James Bond is a survivor. A badass.
Heck, some consider him the ultimate action hero. However, Spectre, the spy’s 24th (official) cinematic venture, may well pose 007 his gravest, most sinister threat yet … and it doesn’t come courtesy of Christoph Waltz.
The dastardly din that is Sam Smith’s theme song, “Writing on the Wall,” is enough to make anybody squirm with anguish, let alone a villain-expunging secret agent.
Mercifully, the movie provides more in the way of entertainment, yielding solid performances, amazing action sequences and more location changes than Edward Snowden fresh after plundering a CIA hard drive.
However, Spectre is far from perfect. In truth, it's a disappointing backslide from the majesty of Skyfall.
The opening sequence takes place amid Mexico’s Day of the Dead festivities, with Bond navigating a crowd of skull-masked merrymakers. Learning of a soon-to-be-unleashed act of terror, 007 ensues chase with the villainous Sciarra, culminating in a helicopter-based brawl while swirling above undead revelers.
It’s a sublimely-shot action sequence, forging solid foundations for Skyfall's much-anticipated follow-up.
Director Sam Mendes’ abovementioned Bond debut mustered unprecedented levels of emotional engagement with its exploration of 007’s character and vulnerabilities. The heartrending fate of Judi Dench’s M was the perfect sign-off to (what many consider) Bond’s finest hour.
So, where would the filmmakers decide to go next?
The challenge of rivaling — let alone bettering — the last helping of Bond was a demanding one. Mendes’ approach to the task seems … curious. Rather than expand on the bold new direction initiated by Skyfall, the director elected to revisit and (fervently) allude to previous Bond adventures. As a result, Spectre feels more like a nod to classic 007 than a furthering of the series' most fulfilling and accomplished film.
Bond’s adversary goes by the name of Franz Oberhauser (Christoph Waltz, brilliant as always). However, the villain seems rather underused. His true identity is revealed as the finale looms, yet emotional impact is hindered by uninspired character depth and development.
Following M’s (Ralph Fiennes) declaration that Bond is to stand down under orders from the blatantly no-good Max “C” Denbigh (Andrew Scott), we learn that the 00 agents are to be scrapped in favor of a drone-supplemented digital monitoring system.
007 is quick to dismiss such nonsense, at least until a final instruction from (Judi Dench’s) M surfaces via video link. After convincing Q (Ben Whishaw) and Moneypenny (Naomie Harris) to assist his rogue assignment, the spy heads off to topple the Spectre organization. Cue car chases, crazy brawls, elaborate backdrops … everything you’d expect from a Bond movie. Yet, it all feels somewhat unsatisfying. Nothing on offer can banish the irksome feeling of "I've seen all of this before."
Bond’s coupling with Madeleine Swann (Léa Seydoux) introduces a major plot thread, only to be besieged by a startling lack of chemistry. The relationship feels forced and unlikely; it's as if Mendes shoehorned it into the script in hopes of further exploring Bond’s inner psyche. Alas, no such sophistication is to be found.
Despite its logistical shortcomings, Spectre is an enjoyable addition to Bond’s cinematic legacy. There’s plenty of action and excitement, but the lack of emotion looms large, not in the least following the levels of engagement achieved by its predecessor.