The trouble with Spectre, the latest James Bond action extravaganza, is that it’s neither. All the expected ingredients are there — the exotic locales, the beautiful women, the revving sports cars, the super villain, the cool hero never breaking a sweat, the “Bond, James Bond” — but they never distill into a whole greater than the sum of their predictable parts.
Whereas such predecessors as Skyfall and Casino Royale could still make these elements dazzle, the only occasionally entertaining Spectre feels inert by comparison.
It doesn’t start out that way. In fact, the opening — a tracking shot through a massive Day of the Dead festival in the heart of Mexico City where everyone is decked out in elaborate skeleton costumes — is an immediately fascinating and dizzying gateway into the British spy’s latest adventure. That it culminates with mid-air fisticuffs in a careening helicopter threatening to crash land into the huge crowd gathered at Mexico City’s famous Zócalo public square isn’t bad either. This is director Sam Mendes, who also did Skyfall, at his best.
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But as the story settles in, Spectre becomes increasingly more routine, even if it’s full of enough nods to previous Bond films to create a connected universe of sorts that will make the enthusiasts happy.
This time around, Bond (Daniel Craig) has gone off on his own without the permission of his superior, M (Ralph Fiennes), to find who or what is behind a series of bombings. There’s also the little matter of the death of the original M (Judi Dench).
Everything goes back to the evil global enterprise Spectre, which Bond fans will recognize from previous incarnations of the franchise. As with contemporary comic-book blockbusters, the 007 movies now have back story.
Spectre’s overlord is Oberhauser (Christoph Waltz), a re-imagined figure that longtime Bond fans will recognize, a man who wants to crush everything that Bond holds dear.
Meanwhile, back at HQ, the “00” spy program is being dismantled as a new head of British intelligence, C (Andrew Scott), wants to merge all the spy programs under the guise of efficiency. So our hero may find himself being downsized out of the spy business.
Bond’s love interest is Madeleine Swann (Léa Seydoux, Blue Is the Warmest Color), though there’s actually more chemistry with the older Lucia (Monica Bellucci, The Sorcerer’s Apprentice). Along the way, Bond is assisted by his always loyal crew of Q (Ben Whishaw) and Moneypenny (Naomie Harris).
Through it all are the requisite chases and techno high jinks but little of it feels fresh or inspired. In a world where the latest “Mission: Impossible” movie can still pull off an action surprise, Spectre — which feels every one of its 148 minutes — just seems late to the party.
Most disappointing is Waltz, a two-time Oscar winner, who makes little impression as the bad guy and falls far short of what Javier Bardem was able to bring to his take on a villain in Skyfall. Craig, who in interviews has made noises that he’s through playing Bond, still has his beefy physical presence but he just seems mostly apathetic.
Then there’s the forgettable Sam Smith theme song, Writing’s on the Wall.
Shaken or stirred? More like bored.
Director: Sam Mendes
Cast: Daniel Craig, Ralph Fiennes
Rated: PG-13 (intense sequences of action and violence, disturbing images, sensuality, strong language)
Running time: 148 min.