“Spectre” plays out as a sort of greatest hits farewell tour for Daniel Craig’s James Bond and, for the most part, it’s efficient-enough Bond fare — overlong car chases, beautiful women in eternal danger, crazy stunts, suave cool under fire. Nice fitting suits.
But what about the bad guy? Bad guys are essential to Bond, and this time around he has one of our best actors playing the villain: Two-time Academy Award-winner Christoph Waltz. The problem? Aside from a couple of lines early on, he doesn’t show up until the film’s final 45 minutes.
Instead, the film uses mountainous Dave Bautista as a mostly wordless quasi-Odd Job stand-in for the first two thirds, which works well enough action-wise, but limits the witty repartee. Then again, Craig’s Bond has never been known for his wit, but more for his tortured/convoluted psyche and background, which are again on full display here.
The premise: The modern world has caught up with British intelligence and the 00 series of licensed assassins is about to be discontinued in favor of a massive surveillance program which will bind the information-gathering capabilities of nine major countries together. In other words, Bond is about to be replaced by drones.
So, of course, he goes off on his own, starting in Mexico City, to uncover a vast conspiracy (a minor conspiracy would never be enough for Bond), a secretive organization called Spectre that plans to tap into that surveillance program and … do what? Nasty things, assumedly. Rule the world, that kind of stuff.
While investigating Spectre, Bond beds a woman he has just made a widow (Monica Belluci, majestic if only briefly available) and then finds himself entrusted with the safety of a young doctor, Madeleine Swann (Lea Seydoux from “Blue is the Warmest Color”) who eventually becomes his sidekick and romantic interest.
Daniel Craig is 47. Lea Seydoux is 30. Ah, Hollywood.
It’s a Bond movie, so of course the two go globe-hopping, the Alps to Tangiers to our bad guy’s remote outpost in the desert, then home to London. It would be unfair to give away the bad guy’s name — a bit of Bond history — but he turns out to have been a childhood acquaintance of young James,’ in keeping with the recent tendency to tie things to Bond’s beginnings.
“Spectre” is directed, as previous Bond entry “Skyfall” was, by the Oscar-winning prestige director Sam Mendes (“American Beauty,” “Revolutionary Road”), and again he may be seeing more in the franchise than actually exists. The script has four authors, yet includes innumerable clunky lines that channel absolute B-movie cheese while aspiring to some grand existential portrait of our assassin as a damaged child grown into a borderline sociopath.
Remember when Bond used to be fun? Nobody here does, but that’s been Bond’s path for the past decade (the darkness actually began setting in during Pierce Brosnan’s reign). Still, even when he’s oh-so-serious, it’s a bit hard to take Bond seriously.
On the other hand, it’s also hard to ignore his cool. Craig starts the movie off casually walking along the edges of a series of high rooftops, thoroughly unperturbed by the possibility of a misstep meaning instant death. It’s not played up as shrill drama, but as nonchalance. If “Spectre” is the swan song for Craig’s Bond — and it plays as if it is — he’s at least kept the character as above-it-all as he’s always been.
Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of action and violence, some disturbing images, sensuality and language
Running time: 148 minutes