“Spectre” is the second James Bond film pairing director Sam Mendes and actor Daniel Craig, who took 007 to new psychological places in “Skyfall.” While this movie doesn’t equal that 2012 film or Craig’s Bond debut “Casino Royale” for its suspense or emotional impact, it’s fine escapist entertainment, with plenty of references to all things Bond to delight enthusiasts.
Working from a screenplay by four writers, Mendes again takes Bond into the austere, cynical 21st century while filling the adventure with old-fashioned derring-do, killer fashion and far-fetched romance.
The film begins tremendously with a sequence set in Mexico City at a Dia de los Muertos celebration. Bond walks through a crowd, enters a hotel, exits onto a roof, foils a terrorist plot, and escapes from a collapsing building. A deadly fistfight on a helicopter follows.
Grounded for this rouge act by his spymaster boss, M (Ralph Fiennes), Bond nonetheless pursues the case. Agent Moneypenny (Naomie Harris) and gadget wizard Q (an entertaining Ben Whishaw) assist.
In Rome, Bond seduces a widow (Monica Bellucci) to obtain information about a sinister organization, Spectre. In Austria, he acquires tips from a dying nemesis (Jesper Christensen) by promising to protect his daughter, a young doctor named Madeleine Swann (Lea Seydoux), from harm. Naturally, Madeleine and Bond become romantically involved.
Back in London, the young new National Security Centre chief, code-named C (Andrew Scott), plans to replace the Double-0 program with massive surveillance projects.
Initially, C is the antagonist, but Christoph Waltz, playing Spectre head Franz Oberhauser, eventually upstages him. Oberhauser tortures Bond physically and torments him psychologically by revealing shockers about Bond’s history.
Credibility and cohesion problems plague the drama. Oberhauser’s personal connections to Bond are preposterous. Spaces between set pieces lack story development. The talented Seydoux’s Madeleine is only a sexual presence and woman in danger.
Yet “Spectre” is still an enjoyable ride both in and out of the Aston Martin.
Mendes (who also made “American Beauty,” “The Road to Perdition” and “Revolutionary Road”) is interested in characters who experience psychic crises relating to their chosen paths. He and Craig, a terrific Bond, are in sync on that note.
The Bondisms — everything from a Jaws-like henchman to a white cat to a car with an ejection seat to the name Spectre– are fun. And the action scenes look real and immediate.
As villains go, nothing is original about a megalomaniac with a grudge and a torture chamber, but Waltz gives his character the reptilian menace his inclusion in this movie promises.
Starring: Daniel Craig, Lea Seydoux, Ralph Fiennes, Christoph Waltz
Written by: John Logan, Neal Purvis, Robert Wade, Jez Butterworth
Directed by: Sam Mendes
Running time: 2 hours, 28 minutes