REVIEW: SPECTRE falls into the same trap that befell THE DARK KNIGHT RISES. Following hot-on-the-heels of an entry that won critical acclaim, shattered box office records, and put a fresh new spin on the established James Bond mythos, SPECTRE, for all of its own merits, inevitably pales in comparison to SKYFALL. While clearly director Sam Mendes and his team of writers (including John Logan) didn't have the same strong take on the material that they did with the last one, they've still made a more-than-respectable 007-outing in its own right, with occasional flashes of artistry and inspiration that are truly dazzling.
One thing is for certain – SPECTRE is the most technically accomplished and sophisticated Bond film ever made. Right from the smashing pre-credits teaser, which starts with a complex tracking shot that shifts perspectives as Bond works his way through a Day of the Dead parade in Mexico City, through a dalliance (with Narcos' Stephanie Sigman) to an assassination, no one could say Sam Mendes isn't the all-around best director the series has ever had. Every penny of the reported $250 million budget is on the screen, with globe-trotting locations and massive action set-pieces.
Even with Roger Deakins sitting this one out, SPECTRE is a visual feast, with Hoyte van Hoytema's cinematography being especially striking, with color scheme that makes this feel just as unique as SKYFALL did in the canon. Despite the poor theme song (Sam Smith's track is only marginally improved by Daniel Kleinman's credit sequence), Thomas Newman contributes an invigorating score with some choice uses of the famous Bond theme, while second unit director Alexandre Witt gives the action scenes crisp and clear choreography that compares favorably to his work on CASINO ROYALE and SKYFALL.
What's a shame is that for all the technical artistry, the same care has not been put into the screenplay. In some ways it feels like the writers (Jez Butterworth, John Logan and 007 regulars Neal Purvis and Robert Wade) were trying to embrace a back-to-basics vibe, with this having more of the classic three-act Bond structure. However, by bringing the SPECTRE organization into the fold, they've tried to tie-in all the movies together in a way that feels false, especially in regards to what happened in the last film with Silva. It gives SPECTRE a patched-together vibe in regards to the content that betrays the technical artistry on display.
Luckily, even if the script and plotting feels subpar, no major franchise sins are committed here, with enough threads left dangling that the franchise could easily continue with Daniel Craig, despite the rumors that this is his last entry. Frankly, I doubt he'll be turning-in the keys to his Aston Martin quite yet, and Daniel Craig, who's still only in his forties, is just as vital a Bond as he's ever been. Looking fit and lean, Craig also lets a bit of Connery-style cheekiness slip-in here and there, with some inspired bits such as a moment where he roughs up a guard and warns another one that he'll get the same treatment if he doesn't give up right away. The only disappointment with Craig is that Bond flies too often, with him piloting a plane as well as no less than two helicopters, resulting in escapes that are too convenient. Craig is so good with his fists that I wish more hand-to-hand scraps were added, although the train-bound fight between Craig and the hulking Dave Bautista is excellent.
The ladies come-up slightly short here, as do the baddies to a certain degree. Monica Bellucci has little more than a cameo as a quick bed-mate for Bond (and she looks ravishing as always), while Lea Seydoux's part is a little too thinly written to make her such a heavy love-interest for Bond, as she's depicted her as much more than just a casual Bond girl. The chemistry between her and Craig isn't as deep as what we saw between him and Eva Green in CASINO ROYALE, but again, this is more a fault of the writing than the acting.
As for the villains, the much ballyhooed “Hans Oberhauser” winds up being too minor a part for the usually excellent Christoph Waltz. It takes a long time for him to come into the film (more than 2/3's of the 150 minute run time has passed by his legitimate introduction) and the big reveal couldn't be more obvious, although as a long-time fan, I must admit it is satisfying, and the performance ends on a good note.
Otherwise, the cast is sterling as usual, right down to the smallest parts, with Ralph Fiennes once again making for a badass M 2.0, while Naomie Harris feels like the perfect 21st century Moneypenny. Ben Whislaw is also emerging as a terrific Q – Desmond Llewelyn would approve. Some of the product placement goes a little too far though, with Bond's Tom Ford wardrobe being vast even by the franchise's crazy standards, while the inevitable Heineken beer scene is especially goofy, with it even leading him to an important clue at one point.
While far from perfect, SPECTRE is still an excellent action film, and despite not quite measuring up to SKYFALL, a very strong Bond outing. In terms of the Craig films, it comes in below CASINO ROYALE and SKYFALL, but way ahead of QUANTUM OF SOLACE and it's also much better than any of the Brosnan-era Bonds (even GOLDENEYE). It's not a game-changing addition to the more than half-century-old franchise, but it's still a very strong showing for 007, and there's certainly ample opportunity for Daniel Craig and Sam Mendes to return in a few years with a truly amazing new Bond – provided they take the extra time to get the script just right this time. And if it takes more than the usual three year intervals between Bonds, so be it. Good things come to those who wait, but in the meantime rest assured Bond fans, this is still a good thing!
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