Written by Jacob Chimilar (@sweetlows)
Back for the fourth time, Daniel Craig is James Bond in Spectre. This time around he is fulfilling M's final wishes, to track down someone who has been pulling the strings behind everyone's back, and one M was close to catching herself. What follows is, like Danny Butterman from "Hot Fuzz" says "Gunfights, car chases, proper action and shit."
The creative team behind this movie is similar to the one behind Skyfall but unlike Skyfall where its is a sort of a final test of character for Bond, facing his past, building a future and getting himself up to "00' standards, this movie has him already in place and to some degree working to an old regime that the new M (Ralph Fiennes) is against. He wants to run a much tighter ship with more surveillance and control over his operatives compared to how Judy Dench's M ran things. This puts Bond in a bit of a pickle when a covert op under the command of the old M goes horribly wrong in Mexico giving the new M no choice but to ground him in London until further notice. This doesn't last for long as Bond uses his team of Moneypenny and Q to go behind his back to help continue his mission and fulfil M's last order.
It's a promising set up to see how all the things that have been happening to this new Bond are all connected in some way or another. For the most part however Spectre comes up a bit flat. The first half is almost painfully slow. really dragged out car chases that aren't new or interesting, the standard globe trotting getting tiny bits of info every 15 minutes as he goes to another locale. There is bickering back at home base as to what he is up to, while a cross-government surveillance coalition headed by a private company owned by a man Bond refers to as "C" (Andrew Scott) using scare tactics to get everyone on board to create the most sophisticated and heavily monitored global security agency ever. It's overall an interesting plot point but a bit of a re-tread of Skyfall's "Is there really room for the "00" program in the modern world?" much like Mission Impossible with the IMF also having its validity come into question. Spies are out dated in the current world but by golly these movies are out to prove them wrong and make a point of telling you so.
The second half I will say is a LOT better than the first, all the pieces finally come together in a string of spectacular sequences. Christoph Waltz is great as ever as the newest Bond villain, although not as sinister as his breakout role in Inglorious Basterds nor as good as Silva in Skyfall but that's more to do with the character than Waltz. Lea Seydoux makes for a great "Bond girl" in Madeline Swan who is a medical student turned occupational therapist who isn't as easily seduced as the other girls James meets. She has some stake in the game like other girls but she can handle herself and be just as capable as Bond. Dave Bautista on the other hand gets the henchman role with almost no dialogue, merely a thug out to get Bond and is nothing more than a respawning obstacle to get in Bond's way when things get a bit too quiet.
The directing didn't feel quite as beautiful or expertly framed like Skyfall was despite having the same director. It lacked a freshness and style. The cinematography was also a let down, you can really tell the difference when you don't have Roger Deakins lighting your movie, It's like going from an Aston Martin to a Chevy Spark, both have style but one lacks the exquisite craftsmanship. Where Skyfall felt special and lovingly created, Spectre felt more like an average run of the mill action movie that could have been done by any capable director. There are certainly a bunch of things to like, the opening sequence is great with a wonderful tracking shot during "The Day of The Dead" in Mexico as well as the back half of the film being generally thrilling which makes it almost feel like two separate movies. They kind of spun the wheels and just tried to put in some cool action stuff to start then later it all starts making actual sense and the action is epic and satisfying.
In the rankings of the current Bond films (which is close to all I've seen personally) Spectre is easily above the garbage that was Quantum of Solace but falls short of the gritty new Casino Royale and the expertly crafted Skyfall. Had this movie been leaned out to say two hours I think there is a good movie there. There were definitely some things that could have been cut given the similar and better payoffs later and some overall quicker pacing of the globe trotting sections. However The cast was great and the last half is a lot of fun so it's certainly worth a look for Bond fans but not something casual viewers looking for a good time will necessarily fall in love with.