Spectre, the twenty-fourth film in the long-running James Bond franchise, and fourth for star Daniel Craig, does not strive to mix up the formula in the way Skyfall did before it. Instead, it’s perfectly happy to deliver the beats that longtime fans have come to expect; in fact, much of the film reads as a remix of hits from James Bond films of years past. An escape from a mountaintop medical clinic calls to mind On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, while a long sequence set on an old-fashioned passenger train is pretty clearly a nod to From Russia with Love. Bond and his female companion are captured and delivered to the villain’s cartoonishly elaborate secret lair, where they are shown to lavish quarters and invited to dinner—if that sounds familiar, it’s because it is beat for beat the plot from Dr. No.
After a legitimately white-knuckle opening sequence set in Mexico City, Spectre settles into the comfortable, if well-trod, groove of a typical Bond adventure. Drawn into the web of a sinister organization, Bond must traipse across the globe to foil their plans to launch an all-encompassing surveillance program that would upset the balance of power. Along the way, he teams up with the daughter of an old enemy and uncovers secrets about his past, all while never wrinkling his suit. Equal parts down-to-earth bruiser and suave sophisticate, Craig’s iteration of 007 continues to prove why he’s the perfect actor for the role. Spectre ramps up the campiness just enough that Craig is having fun without breaking immersion, and the movie has some great gags that resist the urge to tip into, say, Roger Moore territory.
Ralph Fiennes, Ben Whishaw, and Naomi Harris return as Bond’s supporting cast at MI-6. Fiennes taps into the same world-weariness that characterized Bernard Lee’s M in the classic films, while Whishaw’s twitchy, wry Q is welcome in his expanded role. Harris is once again great as Eve Moneypenny, but doesn’t get nearly enough to do now that she’s been sat behind a desk. Similarly, Monica Bellucci’s much-hyped appearance is unfortunately very perfunctory—she shows up for about five minutes of screen time, just long enough for Bond to seduce her and nudge the plot forward, before she disappears and is never seen nor heard from again. Léa Seydoux’s Dr. Madeleine Swann fares much better, sharing plenty of screen time with Craig and being consistently shown as Bond’s equal, but even she falls victim to Bond Girl Syndrome, falling in love with him much too quickly and getting relegated to damsel-in-distress for the film’s third act.
As far as villains are concerned, Spectre delivers in spades. Christoph Waltz shines as Franz Oberhauser, the head of the titular shadowy secret society, capturing a balance of quietly simmering menace and off-kilter disdain for Bond. Dave Bautista is great as Mr. Hinx, a hulking concrete slab of a hitman, wordlessly pursuing Bond across the globe in a performance that stacks up next to other great mute henchmen like Oddjob and Jaws. Only Andrew Scott seems wasted as Max Denbigh, popping up in a few scenes to act smarmy and superior before succumbing to an ignominious death.
One of the big questions bandied about during the press tour for Spectre was whether Daniel Craig would return as James Bond in future installments of the franchise. One could have surmised that Craig’s caginess on the subject was a result of either his annoyance or weariness with the media machine, but after seeing the film, I think it’s far more likely that he simply didn’t know how to answer the question. While Casino Royale and Skyfall in particular each ended by moving pieces into place for the following film, Spectre sweeps all those pieces onto the floor, leaving the franchise in a state of flux; it’s genuinely unclear what else there is to be done with Craig’s interpretation of the character. Spectre positions itself as a revisionist catch-all net for all of the plot threads in Craig’s previous outings, and ties them all up (though somewhat sloppily), leaving behind the general feeling that it’s time for another actor to step into the role, and time for the franchise to move back toward stand-alone installments, or at least start from scratch on a new character arc for Bond.
Overall, Spectre is an enjoyable and familiar experience—generally thrilling, often beautiful, sometimes funny, occasionally monotonous. Indeed, the biggest drawback is the running time; at two and a half hours, it’s the longest film in the franchise, and at times it feels it. If you go into it hoping for a worthy successor to Skyfall, you’ll be a little disappointed; if you’re just looking for a good time with the world’s favorite secret agent, you’ll find plenty to love.
Spectre is now playing.