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‘Spectre’ Falls Short of ‘Skyfall’

Let’s face it, Skyfall is a tough act to follow. The most recent James Bond movie got everything right and ranks as one of the best entries in the long history of 007. Spectre has many enjoyable scenes and all the requisite ingredients for a Bond adventure, but it goes on too long, drags in the middle, and offers a bizarre backstory for our hero—and villain—at the very end.

Things seem off-kilter right at the outset. During a Day of the Dead celebration in Mexico City, James starts making love to a beautiful woman in a hotel room. He’s forced to interrupt the tryst and tells the woman he’ll be right back—but never returns. Yes, he gets involved in more crucial matters, as he’s drawn into a major action set-piece, but still… I kept waiting for our hero to return to his paramour and utter a witty line. Isn’t that what we expect from James Bond?

Christoph Waltz-Spectre-680

Courtesy of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios Inc., Danjaq, LLC and Columbia Pictures Industries, Inc.

The filmmakers also keep us waiting an unconscionable amount of time to get to Bond’s showdown with his latest adversary, played with customary panache by Christoph Waltz. (He participates in one scene early on, then disappears.)

Yet I don’t think 007 fans will feel cheated, on the whole. Daniel Craig is in fine form, and the action scenes are terrific, from a pulse-pounding car chase on the streets of Rome to a series of brutal fights with a behemoth bad guy played by wrestling star Dave Bautista. It’s fun to watch Bond’s interplay with Q, played with tongue in cheek by Ben Whishaw, and Moneypenny, in the person of Naomie Harris. The new M, Ralph Fiennes, is at loggerheads with his best-known agent throughout this story, so that puts a damper on their scenes together.

Monica Belluci-Daniel Craig-Spectre

Courtesy of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios, Danjaq, LLC, Columbia Pictures

As for the latest “Bond girls,” James spends quality time with the widow of a notorious criminal, played by the formidable Monica Bellucci, then becomes seriously involved with the daughter of an old antagonist, played by beautiful Léa Seydoux. She keeps up with Bond, step for step, and is the farthest thing from a damsel in distress.

Director Sam Mendes maintains a light touch in the character scenes, leaving the heavy-duty action to his second-unit director Alexander Witt and stunt coordinator Gary Powell. But there may have been too many cooks in the kitchen for his screenplay, even though they are all experienced hands: John Logan, Neil Purvis, Robert Wade, and Jez Butterworth. Someone should have suggested cutting at least one sequence or tightening the finished script.

Still, a slick, well-produced James Bond outing is not to be dismissed. It’s certainly better than Quantum of Solace and wisely draws on familiar Bond mythology, just as composer Thomas Newman makes repeated reference to John Barry’s 007 theme. Even medium-grade Bond is more entertaining than most action fare, and that’s the case with Spectre.

Leonard Maltin is one of the world’s most respected film critics and historians. He is best known for his widely-used reference work Leonard Maltin’s Movie Guide and its companion volume Leonard Maltin’s Classic Movie Guide, now in its third edition, as well as his thirty-year run on television’s Entertainment Tonight. He teaches at the USC School of Cinematic Arts and appears regularly on Reelz Channel and Turner Classic Movies. His books include The 151 Best Movies You’ve Never Seen, Of Mice and Magic: A History of American Animated Cartoons, The Great Movie Comedians, The Disney Films, The Art of the Cinematographer, Movie Comedy Teams, The Great American Broadcast, and Leonard Maltin’s Movie Encyclopedia. He served two terms as President of the Los Angeles Film Critics Association, is a voting member of the National Film Registry, and was appointed by the Librarian of Congress to sit on the Board of Directors of the National Film Preservation Foundation. He hosted and co-produced the popular Walt Disney Treasures DVD series and has appeared on innumerable television programs and documentaries. He has been the recipient of awards from the American Society of Cinematographers, the Telluride Film Festival, Anthology Film Archives, and San Diego’s Comic-Con International. Perhaps the pinnacle of his career was his appearance in a now-classic episode of South Park. (Or was it Carmela consulting his Movie Guide on an episode of The Sopranos?) He holds court at leonardmaltin.com. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook; you can also listen to him on his weekly podcast: Maltin on Movies. — [Artwork by Drew Friedman]

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