“Skyfall” is, admittedly, a tough act to follow. The 2012 James Bond film brought in more than a billion dollars at the box office worldwide and received rave reviews from both fans and critics. So it was perhaps inevitable that the follow-up, “Spectre,” would struggle to reach those same heights.
In “Spectre,” James Bond (Daniel Craig) receives a posthumous warning from the former head of MI6, M (Judi Dench), that takes him to Mexico to eliminate a target. He learns the assassin M sent him to kill is part of a shadowy criminal organization called Spectre that has ties to his previous missions in “Casino Royale,” “Quantum of Solace” and “Skyfall.” Following these threads across the globe, he ends up at a mysterious compound in the middle of the desert, where he confronts the man in charge of this organization (Christoph Waltz) — a man who has always been Bond’s greatest foe, even though he has just now learned his identity.
There are two ways to look at the latest Bond movie. Despite what the barely-fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes might lead you to believe (I think it deserves higher than the 63 percent rating it received, at least a little higher than “Quantum of Solace’s” 65 percent; the audience score of 70 percent is more on par), it is a quite entertaining movie. I’d place it behind “Casino Royale” and “Skyfall” but before “Quantum of Solace” in my ranking of Craig’s Bond films.
It has a great opening sequence in Mexico, where the screen is bursting with colorful costumes and decorations for a Day of the Dead celebration. Daniel Craig is great, as always, as the famous British spy, and he remains my favorite actor to portray Bond. There are some good supporting players, such Ben Whishaw as Q, Naomie Harris as Eve Moneypenny, and newcomer Dave Bautista, who recently played Drax the Destroyer in “Guardians of the Galaxy.” Bautista is obviously having fun as a Spectre assassin who trails Bond across the globe, most memorably instigating a fight on a train. Andrew Scott, who plays Moriarty in the BBC’s “Sherlock,” also shows up as a not-to-be-trusted British official (and has likely inspired some Bond/Sherlock crossover fan fiction).
However, as a follow-up to “Skyfall,” it’s tough not to compare “Spectre” to the previous film, starting with the opening title sequence. I love Sam Smith as a vocalist, and I think he is a good choice to sing a Bond theme song. But “Writing’s on the Wall” lacks the brooding, atmospheric power of Adele’s “Skyfall.” Christoph Waltz also is a fine actor, but I wish he had been given more to work with as the main villain (hint: he’s playing a very famous character from Bond lore). His villain doesn’t seem as dangerous or unhinged as Javier Bardem’s Silva, and his “big reveal,” the fact he’s responsible for all the problems — and misery — in Bond’s life, doesn’t pack as much of a punch as it should. I feel Lea Seydoux, who was great in a small role in “Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol,” could have been given a little more to work with as well, though it’s nice to see modern “Bond girls” who are capable of holding their own.
While “Spectre” isn’t as psychologically deep or daring as “Skyfall,” I did like the point the new M (Ralph Fiennes, who takes over nicely for Judi Dench) makes about the difference between real spies and surveillance technology. Real flesh-and-blood spies can make moral decisions in the field that machines aren’t capable of, such as when Bond (spoiler alert!) decides not to shoot the villain at the end of the film.
In short, for fans of the Bond franchise, “Spectre” is a fun, entertaining spy film that’s worth catching in the theater, even though it doesn’t live up to its full potential. While we’ll almost certainly be seeing Christoph Waltz’s villain again, there’s still some speculation about whether or not this was Craig’s last outing as Bond. I’m hoping it’s not, because I’d like to see Craig go out with a bigger bang than “Spectre” delivered.