Spectre (2015)

Rating: ****
Review Date: 11/7/15
Director: Sam Mendes
Cast: Daniel Craig, Christoph Waltz, Ralph Fiennes, Léa Seydoux, Dave Bautista, Ben Whishaw, Naomie Harris, Andrew Scott, cameo by Monica Belucci

I realize I'm in the minority here, but I found "Spectre" to be a significant improvement over the tedious and lackluster "Skyfall" (2012). Following the events in that film, James Bond (Daniel Craig) has gone rogue and is trying to dig up dirt on an international crime syndicate that no one believes exists. Under scrutiny from British Central Intelligence, Bond is reprimanded for his unauthorized actions and the outdated Double-O program is shut down in favor of a new international intelligence network (this is pretty much the exact same plot as "Mission: Impossible - Rogue Nation" (2015), for those of you paying attention). While an increasingly flustered M (Ralph Fiennes) is taking the heat from upstairs, Q (Ben Whishaw) and Moneypenny (Naomie Harris) slowly realize that Bond is onto something and start assisting him behind M's back. With the aid of the stunning Dr. Madeleine Swann (jaw-dropping Léa Seydoux), Bond is able to infiltrate SPECTRE headquarters and battle with its sinister leader, Ernst Stavro Blofeld (Christoph Waltz).

Similar to "Skyfall", this outing is overly long and drags in parts, but the action is top-notch and dispersed liberally throughout the film. Again, my heart sank when I saw Alexander Witt's name as second unit director, but the only place where things get overly sloppy is during an intense fight scene between Daniel Craig and Dave Bautista aboard a train. Other than that, the action set pieces are superbly crafted. The car chases are thrilling, the aerial stunts are impressive, and the gunplay is tense and thoughtfully paced. The locations are fabulous and the stirring music score does a great job of setting the tempo and emotional tone. Daniel Craig once again delivers a strong performance with a definite edge of world weary cynicism. I was excited to see Monica Belucci show up as the widow of a crime lord, but her role is insignificant and disappointingly brief. Much to my surprise, the intoxicating Léa Seydoux manages to steal the show with her fierce defiance, smouldering gaze, and no-nonsense attitude. She is radiantly beautiful and utterly magnificent. Unfortunately, the film stumbles on several occasions and Waltz's character is tiresome, uninteresting, and long-winded (but not nearly as bad as Javier Bardem in "Skyfall"). Its attempts to weave in continuity fall flat and the story is cliché, overly predictable, needlessly contrived, and foreshadowed to the point of absurdity, but the action helps keep you distracted from its narrative missteps. However, despite my minor criticisms, I enjoyed the film immensely and found it both fresh and exciting, as well as reminiscent of older Bond outings.