SPECTRE is the 24th entry in the long-running James Bond series and the fourth starring the inimitable Daniel Craig and while it never quite reaches the heights of its immediate predecessor, the critically acclaimed Skyfall, it still manages to pack a punch with some exciting action sequences and lush cinematography. Yet, for every punch that is thrown, there is a lacking sense of drive that diminishes the overall urgency of what is now the single longest entry in the series (despite the multiple ticking clocks winding down in its ending).
SPECTRE opens in spectacular fashion with a long (seemingly) uncut shot of Bond (Craig) sauntering through the Day of the Dead festival in Mexico and positioning himself for an assassination before all hell, of course, breaks loose. It turns out that Bond had been sent on a final, unofficial mission following the events of Skyfall which lead him on a trail of an evil, global organization known as SPECTRE, headed with shadowy flamboyance by the deceptive Franz Oberhauser (Christoph Waltz) – a criminal mastermind harboring a personal connection to 007. Meanwhile, M (Ralph Fiennes) squares off with Max Denbigh (played by Sherlock‘s Andrew Scott), whom Bond jokingly nicknames C, as he tries to dismantle the 00 section in favor of drones and extended surveillance through a multi-national world order dubbed Nine Eyes.
In a series that hasn’t exactly prided itself on continuity (which, admittedly, is very difficult to achieve with a 50-plus year history following a same aged character), SPECTRE attempts the unprecedented task of trying to tie in all of the Daniel Craig films into a single continuity (which even include flashbacks during the standard artsy credit sequence – something that hasn’t been quite done since On Her Majesty’s Secret Service). While its admirable that it connects all the loose threads of the last three films (especially Quantum of Solace which left many a plot point dangling), the approach is rather heavy handed and at times overwhelms an already muddled script. While trying to juggle too much at once, SPECTRE repeatedly drops the ball amidst its incredible set pieces which alone elevate the film beyond the failure it easily could have been.
The film’s plot feels rather aimless as Bond follows thread after thread, country after country, following one vague purpose after another plus a random, if not ridiculous, personal angle thrown in that never rings quite true and only succeeds in diminishing what should have been a ground breaking third act reveal. All that, plus an under-developed love story (with the exquisite Léa Seydoux) that is supposed to echo Bond’s emotional tie with Casino Royale‘s Vesper Lynd that ultimately falls flat. How do we know that she’s Bond’s second biggest love interest (third, if you count Tracy di Vicenzo from On Her Majesty’s Secret Service which is no longer part of this continuity)? Because the film explicitly tells us rather than show us.
Despite these failings, SPECTRE ups the ante when it comes to its set pieces with many (such as the aforementioned opening or a train fistfight with the formidable Dave Bautista) delivered with expert confidence by Sam Mendes and terrific editing that is not plagued by Jason Bourne-ification of Quantum of Solace. More refreshingly, this is Daniel Craig’s chance to shine as a fully-fledged and formed 007 – deadly assuredness and winking disposition in check – providing the most fun performance as Bond in years and excelling in spades. If this is to be his last outing, as has been rumored, it would be a shame since this is the Bond we have been building up over three films to see and Craig hits the mark in one shot.
Overall, SPECTRE is an enjoyable, if underwhelming, entry in the Bond series that is serviceable for a solid two-and-a-half hours of fun. In many ways, it’s the Star Trek Into Darkness of the rebooted Craig era, delivering nostalgic lore from a different perspective and yet failing to reach the compelling heights of its predecessors. As always, Bond will return and it will be intriguing to see the where the series goes next.