Review by David Baldwin for Mr. Will Wong
An unsanctioned debacle during a Mexican Day of the Dead ceremony leaves James Bond (Daniel Craig) benched and removed from the field indefinitely. But he has other plans – quickly taking up a search for a shadowy organization who have been orchestrating various global terrorist attacks. He is encouraged to let it go, but as he learns more, Bond realizes he may have old ties to the group’s leader.
While Skyfall was a tightly-wound masterpiece, Spectre is a lot more relaxed. It packs the gritty punch of Craig’s previous outings as 007, but manages to feel fluffier and more akin to the Pierce Brosnan and Roger Moore renditions of Bond. The laughs are considerably amped up here, making for an interesting combination with the thematic structure and narrative the past three Films have been driving towards. Spectre also continues the trend of toying with the Bond mythos, and like Skyfall, references classic characters from the series’ past that have been sorrowly missed. Coincidentally, the Film seems to share more than a few plot points with 2015’s other big spy sequel Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation (ironic since that Film was released six months ahead of schedule to avoid competing with Spectre and some Film about a galaxy far, far away).
But my main gripe with Spectre beyond unnecessarily overcomplicating itself – the trademark of many, if not every single Film in the Bond series – is the insistence to tie almost everything together from the previous three Films. This should not be a problem for anyone who has kept up with Bond’s exploits since 2006, but Spectre does not allow the pieces to come together seamlessly. Instead they are thrust together in the sloppiest of ways, taking for granted all of the good will the series has inherited after Craig took-over the character. And when the Film’s big bad villain Franz Oberhauser (played by double Oscar-winner Christoph Waltz no less) starts explaining his grand plans for world domination, the Film gets downright choppy, vaguely hinting at answers to questions we never thought we would have to ask. Worse, if you fail to pay attention to some of the more finite details (I’m talking throwaway background computer screens and technical jargon), you may miss out on entire explanations. Even the 148-minute running time (the longest of any Bond Film) seems to detract more than it helps.
Despite those issues, Spectre is still a spectacular ride. The action scenes are as terrific as you would expect (save for a surprisingly mundane car chase through Rome), with the opening Day of the Dead sequence a candidate for one of the best in the franchise’s history. The trailers have already ruined so much of this brilliantly and painstakingly created scene, but once it starts, you will easily forget everything you have already seen.
Director Sam Mendes pulls out all the stops (along with more than a winking nod to Orson Welles’ Touch of Evil) and makes something so breathless and wild that it practically demands to be seen on the big screen. And I would be remiss to not point out that Mendes had the sense to finally open the Film properly with the classic gun barrel introduction – something that this Bond fan has been desperately hoping would be reintroduced.
More so than ever before, Craig is Bond. He is perfect in the role, continuing to evolve his edgy take on the character while increasing the charisma and gravitas Bond is known for. Waltz was born to play a Bond villain, but he is inexplicably kept mysterious and frequently shadowed. When he does get unleashed, he is frightening and deliciously devious. The stunning Léa Seydoux is a great Bond girl, holding her own against Craig and developing more than most of the women that have come before her (sadly the exquisite Monica Bellucci goes completely underused). Dave Bautista steals the show much like he did in Guardians of the Galaxy as the nearly wordless henchman Hinx. His brutal introduction is truly magnificent, and his presence practically elevates the excitement of many of the action sequences. Ralph Fiennes, Ben Whishaw and Naomie Harris are all equally-great in their expanded roles, but I would have liked to see a lot more done with Sherlock’s Andrew Scott as the insidious C.
Spectre has a laundry list of issues, but it is still a well done Bond Film. Mendes and Craig were never going to top Skyfall, but did they ever intend to? The action and acting here are still top notch and better than so much of the dreck this franchise used to spin out. But with an incredible opening sequence, a hot single from Sam Smith, the best Bond to date and more, you will be more than satisfied with this wild and chaotic ride. I just sincerely hope it is not Craig’s last.
Sony Pictures Canada release SPECTRE Friday, November 6, 2015.