★★★ / ★★★★
After an unsanctioned mission in Mexico which resulted in a catastrophe during a crowded national holiday celebration, M (Ralph Fiennes) orders Agent 007 (Daniel Craig) from participating in any future assignments—active indefinitely. Unbeknownst to his superior, however, Bond is partaking on a different mission altogether—a more personal mission—out of respect for his former handler (Judi Dench) which involves an international organization believed to be involved in recent targeted terror attacks.
“Spectre,” directed by Sam Mendes, is a less polished Bond picture, certainly less emotionally involving, and more interested in tying together the three films that came before it. Thus, at times it comes across as though it is suffering from an identity crisis. And yet despite this shortcoming, it remains a solid action picture since it commands highly watchable, thrilling, and occasionally creative sequences.
The pre-opening credits sequence is an obvious standout. Notice the control from behind the camera as it sashays between celebratory crowds while remaining focus on Bond and his partner, through a posh hotel, up a lift, and along the rooftop. Tension is slowly generated as we wait for the movement to stop. Even though we have little idea in regards to Bond’s mission, the entire sequence demands full attention. The tight editing ensures that we blink—and flinch—as few times as possible.
Equally strong is the night car chase in the streets of Rome. This chase serves as the catharsis after a mysterious business meeting that concludes in a brutal murder. Complaints are surely going to be made because the expensive and stunning cars appear to not go very fast. But the suspense and thrills do not go hand-in-hand with speed. Instead, these are correlated with the sudden turns and the unexpected hindrances along the way. It shows our protagonist’s ability to think quickly—and the sheer luck critical to propel him forward.
One feels the heft of the film’s one hundred fifty minutes. Part of the issue is the dialogue. There is often a lack of complexity in the exchanges. We already know that the characters are highly intelligent and yet there are a handful of scenes, particularly those that involve Bond and Dr. Swann (Léa Seydoux), that sound too expository. Problematic, too, are the exchanges between Bond and the leader of the Spectre organization (Christoph Waltz). We expect every look and every word given to one another to be incendiary given the supposedly profound history that ties them together. I found the charade to be pedestrian.
Slightly better are the exchanges between M and C (Andrew Scott), the latter working to close down the MI6’s 00 program. The seething anger and annoyance between the two men of power is quite entertaining. It is a small but welcome surprise that there are a number of moments where office politics outshine what goes on in the field. However, although they are given their moments, Moneypenny (Naomie Harris) and Q (Ben Whishaw), M’s secretary and the head of MI6’s research and development, respectively, are not used enough. Harris and Whishaw are so charming but the screenplay fails to make the audience love their characters even more.
Unspectacular but still solid, there are a handful of sequences to recommend in “Spectre.” The mano a mano aboard a moving train quickly comes to mind. If the screenplay had undergone more alterations such as eliminating the expository chunks in the middle (and one or two monologues) or changing them in order to amp up the intrigue—especially when it comes to the shadowy organization of interest—it would have been a level above more satisfying.