FILM REVIEW – SPECTRE. With Daniel Craig, Christoph Waltz, Léa Seydoux, Ralph Fiennes, Monica Bellucci. Written by John Logan and Neal Purvis & Robert Wade and Jez Butterworth. Directed by Sam Mendes. Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of action and violence, some disturbing images, sensuality and language. 148 minutes.
Daniel Craig is back for his fourth outing as James Bond in SPECTRE, and it’s a solid entry in the long-running series. Indeed, the first film, “Dr. No,” premiered in 1962, six years before Craig was born. This is an interesting movie for Bond fans because it marks the return of the villainous global conspiracy known as S.P.E.C.T.R.E. (“Special Executive for Counter-intelligence, Terrorism, Revenge, and Extortion”), which figured in some of the early Bond films and then vanished due to legal complications in the real world.
The story opens with a colorful and fantastic set piece during the “Day of the Dead” celebrations in Mexico City featuring an explosion, a frenetic chase, and a fight aboard a helicopter. The larger-than-life action scenes set against locales around the world is one of the hallmarks of the series. Locations also include Italy, England, Austria and Morocco.
What’s interesting about this one is that while it has all the things one expects from a Bond film, it also has an original plot not tied to any of the Ian Fleming stories. Without giving too much away, Bond is on an unauthorized mission against a shadowy someone named Oberhauser (Christoph Waltz), the leader of S.P.E.C.T.R.E. They are a ruthless group engaging in terrorism, slavery, drugs, and the like. When we see someone’s eyes gouged out during a board meeting, we know they’re serious.
Why Bond is after him is a mystery that unravels slowly. Meanwhile the new M (Ralph Fiennes) is dealing with his new boss C (Andrew Scott), who wants to shut down the Double-0 program of which Bond, as Agent 007, is a part. It’s a plot that’s similar to the recent “Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation,” but takes it in a very different direction. Naturally, there are the beautiful women–it’s not really P.C. to call them “Bond Girls” any longer–include a stunning 50-year-old Monica Bellucci as a widow Bond seduces and Léa Seydoux as Madeline Swann, the daughter of one of his adversaries who he now has to protect.
The four (!) writers credited with the script have managed to use “Spectre” to tie together all the previous Craig efforts, with a nod to earlier Bonds with the appearance of not one but two Aston Martins, a car associated with the series since “Goldfinger.” And it works. Where introducing backstory for Bond in “Skyfall” seemed just a big forced, here it’s done simply, building to a climax that features not one but two clocks counting down to entirely separate dooms.
One doesn’t go to these movies for the acting, but this is a very solid cast who know how to get the job done. Director Sam Mendes, back for his third Bond film, deftly handles both the character moments and the big action set pieces, so that we remain fully engaged. Indeed, perhaps the best indication of how well the film works is that at nearly two-and-a-half hours, it just speeds by. They’re still following the philosophy for the series established by the late producer Albert R. Broccoli: all the money spent for the film is up on the screen.
“Spectre” will more than satisfy Bond fans and may win over some new ones.•••
Daniel M. Kimmel is a veteran movie critic and author of a host of film-related books. His most recent book is “Shh! It’s a Secret: a novel about Aliens, Hollywood and the Bartender’s Guide.” He lives in Somerville, Massachusetts.