Spectre Daniel Craig, Christoph Waltz, Léa Seydoux. Directed by Sam Mendes. Rated PG-13. Opens Friday.
If, as he’s strongly indicated in recent interviews, Daniel Craig is done playing James Bond, then Spectre wraps up his run pretty definitively. It’s so focused on wrapping things up, actually, that it strains a bit too hard to tie all four of the Craig-starring Bond movies together, by way of a villain who becomes retroactively responsible for every act of terrorism and sabotage in the previous movies. That’s Franz Oberhauser (Christoph Waltz), who remains in the shadows (sometimes literally) for the first half of the movie, before revealing himself as the architect of Bond’s misery as well as a long-lost figure from Bond’s past.
It’s a lot of baggage to place on one character, and that’s before a twist that adds another layer to Oberhauser’s connection to the Bond mythology. After 2006’s Casino Royale offered up a stripped-down take on the veteran secret-agent character, subsequent movies have reintroduced some of the campier elements of the Bond franchise, and Spectre brings in the titular evil secret organization, joining classic supporting characters M (Ralph Fiennes), Moneypenny (Naomie Harris) and Q (Ben Whishaw), plus a tricked-out car, a brutish Jaws-like henchman (Dave Bautista) and a ridiculously complicated torture device. Although the plot flirts with topical concerns about excessive surveillance, the social commentary is mostly an afterthought. Director Sam Mendes (who also helmed 2012’s Skyfall) and the four screenwriters make more of an effort to give the story emotional resonance for Bond, but that too falls short, especially compared to the surprisingly affecting work Craig and Judi Dench contributed to the superior Skyfall.
Spectre succeeds mainly as a series of dazzling set pieces connected by a thin plot, and its opening, set in Mexico City during the Day of the Dead celebration, is the perfect example of its strengths and weaknesses. It begins with an astounding long take from cinematographer Hoyte Van Hoytema, encompasses both evocative scenes of costumed crowds and a thrilling mid-air battle in a helicopter, and ends up having little bearing on the actual plot of the movie. The chases and fight scenes that follow are generally thrilling, and the movie wraps up with Bond exhibiting some uncharacteristic restraint, both in his treatment of his nemesis and in his relationship with his latest love interest (Léa Seydoux). Spectre gives Craig a nice sendoff, but in the process it loses some of what made his Bond movies so appealing in the first place.