Spectre **1/2

The latest James Bond movie has a few good moments, but is ultimately a letdown.

Is it worth $10? Yes

“Spectre,” the 24th entry in the James Bond franchise, begins impressively: In an uncut long take during the “Day of the Dead” parade in Mexico City, the camera starts high above the street, moves down to the crowd, focuses on James Bond (Daniel Craig) and a woman, then follows them inside and up stairs, into an elevator, out of the elevator, into a hotel room, out onto a balcony, once again high above the street as Bond walks the rooftop and finishes with Bond pointing a gun into an adjacent hotel room. The logistics of doing all this in one shot are mind-boggling, but the benefit is that it immerses us in the action and kick starts the story. Then the payoff: The entire building collapses, and soon Bond is in a twirling helicopter stealing the bad guy’s ring, which has a distinct spider-like design. 

And yet, it all feels a bit flat. The opening action scene of a Bond movie should be a “wow” moment that gets us excited for what’s next, but the only real “wow” in this opener is the camera work, which doesn’t provide an adrenaline rush. As the rest of the story unfolds the action remains pretty average, except for the ending, which is just barely good enough to tilt the movie in favor of recommending. Still, “Spectre” is a clear notch below the franchise’s last entry, “Skyfall,” in almost every regard, including the opening song: Sam Smith’s “Writing’s on the Wall” here is no match for Adele’s Oscar-winning “Skyfall.”

The plot connects to the villains in the prior three movies (“Casino Royale,” “Quantum of Solace” and “Skyfall”) in interesting ways. Bond learns that one man, Franz Oberhauser (Christoph Waltz), heads a terrorist organization named “Spectre” that has been behind all that Daniel Craig’s Bond has fought against thus far. For as good as Waltz is as a bad guy (he won an Oscar for playing one in “Inglourious Basterds,”) he struggles here, as he plays Oberhauser with a quiet menace that never quite registers as devious or dangerous.

Bond has the help we expect: M (Ralph Fiennes), Moneypenny (Naomie Harris) and Q (Ben Whishaw) assist in various ways, all while trying to stave off a government agent (Andrew Scott) who wants to eliminate the “Double-O” program (which Bond is a part of) in favor of a global surveillance system. The Bond girls are Madeline (Lea Seydoux) and Lucia (Monica Bellucci), and former pro wrestler Dave Bautista (“Guardians of the Galaxy”) plays one of Oberhauser’s henchman.

If you’re at times confused where Bond is going, and why, you will not be alone. Director Sam Mendes (“Skyfall”) eschews clarity because he knows it’ll all make sense in the end, but it’s a mistake to think audiences wouldn’t rather understand what’s happening as they see it. A little mystery is good; consistently making a viewer say, “wait, what?” isn’t. Moreover, some things make no sense at all, like how Bond got an Aston Martin from London to Rome overnight, and why someone would send a car to pick up Bond when he knows Bond is there to kill him.

Relax, you’re thinking, it’s a James Bond movie – these Bond-isms are expected, and welcome, you say. The thing about the Daniel Craig Bond movies is that they don’t feel like the Sean Connery/Roger Moore/Pierce Brosnan Bond movies. The Craig movies have always been more serious, and as a result less fun and less traditionally Bond-like than all the others. Being more stern is fine and has served Craig’s Bond well, but the lack of levity also means it cannot as easily get away with silly little Bond-isms because the absurdity doesn’t fit the serious story.

Estimates have the budget for “Spectre” at roughly $350 million, which easily makes it the most expensive Bond movie ever made and one of the most expensive movies ever, period. It’ll probably cover the budget and then some (“Skyfall” grossed $1.1 billion worldwide), so it’s not like the franchise is doomed by this mediocre installment. But viewers excited for “Spectre” going in – as I was – should temper their expectations and brace for mild disappointment.

Did you know?
Although Daniel Craig is under contract to play Bond one more time, he’s said he’d rather “slash [his] wrists” than play him again, and that if he did “it would only be for the money.” Source:

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