Suave secret agent with a license to kill? Check. Exotic locations? Check. Expensive cars? Check. Super cool gadgets? Check. A beautiful woman with a license to kill a man’s resolve? Check and check. (That cheeky James.)
In “Spectre,” actor Daniel Craig returns in his fourth outing as British secret agent James Bond. As you can see, he and director Sam Mendes, who also helmed the very successful “Skyfall,” hold fast to the traditions that have defined a Bond movie since 1962’s “Dr. No.” If that’s all you want in a Bond movie, then “Spectre” will give you your money’s worth. But if you’re hoping for a coherent plot, well-choreographed action, and a villain worthy of the series, then you’re going to walk away disappointed.
I walked away disappointed.
The story in “Spectre” is often ambiguous, if not incoherent. While on a mission in Mexico, Bond puts a stopper on plans to blow up a stadium full of spectators. He also hears a name – the Pale King – and acquires a ring with an octopus engraved onto its outer edge. This sends him on a hunt to learn more about the organization that ordered the attack.
Meanwhile, M is involved in a power struggle with C, the head of the Joint Intelligence Service, which consists of the recently merged MI5 and MI6. C also wants to create an intelligence co-op between nine countries and close down the “double-oh” division.
Those details make sense on paper, but as “Spectre” progresses, where Bond is going and why become less clear, making the film frustrating to watch. Everything comes together in the end, but in a way that feels looser and less thought out in advance than the tightly knitted “Skyfall.”
Also a bust are the action scenes – the bread and butter of the Bond series. In “Spectre,” they’re closer to stale crackers and a salt-free oil spread. With the exception of a few breathtaking stunts during a fight on a helicopter and a tense close quarters brawl onboard a train, the action is surprisingly bland. A car chase through the streets of Rome barely registers a pulse, and the climactic action scene is barely worthy of its position in the film.
Worse, the action lacks logic. I know Bond movies are supposed to be over the top, but would anyone in their right mind board a helicopter and try to take out the pilot? As Bond pummels the man into submission, the chopper spins wildly over thousands of people celebrating the Day of the Dead, putting their lives at risk, too. Later, Bond attempts to save a kidnap victim by ramming a small plane into the vehicle in which she’s being transported. Then there’s the scene in which dozens of gunmen surround Bond and the woman in a wide open space, yet they survive unscathed.
Then there’s the villain, who has appeared in other Bond films. Although he’s one of the most reprehensible baddies in the Bond cannon, here, the filmmakers turn him into a joke. When I learned the depth of his involvement in Bond’s life and his reasons for turning sour, I nearly laughed.
There are a few high points. If you see “Spectre,” pay attention to the opening shot, which lasts several minutes, and follows Bond from a crowded street into a hotel, up an elevator, into a bedroom, and out onto the roof. It’s impressive.
But it’s not enough to make “Spectre” a satisfying experience. While not as bad as “Quantum of Solace,” “Spectre” is far from good. All of the gorgeous photography and expensive location shoots amounted to a film not unlike what one dying character calls Bond: a kite dancing in a hurricane.
The Bond series of movies is in better shape than when Craig took over the role. And I like the modern tone Mendes fostered during his two stints in the director’s chair. But the creative juices of the current team has run dry, and it’s time for the changing of the guard.
Two stars out of four. Rated PG-13 for intense action, violence, disturbing images, sensuality, and language.
David Laprad is the assistant editor of the Hamilton County Herald and an award-winning columnist and photographer. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.