Has James Bond lost his mojo? Like an aging prizefighter or a once dazzling major league pitcher whose fastball’s lost its snap, 007 gives every indication of simply wearing out his welcome on the world’s movie screens. Everything about this latest entry in the series (which started in 1963 with Dr. No) radiates the type of exhaustion that can come from two many reps in a workout session at the neighborhood gym.
Daniel Craig plays Bond for the 5th time and while the actor retains the polished grittiness essential to the role, his performance here has none of the smoldering intensity so evident in his initial portrayal of the character in Casino Royale. Director Sam Mendes (American Beauty, Road to Perdition) was also at the helm of Skyfall, the last Bond outing; it appealed as a sort of elegy for author Ian Fleming’s iconic character; the venerable supporting cast members (“M”, “Q”. Miss Moneypenny et. al.) decorously fell away in importance, replaced by actors without the same mixture of starchy reserve and moral rectitude exuded by their predecessors. Bond’s service to his country seemed slightly old-fashioned and outdated in a world now dominated by more sophisticated and impersonal technology.
That promising theme haunts Spectre, which begins promisingly enough with a stunning Day of the Dead party held in The Zocalo, Mexico City’s historic downtown city square. But what should have been a fresh take on the predictable opening set-piece mayhem goes on far too long and its focus on computer-generated destruction sets an ominous tone of “been there, done that” for the rest of what turns out to be an nearly interminable 2 and a half hours.
Spectre’s plot revolves around cornering the production of certain never adequately defined pharmaceuticals along with a simultaneous effort to gain control over the world’s governmental intelligence agencies. But beware scripts authored by a quartet; although all 4 credited screenwriters have experience on one or more previous movies in this series, their efforts here generate more confusion than clarity while simultaneously failing to provide the requisite amount of tension that’s required to hold an audience’s interest.
As is always the case with the peripatetic Bond, the action provides a gorgeous lesson in geography as is it moves from Mexico to London to Rome to Austria to Morocco. But the journey progresses with such monotonous predictability it strangles any sense of freshness; lots of hand-to-hand combat in ridiculous circumstances, the obligatory worship of fast cars and lethal gadgetry, beautiful but vapid ingénues - - so far removed from the likes of Ursula Andress in Dr. No and Honor Blackman in Goldfinger - - but even the villains aren’t worthy of their more interestingly grotesque predecessors. Despite the presence of the brilliant character actor Christoph Waltz (Inglorious Bastards,Django Unchained, Big Eyes) as the reincarnation of Bond nemesis Ernst Blofeld, he fails to generate the sense of menace required of his character. So it is for Andrew Scott; he infiltrates Britain’s Secret Service in this film with nary a wisp of the barely suppressed mendacity he’s brought so effectively to his role as Moriarty in the BBC’s Sherlock Holmes series.
As can be expected with any action movie that boasts a rumored production budget of $250 million dollars, Spectre’s location photography, stunts and production values are superb. But cinematographer Hoyte Van Hoytena (Interstellar, Her) shoots many of the interior scenes between Bond and his amours with a gauzy softness that quickly grows annoying.
The Verdict? A thoroughly mediocre episode in a series worthy of more creativity and tension that this provides. Mendes and Craig are rumored to be involved in a sequel, but if Spectreis the best they’re capable of, they should let James Bond sip a final martini and then slip quietly away…</p>
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