Review: Satisfying ‘Spectre’ Caught in ‘Skyfall’s’ Shadow

James Bond in Spectre

‘Spectre’ Reverts Back to Connery Days in Craig’s Latest Outing

Off the heels of a critically hot Skyfall, Spectre was set for a trap from the start. With the previous installment, the bar for the James Bond franchise was set so incredibly (and ridiculously) high, any direction Spectre ventured would result in a less than equal endgame.

Daniel Craig returns in his fourth and rumored final outing as the iconic British double-0 agent. Shortly after the events of Skyfall, Bond receives cryptic instructions from beyond the grave and is dispatched on an unsanctioned mission to foil a plot to blow up a stadium in Mexico City. Dressed in skeletal Day of the Dead garb and a mystery woman on his arm, Bond’s weaves his way through the chaotic festivties in a gorgeous tracking shot, eventually leading to a showdown with his target escaping the scene. Cinematographer Hoyte van Hoytema (Her, Interstellar) is clearly at the top of his game from the first shot, a worthy direct successor to Roger Deakins’ masterful work in the previous film.

Bond returns to duty at a pivotal time. MI6 is in the process of being laid to the waistside, effectively retiring the spy program in exchange for around-the-clock surveillance. Spectre is ultimately a battle on two fronts, M (Ralph Fiennes), Moneypenny (Naomie Harris) and Q (Ben Whishaw) engage in a power struggle against the head of the Joint Intelligence Service (Andrew Scott), deeming them antiquated and ineffective in the modern era of terrorism and espionage. Meanwhile, Bond faces his past, uncovering the bigger picture behind his previous three missions, sadly retconning nearly a decade’s worth of buildup.

At 148 minutes, Spectre slips past Casino Royale and Skyfall as the longest Bond film to date. Ironically enough, Spectre is the culmination of a straightforward four-film payoff. If Spectre wasn’t rumored to be Craig’s supposed swan song, accepting its simplicity would be simpler to digest. Early on in the film, Moneypenny tells Bond that she thinks he’s just getting started. And for the sake of Spectre, that statement needs come to fruition. Craig has done a solid job defining the 53-year-old character since Casino Royale, but the ambiguity of where the franchise is heading next will be nerve wracking until the next film is announced.

Sam Mendes returns as director for his second straight outing after Skyfall. Mendes is the first director since John Glen (For Your Eyes Only to Licence to Kill) to direct consecutive installments. And it only makes sense since Spectre is in many ways a sequel to Skyfall as Quantum of Solace was to Casino Royale. The main difference between Quantum and Spectre is the latter’s ability to be its own film rather than an awkward feature-length epilogue.

SEE ALSO: Skyfall – Review by Daniel Rester

Spectre plays to the classic Connery and Lazenby days, rewinding the clocks back to classic Bond formula. Diehards of the franchise should no problem picking up some of the throwbacks, particularly a heavy focus on Lazenby’s On Her Majesty’s Secret Service.

Various clues propel Bond through a relentlessly exhilarating first half. From meeting Monica Bellucci in a blink and you’ll miss it moment in Rome (plus quickie 007 lovemaking) to confronting an old enemy in the Austrian Alps, Bond moves one step closer (or chase sequence closer) to locating the head of the snake or in SPECTRE.’s case, the octopus. Until Bond crosses path with psychologist Madeleine Swann (Lea Seydoux), who unquestionably is the most memorable Bond Girl in a nearly a decade, he couldn’t be more alone.

Christoph Waltz’s Oberhauser is the criminal puppet master of SPECTRE. and self-proclaimed “author of all Bond’s pain.” Minus a shady introduction early on, Waltz doesn’t re-appear until the third act (for his big Star Trek Into Darkness moment). By then, Spectre is already wrapping up shop just in time for its climax. And there’s no time left to invest in petty motives. Ironically enough, as the Craig films go on, the main adversaries are revealed later and later. Mads Mikkelsen was introducted within minutes of Casino Royale. The same goes for Mathieu Amalric in Quantum of Solace. Javier Bardem was sidelined well over an hour into Skyfall. All these middlemen had more driving them than the main boss.

Instead for the previous 90 minutes, Bond is pursued by SPECTRE.’s muscle, the silent Mr. Hinx (Dave Bautista, Guardians of the Galaxy), who has a knack for finding him and eventually Swann, who holds her own, everywhere he globetrots. Hinx fits right alongside classic Bond henchmen, Oddjob and Jaws, though resulting less in a punchline.

In that vein, Mendes continues to keep Craig’s Bond rough around the edges like the previous installments. Some by-the-numbers Bond wit is tossed in occasionally. Just enough not to disrupt tone or overly draw attention to itself. At least we’re not treading into a couple goofy Roger Moore episodes. `

Spectre ultimately finds itself in a tricky position in James Bond lore, wrapping up a decade-long story arc while laying the groundwork for something even greater at hand that’s unfortunately up in the air. James Bond will return. Who and how remains to be seen.

8
Great
Written by
Matt Marshall has been reviewing films since 2003, starting with "The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King." He specializes in home media, including 4K UHD, Blu-ray as well as box office analysis. He has a B.A. in Communications/Journalism from St. John Fisher College and resides in Rochester, NY.

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