well. We're watching the Bond movie so...you don't really need to convince us. I would have liked more Bond's background, more Bond and Madeleine, whatever, because the story itself is interesting. We just don't need to be hit over the head with the message. On the cool side, 'Spectre' is full of little moments, nice little nods to previous Bond movies from Goldfinger and From Russia With Love to The Man with the Golden Gun and many others. For the most part, they're subtle, but Bond fans will get a kick out of them for sure. I especially did.
What else? I could ramble for days about a new Bond movie so let's keep it focused! Ah, the action, a staple of the franchise. The cold open is brilliant, Bond chasing an assassin through Mexico City during a Day of the Dead festival. The payoff in a careening helicopter is an absolute doozy, a real whopper. 'Spectre' isn't an action-heavy story and is a bit of a slow-go through the first hour or so. Things pick up about the halfway point with the second half finding a groove. High points include a brutal fight between Bond and Bautista's Hinx, a stylish car chase through Rome (Newman's score is excellent here) between Bond and Hinx, and a mountaintop showdown up and down a mountain with Bond in pursuit of Madeleine...while flying a plane. Yeah, pretty cool. The finale is nothing huge but a more personal action sequence, a cool capper to all these espionage shenanigans.
It ain't perfect, but it's still pretty good. The opening credits are very cool, but Sam Smith's song is unfortunately completely forgettable. As for Craig, it's not a lock, but I'm pretty sure (book it, go to Vegas!) he'll be back for a fifth and most likely final venture as everyone's favorite secret agent. If he doesn't, the ending is a fitting one, a nod to one of the more infamous endings in the franchise -- if you ask me at least, I could be overanalyzing. As for me, I'm a sucker for a good Bond movie, even if it isn't great. That gun barrel opening, the familiar musical theme, those notes kick in and I get a chill up my back. It isn't as good as Skyfall or Casino Royale, but it is a solid, definitely above average James Bond movie that struggles to deal with some flaws.
That said...it's JAMES BOND. Go see it!
Spectre (2015): ***/****