Judging from Daniel Craig’s over-it-all statements, it certainly feels like Spectre is his final outing as James Bond, even if he’s contracted to do one more. So before unpacking his new film, let’s pay our respects. Beginning with 2006’s Casino Royale, the actor single-handedly rescued the character from Austin Powers parody and gave it a brooding, bruised-knuckle intensity. He made you feel the toll that so much killing takes on a man, leaving the franchise in a far better place than he found it. If he does end up saying “never again” (as his most famous predecessor once did), then the question becomes, is Spectre a worthy swan song?
Like all of Craig’s turns in the tux, Spectre is a blast of bespoke escapism, full of globetrotting action and thousand-thread-count opulence. But compared with 2012’s stellar Skyfall, it feels both overstuffed and undercooked. Spectre aspires to be the culmination of Craig’s four-film cycle, connecting all his onscreen adversaries in one nefarious web of villainy, but it sets up a this-is-what-it-all-means revelation that never quite pays off. Picking up on the heels of Skyfall, which offed Judi Dench’s M and introduced a new generation of MI6 accomplices (Naomie Harris’ Moneypenny, Ben Whishaw’s Q, Ralph Fiennes’ M lite), Spectre opens with Bond in Mexico City during the Day of the Dead on a mission to kill an Italian terrorist, which leads to a dizzying helicopter scrum that makes the one in For Your Eyes Only look like a tickle fight.
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Acting on beyond-the-grave intel from Dench, Bond discovers a tentacled criminal organization called SPECTRE. Meanwhile, a new head of British intelligence (the delightfully smarmy Andrew Scott) threatens to eighty-six the double-0 program. Ping-ponging from Rome (where he has a steamy encounter with Monica Bellucci) to the Austrian Alps and Tangier (where he literally butts heads with a Jaws-like goon played by Dave Bautista), Bond hunts for Franz Oberhauser, the sponsor of his past foes (Le Chiffre, Mr. White, Silva). Played by Christoph Waltz with his creepy singsong accent and a Dr. No Nehru jacket, Oberhauser turns out to be – SPOILER ALERT – someone who should be familiar to longtime Bond aficionados. So why do both he and his endgame feel so thinly sketched? Director Sam Mendes and his writers could’ve had a field day with Oberhauser’s place in the 007 canon. Instead, he feels like just another fey baddie bent on Freudian score-settling. The stakes are surprisingly low considering how high we’re told they are. Bond is given a love interest (Léa Seydoux), and while it’s nice to see a female lead who’s more than a damsel in distress, she seems like a plot device. It’s possible that Skyfall created expectations that were too high for Spectre to match. But with all he’s done for the franchise, Craig deserves to go out with a bigger, smarter bang. B–