Spectre

By Lodge, Guy | Variety, October 27, 2015 | Go to article overview

Spectre


Lodge, Guy, Variety


FILM REVIEW

Spectre

DIRECTOR: Sam Mendes

STARRING: Daniel Craig, Christoph Waltz, Lea Seydoux, Ralph Fiennes

The dead are alive" are the very first words printed onscreen in "Spectre," the 24th and far-from-last James Bond adventure. It's a statement that could be viewed as a preemptive spoiler, a sly double-bluff or a swaggering boast from a death-defying franchise that, following the soaring success of "Skyfall," couldn't be in better health. Sam Mendes' second consecutive Bond outing passes its physical with flying colors: Ricocheting from London to Rome to Morocco across action sequences of deliriously daft extravagance, the pic accumulates a veritable Pompeii of mighty, crumbling structures. What's missing is the unexpected emotional urgency of "Skyfall," as the film sustains its predecessor's nostalgia kick with a less sentimental bent. A wealth of iconography from the series' founding chapters is revived here, making "Spectre" a particular treat for 007 nerds, and a businesslike blast for everyone else. Spectre-cular B.O. awaits, though it remains to be seen whether "Skyfall" is the limit.

The crossover success of that previous movie places "Spectre" in a tricky returning position three years later. The franchise may have been a consistent performer over 53 years, but never before has it been saddled with the prestigepic aura the new film is now expected to meet. With Mendes' tony cachet once more in place, and a hefty if not entirely justified runtime of 148 minutes, "Spectre" outwardly appears to be shooting for equivalently grandiose status.

Yet even before the opening credits are cued up, one senses that Mendes and producers Michael G. Wilson and Barbara Broccoli have, somewhat paradoxically, set out to surprise by resetting the status quo - albeit with a few administrative complications, after the death of Judi Dench's M at the climax of "Skyfall " The indefatigable agent's solution, and in turn the film's, is to get stoically back to work almost as if nothing had happened, and let the baggage emerge where it may. And while Daniel Craig's reputation as the series' sternest Bond stands intact when the ride - rumored to be his last - is over, his half-smile count is higher than usual. A handful of wily quips point to the addition of rough-and-tumble Brit playwright Jez Butterworth to the sturdy "Skyfall" writing team of John Logan, Neal Purvis and Robert Wade.

The tone is set by an enthrallingly ludicrous and expensively extraneous opening sequence, set in Mexico City on the Day of the Dead, that ranks among the great 007 intros. Weaving through the jubilant masses, Hoyte van Hoytema's dust-veiled camera alights on Bond in masked skeleton costume, luring a local bombshell (Stephanie Sigman) back to his hotel room before the quickest of quick changes finds him suited, booted and planting a hit on venal Italian mafioso Sciarra (Alessandro Cremona) from the rooftop. Cue explosions, architectural carnage and vertigo-inducing combat in a helicopter buzzing perilously over the city's crowded Zocalo square.

In winning the fistfight, Bond secures his opponent's ring, engraved with a telling insignia. It's a typically circuitous outcome in a film that, certainly in its MacGufftn-stacked opening hour, feels somewhat underplotted: Large expanses of "Spectre" play as diverting action travelogue, as one transitory character in an exotic locale leads our hero to another, in pursuit of opponents who don't get to bare their teeth until the halfway mark.

Back in London, Bond is grounded for his unauthorized Mexican hijinks by Ralph Fiennes' exasperated replacement M. The new boss's crankiness is forgivable, given other professional worries on his plate - most of them involving Brylcreem-slick new MI5 boss Max Denbigh (a splendid Andrew Scott), code-named C, who is spearheading a reorganization that could see the entire 00 program shut down. …

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