SPECTRE (Movie Review)

*** out of ****
Rated PG-13
for intense sequences of action and violence, some disturbing images, sensuality, 
and language
Released: November 6, 2015
Runtime: 148 minutes
Starring: Daniel Craig, Christoph Waltz,
Léa Seydoux, Ralph Fiennes, Ben Whishaw, Naomie Harris, Monica Bellucci, Dave Bautista, Andrew Scott

Spectre is the best version of your grandfather’s 007.

The fourth (and final?) entry in the most recent James Bond reboot, Spectre brings the franchise full circle. If Skyfall’s task was to transition from the darker, grittier tone of the first two Daniel Craig movies and bring the fun back (my review here), then it’s Spectre’s mission to run with it. And it does, right from the get-go. Through all of its globetrotting thrills, one thing is abundantly clear: the reinventing of James Bond for the modern age has finally stopped once and for all.

With visual touchstones and enduring tropes, Spectre revels in everything that has made the series a cinematic stalwart for over fifty years. The iconic Bond Swirl pose-and-shoot opener, the patented pop theme song, the death-defying feats done with an easy, casual flair. The cars, the women, the martinis. Gadgets, bombs, and ticking clock countdowns. The mysterious villain hell-bent on world domination, complete with a state-of-the-art hidden lair. It’s all here – with visual callbacks to characters and motifs from the past five decades – and it’s all done with style, but it thankfully stops short of doing it all with a wink.

That’s because, despite the return-to-form mandate, director Sam Mendes (back from Skyfall) still takes the peril very seriously, even as Bond glides through at least half of it. James is confident but never cocky or glib (save the occasional one-liner, dryly delivered). The bad guys are still formidable and the pain is still real, no matter how polished, sexy, and spectacular the whole ride – across land, water, and air – actually is. Supremely entertaining, Spectre gives you everything you want from a movie in general and a Bond film specifically, but without the cheese.

While brooding angst is much less of a subtext here, character depth and personal stakes remain very much a part of the emotional fabric. Craig’s Bond may be more effortless than ever on the outside, but he’s still as burdened by his losses on the inside. Super-villain Oberhauser (played to sociopathic perfection by Christoph Waltz) is cleverly conceived to rip open 007’s suppressed sorrows, as is Bond girl Madeleine Swann (Léa Seydoux) to heal them.

The plot continues the narrative thread that Casino Royale began, along with the layers pulled back in subsequent sequels. Indeed, Spectre is by no means a stand-alone adventure; connections both big and small are made to all of the Craig entries, finally delivering the payoff of what the previous three have been building towards. And even though it’s apparently en vogue to go rogue nowadays (following this summer’s Mission Impossible V), forcing Bond to go out on his own feels like the right step at this point. I don’t know if this entire four-part arch was by design from the outset, but it’s so smartly done that it sure feels that way.

It’s refreshing to have a major Hollywood tentpole that still caters specifically to adults rather than Comic-Con fanboys, with sophistication rather than calculation, or one that isn’t contrived to exploit merchandise. It’s a movie that feels like a movie in its own right, rather than a cog in a multiverse industry. It’s what makes the quip “It’s not over yet” by Bond – after an apparent final set piece – a welcome heads-up at the 2-hour mark, because the twenty minutes that follow serve as a satisfying extra act.

And while its still entirely possible we could see a fifth film from this same team, Spectre closes with what feels like a fitting – and possibly definitive – end to the Daniel Craig era, the best in the history of this storied franchise.

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