Spectre is best described as the Bond greatest hits collection. It is a nod to all of those classic scenes, characters, and imagery from Bond lore. Just as Sean Connery's Bond plowed his way through Dr. No, Largo, and Rosa Klebb to get to the villainous No.1 of the sixties S.P.E.C.T.R.E.; Daniel Craig's twenty-first century Bond undertakes the same odyssey to reveal the true puppet master behind his woes. This is the new origin story's faithful adherence to establishment. Most Bond fans will be chuffed and delighted to see this take. I have a positive, if slightly mixed response. Skyfall, the finest Bond film of the modern era, took the character to new places with visual flair. Spectre seems formulaic in comparison, but a spectacular effort nonetheless.
Spectre opens with a maverick James Bond (Daniel Craig) causing chaos in Mexico. M (Ralph Fiennes) is furious. Why was he there? What was the purpose of his mission? Stubborn and secretive, Bond is decommissioned. His callous indifference to command spelling doom for the double O program. But he has the unquestioning loyalty of Q (Ben Whishaw) and Money Penney (Naomie Harris). Bond has procured a bloodstained ring emblazoned with an octopus. It leads him to Rome, a funeral, and a widow (Monica Bellucci). She pulls back the curtain to reveal Spectre, a sinister and incredibly powerful organization. As Bond puts together the clues from his life as an assassin, he realizes that the shadowy leader of Spectre, Franz Oberhauser (Christoph Waltz), has been intimately involved in each event, with a vendetta against him more personal then he could ever have imagined.
Director Sam Mendes orchestrates an epic in scale production that ticks every box. It's Bond 101. Beautiful women, exotic locations, mind blowing stunts, witty banter from a diabolical villain; who dutifully monologues about his greatness and Bond's futile efforts to stop his evil plan. Don't get me wrong. It's as well done as cliché's can be. But therein lies the rub. It's a tad disappointing to see Spectre fall prey to such predictability. All the mystery and build-up becomes contrived if we know that Bond will never be tortured to death because the baddies only took his gun. The near omniscient antagonist would have to be aware of his lethal gadgets. It is the suspension of disbelief that the Austin Powers franchise successfully satirizes when it pokes fun of Bond. As Bond fans we accept it, but the Craig era films had pinned their stake to a more believable espionage thriller up to this point.
Beyond a critical eye to the procedural aspects of the film, Spectre is solidly entertaining. Daniel Craig continues to be an absolute beast as Bond. There's a line in the film where a character compares him to a kite flying into a hurricane. An apt description if reversed, Craig is a hurricane of ass kicking in Spectre. But don't worry about Bond being all fight. He's still a smoldering sex machine that lures women like moths to a flame. The damsel in distress nature of the female roles cries sexism, but let's be frank; the Bond franchise is machismo incarnate. The filmmaker's are going back to the Bond roots, which doesn't embrace equal time for the ladies.
I've purposefully avoided delving too deep into the supporting cast to avoid spoilers. I will say that Christoph Waltz does a capable job as Bond's nemesis. His sly, menacing delivery and sheepish grin just scream super villain. It plays well on screen, but doesn't quite reach the more unique performances of Javier Bardem in Skyfall and Mads Mikkelsen in Casino Royale. Once again, it's most likely because Waltz is playing the textbook Bond bad guy as described in the script. He's got two Oscars on his shelf that prove he has range and can play any character well.
The legions of fans that have grown up on Bond will love the throwback plot of Spectre. Other audiences should be happy with the stupefying action scenes, even if it runs long at two and a half hours. I suppose after Skyfall I expected a more complex film with Sam Mendes distinctive style. As in all mainstream franchises, it is a product meant for mass consumption that can probably only push the envelope so far. Hopefully the next Bond film will be an entirely new adventure. But I have a feeling the Broccoli family will continue along the same storyline that successfully carried Bond into the Roger Moore era.