‘Spectre’ continues a timeless tradition

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Spectre (2015)

Directed by Sam Mendes

Like any great franchise capper, “Spectre” presents itself neatly wrapped and tied with a bow. No more questions left unanswered. No more loose ends. No, the James Bond franchise isn’t finished. But—at least, we can assume—Daniel Craig’s time is. And he goes out with a bang.

When Bond (Daniel Craig) discovers a series of clues from his past that point to an underground terrorist organization called Spectre, he enlists the help of one of its member’s daughters, Madeleine Swann (Lea Seydoux), to help take it down. Meanwhile, the new head of MI6 (Ralph Fiennes), is trying to stop the new captain of the Joint-Security Service, Denbigh (Andrew Scott), from implementing a drastic new drone program that will eliminate the need for the 00 program altogether. When Bond and Swann find the mysterious head of Spectre, Oberhauser (Christoph Waltz), will Bond finally meet his match? Will there even be a 00 program to have Bond’s back?

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A team of four writers—including two with writing credits on the last six Bond movies, plus John Logan (“Hugo”) and Jez Butterworth (“Black Mass”)—tackle what is very likely the last Bond film with this cast and crew. In all likelihood, Daniel Craig is done. But he certainly makes an impression. “Spectre” is not lacking in Bond girls, vodka martinis, Aston Martins, or fitted suits. It is James Bond’s essence, encapsulated. But the writing team struggles to tell a cohesive story. “Spectre,” in all its explosive glory, seems to be loosely strung together as a narrative. The goal isn’t clear from the beginning, and it seems to get off track. Like the franchise-capping “The Dark Knight Rises” three years before it, “Spectre” tries to bring in and tie up plot points from the previous films. Good intentions, but poorly executed in practice.

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In four films and nine years as 007, I still don’t identify Daniel Craig as James Bond. He’s just not Bond to me. A wonderful action star, yes. But Bond? Not quite. So I look forward to seeing his eventual replacement. Will it be the current favorite, Idris Elba? Maybe “Man from U.N.C.L.E.” spy Henry Cavil? I hope. I’ve even heard whispers that Emily Blunt could be Jaime Bond. Weirder things have happened. (Though I struggle to think of an example.) Regardless, Craig gives it a predictably great effort. His suave, graceful approach to fight scenes is less about the brawn and more about the brains. “Spectre” also gave Craig a few more intentionally humorous lines to work with, more than he has in the past. It was a great reminder of the Bonds of old. What might have been, originally, the biggest draw of the film ended up disappointing me. One of the great villains of the decade has been Christoph Waltz, whose obvious European-ness and maniacal laugh make him enjoyably treacherous. His characters seem to get pleasure out of killing. But as Oberhauser, Waltz doesn’t get the chance to show that side. He’s more subtle. His strongest assets aren’t utilized. And other baddies that do his dirty work don’t make much of an impression, either. This is all about Bond.

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If Bond is only as good as his spy tech, you’ll be disappointed with Q’s (Ben Whishaw) offerings. (Though, as a side note, Whishaw himself is the comedic heart of the film.) But don’t think “Spectre” skimps on action. An exhilarating 10-minute helicopter fight to start the film left me breathless, especially in IMAX. Thomas Newman again delivers an impeccable score to highlight the high points in the action. And I’d be remiss not to mention Sam Smith’s theme, “Writing’s On the Wall,” which I personally enjoy more than Adele’s “Skyfall.” But that’s just me.

Bond is back, and even if he’s not better than ever, he’s still better than most. You almost can’t go wrong with 007. Go see for yourself.

7.5/10

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