Spectre Review by Daniel Rester
The first few minutes of Spectre are some of the best ever put to screen in the James Bond franchise. Director Same Mendes and cinematographer Hoyte Van Hoytema pull off a continuous, detailed tracking shot that in that time features Bond (Daniel Craig) pursuing a target through a crowd while schmoozing a woman at the same time. The whole event takes place around a Day of the Dead celebration in Mexico City and eventually leads to the expected spying and action sequence an audience might expect from a Bond opening. It’s classic stuff done with an expert handling.
That’s why it’s too bad that what follows in Spectre can never match the opening, with the film retreating into good Bond territory but never quite reaching the great heights it could have. The film is slightly disappointing when compared to Casino Royale (2006) and Skyfall (2012) — the latter also directed by Mendes. However, Craig still proves he is one of the best Bonds we’ve had and Spectre is still miles ahead of some of the lesser Bond films from the past.
As for plot in Spectre, without giving too much away, Bond, M (Ralph Fiennes), Moneypenny (Naomie Harris), and Q (Ben Whishaw) are all still dealing with events from Skyfall while also holding off a man named C (Andrew Scott) – who wants to bring various organizations together and remove the 00 program. Bond also pursues a mysterious ring, which leads him to a secret organization called Spectre and a man from his past named Franz Oberhauser (Christoph Waltz). Eventually Bond and a doctor named Madeleine Swann (Lea Seydoux) must outrun a villain named Mr. Hinx (Dave Bautista) as they try to uncover the secrets Oberhauser possesses.
Spectre gets damn near everything right on a technical level. It’s a beautifully crafted Bond film, staged exceptionally by Mendes and shot with a meticulous eye by Hoytema on many locations. The action scenes are very entertaining and often riveting, though some are over-the-top even for a Bond film; I’m looking at you plane sequence. One particular fistfight is especially fun, though, with Bautista and Craig clearly having a blast with the creativity of the scene. Lee Smith’s excellent editing and Thomas Newman’s rousing score also help to make a lot of the scenes pop.
Where Spectre slips a little is in the screenplay and pacing. The script – credited to four writers – isn’t as ridiculous as some past Bond scripts, but it isn’t as involving as it thinks it is either. The subplot with the character C mostly feels familiar and adds extra, unwanted baggage onto the film – though some of it is necessary to the story. The mid-section of the film also drags as it seems like forever before Oberhauser really gets much to do on-screen. If you hire two-time Oscar-winner Waltz to play a villain, it’s expected for him to do more, isn’t it? I would think so. Instead the villain is kept in the shadows too much as Bond just goes from place to place doing his usual spying and martini-drinking during the two-and-a-half hour running time.
Waltz is excellent in the film, though, as expected. And so is the rest of the cast, with no real weak links as far as acting goes. The only issue is that the characters feel very familiar at this point and most of the actors don’t get much emotional punch or playfulness to invest in – except for Craig of course. The filmmakers do try to plug in some romance between Bond and Swann, but it never quite deepens and it pales in comparison to Bond’s relationship with Vesper Lynd (Eva Green) in Casino Royale.
Spectre has plenty of action, humor, and homage. A lot of it works, and the film is impressive in multiple ways. Unfortunately the extreme length, lack of character development, and fairly basic story full of build-up stop it from being a first-class Bond movie. Spectre might be one of the best-looking Bond films (as expected from the brilliant Mendes), but looks aren’t everything – even if they involve steely blue eyes and nice suits. Still, Spectre is an adventure worth going on. Just don’t expect Casino Royale or Skyfall.
My Grade: B+ (on an F to A+ scale).
Viewing Recommendation: Skip It, Wait for Cable, Wait for Blu-ray Rental/VOD, See It at Matinee Price, Worth Full-Price Theater Ticket
MPAA Rating: PG-13 (for intense sequences of action and violence, some disturbing images, sensuality and language).