Film Review: Spectre (★★★)

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spectreIn many ways, the modern incarnation of the James Bond character has finally collided with the classic 007 in Spectre. The result isn’t nearly the success that Casino Royale or Skyfall was, though this Bond flick is not without its charms (and much better than Quantum of Solace). Daniel Craig is more at ease with the classical elements of the character than ever before, while returning director Sam Mendes does his best to continue giving the franchise a unique aesthetic. The creative forces here are really doing their damnedest to mix old and new, more so than ever before. On the one hand, things like the title and the way Craig’s spy interacts with characters as well as the world at large fit in with classic Bond, while on the other we have the most direct sequel ever in the franchise’s history. The mixture doesn’t always work, but it does satisfy, if that makes sense. The film is incredibly comfortable in its own skin, which could allow for laziness, but the team here skirts that with Spectre. The movie wears out its welcome in the third act, but it starts out like gangbusters and sets out to answer questions more than any 007 title before. That may not work for some, but I was pretty entertained by Spectre, even if it falls short of the lofty standards set the last time around.

Picking up after the events of Skyfall, we find James Bond (Craig) in Mexico City tracking an assassin on an unauthorized mission. He takes out this particular individual, but causes quite a scene in doing so, leading to trouble back on the home front. M/Mallory (Ralph Fiennes) is under a ton of scrutiny and a young upstart C (Andrew Scott) is attempting to shut down the 00 program and move towards a more drone and surveillance centric approach. M grounds Bond, but with some under the radar help from Moneypenny (Naomie Harris) and Q (Ben Whishaw), he’s able to continue tracking what turns out to be the shadowy group known as SPECTRE. With the help of Madeline Swan (Lea Seydoux), the daughter of a former adversary, he begins to close in. This leads him to a confrontation with its head, Franz Oberhauser (Christoph Waltz), who has a connection to Bond’s path. Along the way, there’s plenty of set pieces and such, but once we understand who Oberhauser is, a whole new world for 007 is revealed. In many ways, things are finally starting for the spy, though you’ll have to see the film to see what I mean.

james bond_778x436There’s no real acting standout here, but all of the returning players are very comfortable in their roles. Daniel Craig continues to make Bond a blunt instrument of destruction with a a tragic past, though yet again he adds some pathos to the proceedings. It’s not his best turn as 007, but it’s still a strong one, all the same. Ralph Fiennes is given much more to do as M this time around, though Naomie Harris suffers somewhat as Moneypenny, with Ben Whishaw’s Q stuck in the middle. Andrew Scott’s role is fairly one dimensional, which is disappointing, but it sets up a secondary rivalry for M, so there’s that. Lea Seydoux isn’t your garden variety Bond girl, though she does succumb to his charms fairly suddenly. As for Christoph Waltz, he’s more or less doing his usual thing, though I have to say he’s effectively menacing as someone who may or may not be playing a character you’ve been waiting for. Also returning to the franchise are Jesper Christensen and Rory Kinnear, while other cast members this time around include Dave Bautista and Monica Bellucci, just to name two. In the end though, it’s still a showcase for Craig.

Sam Mendes returns for a second time out as director and while he tries to emulate his previous outing, he also attempts to bring in more classic Bond elements. There’s a big baddie, set pieces on a train, and other small touches like that, including moments of levity that would fit in 20 or 30 years ago. At the same time though, Mendes’ direction can sometimes feel like it’s on rails, leading to some question why he’d come back. Despite solid cinematography from Hoyte Van Hoytema, it’s not as beautiful as last time. The writing team of Jez Butterworth, John Logan, Neal Purvis, and Robert Wade attempt to have their cake and eat it too, mostly succeeding, but sometimes making this too silly to be taken as seriously as they want it to. The score from Thomas Newman is somewhat forgettable, and the editing by Lee Smith isn’t nearly as clear as he usually is. That being said, once things get into a groove, it works. The third act is kind of lazy, but the first act is pretty top notch. One other note…the Sam Smith song Writing’s on the Wall does actually mesh well with the opening credits, in case you were wondering about that.

In the end, fans of the franchise will likely enjoy what Spectre has to offer. It mixes old and new, finishes up a long running storyline, and allows the character to go off in another direction if so desired. It’s not perfect, suffers from comparisons to Skyfall, and seems to be less ambitious than the recent outings have been, but also knows how to entertain. Provided that you’re not expecting an instant classic, this should work for you. Spectre isn’t great, but it is pretty good, managing to keep a spy relic relevant in the 21st century. The name is still Bond…James Bond.

Thoughts? Discuss in the comments!