Directed by Sam Mendes.
2015. Rated PG-13, 148 minutes.
One of the calling cards of the Daniel Craig incarnation of Bond is brutal, Bourne-style hand-to-hand combat along with spectacular action set pieces. Both are present here. As has become par for the course, the opening sequence is a stunning visual treat with all sorts of mayhem going on. We get buildings falling into other buildings, some shooting, a foot chase, mid-air fistfights, and I don't know what this series has against helicopters, but it destroys another one in sublimely ridiculous fashion. All this is before the opening credits. The rest of the film follows suit, giving us plenty to dazzle the eyes as we embark on 007's latest adventure.
Another series calling card, at least of the better Craig-Bond films, is our hero's flawed humanity and a deep reflection on the same. Those films also take an introspective look at their own place in the modern world. The two films I am mostly referring to, Casino Royale and Skyfall, understand the franchise and its protagonist are born of a long bygone era and must take great pains to remain relevant. They put those struggles front and center in the tales they're telling and are better for it. Spectre gives only a cursory nod to those strategies. More often than not, it relies on the same tropes the other films recognized as Cold War relics and/or archaic ideals of manhood. The drinking and womanizing so thoroughly examined in the predecessors to Spectre are frivolously tossed in. The physical and psychological toll of those habits, along with a violence-filled life, are non-existent. We're left with a very average Bond. He's become the same exact Bond we've just spent three movies painstakingly deconstructing.
None of this is to say Spectre is a bad movie. It's a perfectly passable action flick. The fireworks come often enough, and is intense when it comes. The plot is predictable, if unnecessarily convoluted, but hardly a deal breaker. Christoph Waltz gives us another solid villain. The downside there is that his Blofeld feels interchangeable with most other bad guys he's played. The budding romance between Bond and Madeline Swann is tepid, but serviceable. Serviceable, average, mediocre, all good words to describe this movie. Had the main character been someone other than James Bond as played by Daniel Craig and directed by Sam Mendes, I may not be so hard on it. Because that's precisely who it is, this is a highly disappointing effort. This is the A student turning in a C paper. Yeah, it's passing, but we know this student is capable of so much more. Skyfall plumbed the depths of the 007 franchise and found its soul. Spectre returned to the surface, skimmed across it, and pretended we haven't already seen what lurks beneath.
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