Movie Review: Spectre

You may be asking this now: How does a 50-year-old franchise about one man and his license to kill stay alive for this long? Well, apart from keeping the faces ever-changing -- from the leading spy to his loyal associates -- it's always safe to maintain a similar sense of plot and predicament. With the past 50-ish years presenting the many faces of Agent 007, aka James Bond, with new enemies to vanquish and new women to court, the most recent entries have relied on both a rebooted timeline, and also the plentiful history of the franchise in order to fuel its hype. With Daniel Craig still in the spy suit, Spectre relies on the surprises and plot points of the past, resulting in a decent (if not a bit underwhelming) 24th entry to the James Bond series.   

Haunted by the fiery aftermath at his childhood home at Skyfall, Bond (Daniel Craig) continues to dive into his dark past, at the same time silently grieving over the many losses he has faced. While on vacation in New Mexico, 007 tracks a man from his past, ultimately leading to disaster among their "Day of the Dead" celebration. Taken off his assignment by M (Ralph Fiennes), Bond travels to Rome in secret, aided by his allies, Moneypenny and Q (Naomie Harris, Ben Whishaw). Quickly uncovering a secret organization linked to his past, Bond enlists in the help of the daughter (Léa Seydoux) of his former nemesis, ultimately forcing the spy to reevaluate his outlook on life as a deadly assassin. Together, the two must infiltrate the terrorist syndicate SPECTRE, and take down a mysterious man who has haunted Bond since his childhood. 


Let me just say this, Sam Mendes might be the best thing that happened to James Bond. Following the rebooted formula established by 2006's Casino Royale, which put a shabby Daniel Craig up to the task as the new Bond, director Sam Mendes only sharpened the formula further with his first addition, Skyfall. Ultimately becoming one of the best in Craig's line-up (and possibly in Bond history), Skyfall managed to mix 007 nostalgia, dynamic set pieces, and a brilliant story of an aging spy into one great film. Now, with Sam Mendes once again at the helm, Spectre managed to display a similar taste from Skyfall, offering just enough to make it a worthy contender. While not as sharply-tuned nor groundbreaking as his first entry, Mendes performs well with what he has in Spectre, hoping to elicit new thrills in a well-known plot from the spy's thick past.


On the subject of thrills, even if it may not be as gripping or innovative as the last few Bond films, the newest installment for 007 definitely hasn't lost its edge. Going into this film, I expected it to be exactly like Skyfall in terms of action and excitement. What I got, however, was something a bit underwhelming. Still managing to retain the same flair as its predecessor, aided by a glamorous score behind the action and an equally-fashionable leading man within it, Spectre delivered what it wanted to deliver -- just maybe not everything that it could've. Always clamoring for new thrills and bigger surprises, fans of the spy series -- including myself -- were ultimately left underwhelmed, the film leaving little to remember other than some great set pieces. Still, I can't help but enjoy these films, as they offer a gateway into the most satisfying world of fantasy espionage, transporting us into the shoes of cinema's most elegant of super spies.


With every suave and bad-ass spy flick, an equally-suave and bad-ass lead is needed to seal the deal. With that being said, the cunning Daniel Craig has successfully become this decade's definitive super spy, bringing his chilling persona and sharp yet silent wit to a new generation of Bond. Following up after two decent entries as a fresh-off-the-boat 007 -- whose youthful and reckless nature brought him both danger and death (including the loss of someone who would ultimately cement his cynical facade for his next three films) -- Craig took on a more mature Bond in 2012's Skyfall. Evoking the same sense of cold-hearted bad-assery and suave charm and humor in Sam Mendes' second Bond entry, Spectre ultimately relays the known fact that Craig might be the best James Bond we've had.


Diving into the super spy's muddled past that Skyfall began to uncover, Craig delivers yet another great performance, bringing fans a cynical yet far-more involving Bond than we've seen before. Easily becoming my favorite Bond, the debonair Pierce Brosnan and the legendary Sean Connery coming up close behind, Craig delivered what I thought to be the most interesting -- and most deadly -- version of the character seen on screen. Ultimately running the show as he should, Craig's brilliant take on the super spy shines once more in Spectre, taking the lead among a somewhat underwhelming supporting cast.


With the rest of the cast, the performances were memorable, but ultimately weren't as brilliant and dynamic as leading-man Craig. Aside from Ben Whishaw's cunning and calculated Q, who got a bit more development as he played well against Craig's Bond once more, the remaining cast delivered decent performances for an action flick such as this. While favorites from Skyfall Ralph Fiennes and Naomie Harris retained their well-acted roles, newcomers Léa Seydoux and Christoph Waltz were greatly welcomed, delivering solid roles as the mysterious Madeleine Swann and Franz Oberhauser, respectively. While I expected a bit more from Waltz's anticipated villian (as well as from Monica Bellucci's character, who I felt was somewhat wasted), his character ended up being just as underwhelming and predictable as the film's ending.


With this film ultimately acting as a sort-of conclusion to Craig's phase as James Bond, wrapping up his story of lost love and aging espionage, the certain question is raised as the franchise continues: When will we see a new Bond? While I'd love for Craig to return as 007 in the next Bond flick, rumors say that Sam Mendes might be stepping down from the director's chair, prompting me to consider that Craig might be done with the spy role. Rumor or not, this film definitely felt as it were winding down Craig's age at the spy. Whomever may take up the franchise next, whether it be Christopher Nolan as director or Idris Elba as 007, the series remains, for now, like the spy himself: hidden in the shadows.


Overall, Spectre was just as exciting and elegantly dangerous as its last few predecessors, evoking just enough adventure and 007 nostalgia to keep the fans interested. While it may not have had as big an impact as Skyfall, one of the best Bond films in the franchise, Spectre delivered what it could as a decent follow-up in Daniel Craig's run. With director Sam Mendes once again bringing together a brilliant cast, alongside some amazing spectacles and music, the Bond series may not live forever, but as long as it continues to enlist great directors and stars, it can die another day.


I gave this film a 7 out of 10 for its brilliant director, its fantastic rendition of Bond that kills it with every new film, and its somewhat decent plot that evokes fond memories of classic 007. While it may rely a bit too much on its established reputation, tossing us a villain we've seen before and an underwhelming origin tale for Bond, Spectre did what it came to do, offering an elaborate set piece filled with enough thrills to keep you on the edge. 

007's latest adventure may have stolen the top spot at the box-office for these last few weeks, but it isn't much of a surprise that another franchise would quickly shake things up. With the Thanksgiving weekend nearly here, the biggest film of Fall is finally here. Stay tuned this week for my review of the final film in the Hunger Games franchise. Also stay tuned for my breakdown of the biggest films of the winter, including the one your parents probably want to see a bit more than you do.           

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