If Skyfall rebooted the franchise with a fresh set of faces and a modern tone, there’s an expectation that Spectre might seem like Bond simply going through the motions. Sure, the 24th film in the long running franchise hits all the hallmarks we’ve come to know and cherish, but Spectre goes the extra mile and has more than a few tricks up its sleeve. Here is an uncompromisingly confident action film, that works not only as an engrossing spy thriller, but as another grand entry in Daniel Craig’s string of hits as the British agent.
Spectre reunites director Sam Mendes with screenwriter John Logan and team Robert Wade and Neal Purvis, and this winning formula has made another homerun. After the attack on MI6, the agency finds themselves at a crossroads. M (Ralph Fiennes) is under pressure from a new security agency headed by Max Denbigh (Andrew Scott), who wants to shut down the 00 program. We find our favorite 00 agent following a trail of clues that leads him from Mexico City to Rome to Austria, where, after revisiting his past, Bond must protect Madeleine Swann (Lea Seydoux). She leads him to the elusive group known as SPECTRE, headed by villain Franz Oberhauser (Christoph Waltz).
While the script might not be as tight as Skyfall’s, the characters are what keep the momentum going. Daniel Craig has fit the character like a glove, and it’s hard to imagine the series going on without him. His physicality and charisma bring charm and wit to the dialogue, and he shines in his scenes with Moneypenny (Naomie Harris) and Miss Swann. Speaking of, Lea Seydoux is simply remarkable, as she matches Bond in more ways than one. The most memorable Bond girl since Vesper, Madeleine gets under Bond’s skin and sees how he functions, giving us some excellent chemistry and steamy scenes.
Spectre recalls previous Bond films even moreso than Skyfall did, and this might be the film’s biggest strength and weakness. All of Craig’s films have been connected quite loosely – every film seems to have a scene in which a villain says “you really don’t know anything, do you?” as if to imply something bigger at stake. This keeps the audience wondering if the top villainous organization of the week will ever be toppled, and it gets a bit rote at times. The villain this time around, Franz Oberhauser, portrayed by the brilliant Christoph Waltz, is a bit of a mixed bag. He certainly brings the charisma and poise and meets all the requirements in the job description, yet his character falls flat. His evil plan is a bit hazy, and bottom line there simply aren’t many scenes with him that make an impact, apart from a merciless torture scene. The same can be said of Lucia Sciarra (Monica Bellucci), a widow who leads Bond to Spectre. Bellucci received high billing, only to have a total of four minutes on-screen – it’s quite disappointing considering the talent on display here.
But when Spectre works, it fires on all cylinders. The globe-trotting environments lend themselves well to remarkable sequences, and I think there are a few here that will be all-timers. The opening sequence, while not as lengthly as Casino Royale‘s, is a doozy, as Bond grapples with a helicopter above Mexico City on the Day of the Dead. The tight camera work from Hoyte van Hoytema coupled with the brilliant sound mixing make it an unforgettable sequence. Another one aboard a train in North Africa finds Bond putting up fisticuffs with the brute henchman Mr. Hinx (Dave Bautista). You can feel the weight of their punches as the uneven match escalates, and you’ll be on edge throughout.
Mendes knows when to pull back from the action and give emphasis on the quieter moments as well, and they’re no less thrilling. A great scene in the mountains of Austria features Bond and Q (Ben Whishaw) visiting Madeleine at her clinic, all while being pursued by Oberhauser’s men. These scenes aren’t as showy as the outlandish production of a Day of the Dead parade (rumor has it the budget ballooned past $250 million), but they serve a greater purpose and have the signature Bond flair. Additionally, the side plot with M and C launching a new global security initiative works well and has ties to the main plot, all while feeling increasingly relevant to today. In a year overflowing with espionage films, from Kingsman to Spy, it can be tough to stand out, yet Spectre manages with grace.
If Spectre will only be remembered as Bond by the numbers, it might seem like it belongs in a rank of middle ground Bond films, ones that serve only to push the series to its next installment rather than stand on its own. Yet Spectre isn’t that film. The smart script keeps you invested throughout the entire 150-minute run time, and Mendes and team ensure that you’ll never get bored. Daniel Craig has kept the series breathing with his trademark quips and pulse-pounding thrills, and the supporting cast has definitely staked their claim in the franchise’s future. Whatever happens to the Bond franchise after Craig, Spectre is a reminder that not every entry must reinvent the wheel, at its core it must simply be a good film.