“Spectre” is the fourth and supposedly final turn for Daniel Craig as James Bond. Previous Craig installments have included 2005’s “Casino Royale” and 2012’s “Skyfall,” two of the best-reviewed films in the entire 007 franchise. The new film isn’t as good as either of those as it lacks a certain punch in its second half, but it’s not without its charms.
Speaking of charms, we get the film’s best sequence right out of the gate. Bond pursues an assassin in Mexico City during a Day of the Dead festival. First of all, the sequence gives the film an excuse to dress everyone up in cool skeleton costumes, which can only be a good thing. Second, much of it takes place in an unbroken shot, and it’s hard not to appreciate the filmmakers undertaking such a challenge. Third, there are some impressive (and scary) stunts involving a helicopter. And lastly, there’s some decent humor in the sequence, especially a bit where Bond surprisingly lands comfortably after a perilous fall. There’s a great look on his face that tells us that he won’t be telling anyone how lucky he was in this portion of the mission.
We then go through the expected preliminaries. Bond gets suspended by M (Ralph Fiennes), who’s about to have the whole Double-0 program shut down in favor of an elaborate surveillance program run by C (Andrew Scott). He steals some gadgets from techie Q (Ben Whishaw) and gets Moneypenny (Naomie Harris) to do some illegal research for him and he’s off to Italy to try and shut down world-threatening evil organization Spectre, run by a villain named Franz Oberhauser (Christoph Waltz). Of course, fans of the Bond franchise know who really runs Spectre, and Waltz’s character keeps the name Oberhauser like Benedict Cumberbatch’s character in the last “Star Trek” movie kept the name Harrison.
The scene where we first meet “Oberhauser” is another good one, complete with an array of intimidating shadows and a henchman (Dave Bautista) causing one of the more brutal deaths of the Craig era. The film is doing great at this point and it looks like it’s going to be able to live up to the bar set by “Skyfall.” But around the time we’re introduced to Madeline Swann (Lea Seydoux), the romantic interest du jour, the film starts to lose steam. She’s not that interesting, the film goes for long stretches without action, the action we do get is standard, and Waltz is surprisingly boring as the villain (whatever he’s called).
The film also tries to tie the Waltz character into the other films from the Craig line, but it feels forced and nonsensical. This is curious because I actually believe that the other films really were trying to build to this villain for the grand finale, yet the pieces still don’t fit together. Waltz constantly says things like “it was me the whole time,” but we never know what his role was, and some of the events he cites came at times where I seriously doubt there was anyone else in the scene, so how was it “all him” exactly?
Whatever happens in the second half of “Spectre,” there’s no taking away from the Day of the Dead sequence and the first meeting of Spectre. There are a handful of other good moments, some involving action, most involving humor (my favorite is Bond trying to interrogate a mouse and actually succeeding). But again, so much of the second half feels like a missed opportunity for this film to reach the upper echelon of Bond movies. I wouldn’t even say that the overall product is disappointing for a Bond film, but it is disappointing for a Daniel Craig Bond film.
“Spectre” is rated PG-13 for intense sequences of action and violence, some disturbing images, sensuality and language. Its running time is 148 minutes.
Robert Garver is a graduate of the Cinema Studies program at New York University. He has been a published movie reviewer since 2006.