SPECTRE

 Let’s face it, Skyfall was always going to be a tough act to follow. Daniel Craig and director Sam Mendes had delivered a solid action movie with surprising emotional depth, strong character arcs, and an affectionate nostalgia for older Bond films. No wonder it’s considered one of the best movies in the 007 canon; no wonder it went on to gross over a billion dollars at the global box-office.

 
Stacked against those odds, is it really surprising that Spectre – also directed by Mendes – comes up short?
 
You couldn’t guess from the film’s terrific opening sequence shot in the midst of Mexico City’s Day of the Dead festivities. The camera follows Bond in a single tracking shot through a street crammed with costumed revelers, into an elevator and a hotel room, and then onto a rooftop where some heavy-duty carnage ensues. It’s topped off by a scuffle in a swooping helicopter that’s truly breathtaking.
 
To be fair, while never matching Skyfall or Casino Royale for their suspense or emotional impact, Spectre is pretty good blockbuster entertainment, and comes with plenty nods to 007 lore. The plot sees Bond acting on a cryptic message from a dear departed character that leads to the discovery of an international criminal organization called SPECTRE. Back in London, a new head of British intelligence (Andrew Scott) is making life difficult for M (Ralph Fiennes), threatening to end the Double-0 program and replace it with a global surveillance project. Shuttling from Rome (where he beds a recent widow, played by the gorgeous Monica Bellucci) to the Austrian Alps (where he teams up with Lea Seydoux’s character Madeleine Swann, the daughter of an old villain), and Tangier in North Africa (where he faces off against Dave Bautista in a thrilling hand-to-hand fight on a train), Bond hunts for the criminal mastermind who, as it turns out, is the author of all his pain.
 
Played by Christoph Waltz (usually excellent, but here delivering a performance that feels overly familiar), Franz Oberhauser comes off as a frankly unconvincing villain, thanks to the preposterous back-story that links him to Bond. This in fact is reflective of the film as a whole: it’s over-plotted, overlong, and trying too hard to tie up too many loose ends.
 
But it’s really only in comparison to Skyfall that Spectre feels like such a disappointment. Mendes doesn’t scrimp on the action, and peppers the film with moments of cheeky humor, several involving Ben Whishaw’s Q who devises some fun gadgets. The film draws on familiar Bond mythology, like the reappearance of an old villain, the ejector seat in 007’s trusted Aston Martin, and a Jaws-like henchman who puts our hero through the paces. It’s all pretty enjoyable stuff even if the film does drag on for nearly 2 hours and 30 minutes.
 
Craig, who fills out a Tom Ford suit like few can, is in very good form, evidently more comfortable now under the skin of Bond than he ever was. There’s an urgency to his action scenes, but because the script lacks real depth, you’re invested neither in his romance with Seydoux, nor for a moment are you worried that he can’t take on Waltz.
 
Like a satisfying masala Bollywood film, Spectre is strictly escapist fun. Nothing wrong with that. It’s just that you know what they could’ve pulled off had they tried harder. I’m going with three-and-a-half out of five.

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