One thing every movie sequel has in common with other sequels is that it will be compared to the film or films that came before it. With the 24th film in the official James Bond line of films (ignoring the original farcical version of Casino Royale in 1967 and the non EON Production movie Never Say Never again in 1983), the problem is only magnified. Especially since 2012’s Skyfall was one of the best Bond films in a long time. If we evaluate Spectre solely by comparing it to Skyfall, it suffers greatly. However, the proper way to critique Spectre is to evaluate it without such comparison. On that level it is an excellent effort.
Spectre opens with Bond (Daniel Craig’s fourth turn as the spy who is licensed to kill) in Mexico City on the Dia de Los Muertos (Day of the Dead) chasing another assassin. We learn later that the last “M” (Dench) left an order to Bond before her death to take care of “Marco Sciara” (Cremora). The stalk and chase of Sciara is the film’s opening action piece and it is superb. I’d like to rate it against the other outstanding opening action pieces from prior Bond films but I won’t since I’m trying not to evaluate on a comparison basis. It is important to note that Bond took a ring from the finger of Sciarra.
When Bond returns to London, we discover he was not on a sanctioned operation in Mexico when the current “M” (Fiennes) suspends him. The videotaped instructions of the former “M” tell Bond not to miss Sciarra’s funeral where he borrows a page from the book of “Chazz Reinhold” (Will Farrell) in Wedding Crashers, as Bond follows Sciarra’s widow (Bellucci) home where he seduces her. She point Bond in the direction of the criminal organization her late husband had worked for.
Meanwhile M is in a battle with “C” (Scott) over the future of MI6 and the Double O program. Following a merger between MI6 and MI5, C has become director of the combined agency and is now M’s boss. He wants the UK to join eight other nations forming a consortium of the world’s top intelligence agencies.
Bond tracks down “Mr. White” (Christensen) who we saw in Casino Royale and Quantum of Solace. White is dying and makes a deathbed deal with Bond. Bond swears to protect White’s daughter, Madeleine Swann (Seydoux) and in return she will give him some information he needs to pursue the leader of SPECTRE (Waltz).
With a running time of two hours and twenty-eight minutes, Spectre is a bit long and could use a bit of trimming. The formulaic elements of the franchise are done well, which is important. Poorly done, they would make the film seem tired. The only tired moments are a few instances where it appears that Daniel Craig might well be done with Bond. But the majority of the movie finds him on his game and it’s good to see he isn’t fully burnt out just yet. Lea Seydoux is not just easy on the eyes, but might well be the best of the Bond girls since the franchise was rebooted in 2006. There’s a bit of a giggly aspect to Christoph Waltz’s evil maniac performance but I don’t think he is capable of ever giving a bad performance. This is just a bit less stellar than what we’ve come to expect from this two-time Academy Award winning actor.
In the end, Spectre winds up being much like the favorite cocktail of Commander James Bond. Shaken, not stirred, very smooth, but with a solid kick as you swallow it.