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?
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.
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.