The twenty-fourth James Bond entry, Sam Mendes’ Spectre, has all of the tropes one has come to expect from the 007 series: chases, fights, explosions, torture, beautiful women, and exotic locales, but that’s just the trouble: we’ve seen it all before, and with very few surprising twists that lift this entry into the rarefied domain of the previous entry Skyfall, Spectre seems to fit around the middle-of-the-road in terms of entertainment.
The Production: 3.5/5
The twenty-fourth James Bond entry, Sam Mendes’ Spectre, has all of the tropes one has come to expect from the 007 series: chases, fights, explosions, torture, beautiful women, and exotic locales, but that’s just the trouble: we’ve seen it all before, and with very few surprising twists that lift this entry into the rarefied domain of the previous entry Skyfall, Spectre seems to fit around the middle-of-the-road in terms of entertainment. As for as the Daniel Craig-Bond films, it’s better than Quantum of Solace but much less entertaining than Casino Royale. It seems that after more than half a century, James Bond may be beginning to run out of gas.
A rogue mission in Mexico City brings James Bond (Daniel Craig) into conflict with his new superior “M” (Ralph Fiennes) who is doing all he can to keep the 00-agent program afloat now that new MI5 boss Max Denbigh (Andrew Scott) is determined to eliminate the secret agent program and combine surveillance operations for nine countries under one roof with him at the head. In Mexico, Bond had overheard about possible terrorist operations organized by “The Pale King” in Rome which he wants to investigate, but “M” forbids it leading 007 to once again go rogue (with the help of Naomie Harris’ Moneypenny and Ben Whishaw’s “Q”) investigating one sinister figure of his acquaintance (Jesper Christensen’s Mr. White) who begs him to protect his innocent daughter Dr. Madeleine Swann (Léa Seydoux). With her help, Bond learns of the secret organization known as Spectre presided over by the shadowy figure Franz Oberhauser (Christoph Waltz), obviously intent on killing Dr. Swann and eliminating Bond by assigning massive assassin Mr. Hinx (Dave Bautista) to do the dirty work.
As usual, the film begins with one of those astounding pre-credit sequences for which the Bond films are known: set on the Day of the Dead in Mexico City, Bond’s mission to assassinate crime lord Marco Sciarra (Alessandro Cremona), the former “M”’s (Judi Dench) final directive to him before her death at the end of Skyfall, leads to a nimble bit of ledge walking, a building collapse, a chase through the streets, and a fight aboard a helicopter spinning out of control. Director Sam Mendes quite cleverly begins this film sequence in a massive single take (masterfully masking his cuts in places where they aren’t noticeable) until we get back down to the parade, only the first of a series of wonderfully helmed action set pieces sprinkled throughout the movie. Bond beds Sciarra’s widow (Monica Bellucci in a small role) and, of course, the film’s true Bond girl Léa Seydoux’s Madeleine Swann, but each love scene judiciously cuts away before the action heats up (perhaps because there isn’t much chemistry between Craig and Seydoux). But the film’s two primary villains really disappoint by their very prosaicness: Dave Bautista’s Mr. Hinx is simply another beefy adversary who can’t be stopped even by crashing through the windshield of a car without sustaining a scratch (Jaws without the metal mouth appliance, Oddjob without his derby) while Christoph Waltz, while hiding a surprising secret from 007, still emerges as merely a villain of brains rather than brawn (take your pick from villains past: Goldfinger, Dr. No, Max Zorin, and a dozen others). The globe-trotting this time around is impressive (Mexico City, London, Rome, Austria, Tangier), and the film’s signature car chase in Rome (Bond in his trusty Aston Martin, Hinx in his Jaguar) is undeniably remarkable. There is also some fun again with “Q” after the earlier Craig-Bond pictures hadn’t dealt with the character to any extent, and “M”’s assistant Tanner (Rory Kinnear) seems like a nice addition promising another fun character in the office in the future though he has only limited work to do in this film.
Daniel Craig may be making his last stand as 007 here (in interviews after the film’s premiere, he expressed no interest in doing another one), but his Bond has clearly smoothed those rough edges that made his Bond so unique in the first couple of 007 adventures in which he participated. With the franchise seemingly back to its expected cast of characters here, it’s a little encouraging that “M” is given a little something more to do this time out than merely be cranky and irritable (though Ralph Fiennes certainly handles those behaviors with aplomb) while Naomie Harris as Moneypenny and especially Ben Whishaw as “Q” are characters worth savoring, both given more to do here than their counterparts in the earliest Bond films were ever afforded. Léa Seydoux may be a slightly more believable doctor than Denise Richards was in her Bond film with Pierce Brosnan, but only just. Andrew Scott slithers oily around the offices as the new executive cackling with glee over putting the antiquated 00-agent program out to pasture. As stated before, conventional villains Dave Bautista and Christoph Waltz fulfill their sinister roles nicely without standing out from a crowded field of Bond’s previously more famous nemeses.
3D Rating: NA
Shot on film rather than digitally, the 2.40:1 theatrical aspect ratio is faithfully presented in 1080p resolution using the AVC codec. While sharpness is never in question, filters have given the film a golden-edged hue not only in the Mexico City pre-credit sequence but often in other parts of the film, too, compromising skin tones into being somewhat pale and making other hues less impressive than they might otherwise have been. Black levels vary from milky to inky black while contrast throughout seems a little lighter than in previous entries in the series. The movie has been divided into 28 chapters.
The DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 sound mix offers just what you want from a James Bond adventure with a bombastic soundtrack filled with variable split effects, massive explosions and crashes, and compelling Thomas Newman music on the soundtrack coming from various speakers around the soundstage. Dialogue has been well recorded and has been placed in the center channel. The LFE channel gets a nice workout as expected from this sophisticated sound mix.
Special Features: 2.5/5
Spectre: Bond’s Biggest Opening Sequence (20:12, HD): behind-the-scenes look in staging and shooting the Day of the Dead opening sequence in Mexico City featuring sound bites from director Sam Mendes, producers Barbara Broccoli and Michael Wilson, star Daniel Craig, production designer Dennis Gassner, costume designer Jany Temime, second unit director Alexander Witt, and stunt coordinator Gary Powell.
Video Blogs (9:09, HD): six brief vignettes focusing on one aspect of the production. They include director Sam Mendes talking about returning to the Bond franchise after directing its biggest grosser Skyfall, the Aston Martin and the Jaguar supercars used in the memorable chase, Bond girls Monica Bellucci and Léa Seydoux, the stunt work done in real time, Sam Smith’s theme song “Writing’s on the Wall,” and the massive explosion in the film that made it into the Guinness Book of World Records.
Photo Gallery: eighteen color stills which can be stepped through by the viewer.
Theatrical Trailers (5:18, HD): three trailers which can be viewed separately or in montage.
Digital Copy/Ultraviolet: code sheet for iTunes or Ultraviolet enclosed in the case.
Spectre can be a perfectly entertaining James Bond adventure recalling many of the previous entries in the series, but the movie doesn’t constitute any advance on the franchise from what has gone before, so those looking for the innovations noted in Skyfall are going to have to be content with mere variations on the same chases, fights, and action sequences we’ve seen in many of the series’ twenty-three previous installments.