First, a little history: When Dr. No, the first official James Bond movie, opened in America in May 1963, John F. Kennedy was president, the big American blockbuster was How the West Was Won, and the No. 1 song on the radio was “I Will Follow Him” by Little Peggy March. Dr. No was innovative and now in every way, and Sean Connery’s Bond was a dashing Kennedy-esque hero who never allowed you to see him sweat no matter the odds.
Fifty-two years later, James Bond is still fighting the good fight, and the stakes have never been higher. By that I mean that the last Bond film, 2012’s Skyfall, grossed more than $1.1 billion around the globe. Daniel Craig might be weary of playing 007, but he’s the keeper of the flame, and Spectre roars into theaters with high bars to clear, financially and creatively. Directed once again by Sam Mendes, Spectre reaches far back into the Bond archives, sifting through the best bits of 23 previous missions and sprinkling references throughout an adventure purportedly designed to please the most passionate double-0 nerds. The title itself conjures up memories of Bond’s greatest nemesis, the SPecial Executive for Counter-intelligence, Terrorism, Revenge, and Extortion terrorist syndicate that Dr. No himself belonged to, along with other evil geniuses like Ernst Stavro Blofeld.
RELATED: Ranking All 24 James Bond Movies
M is dead, but her final command sends Bond on a mission to Mexico City, and that’s where Spectre begins. He’s more than just a blunt instrument these days, and he alternates cruelty and charm to locate the shadow organization and the man who seems to be behind it, Franz Oberhauser (Christoph Waltz). There are beautiful women, of course — two actually — Monica Bellucci and Léa Seydoux, and Bond can rely on his close confidantes, if not the rest of MI6, for help. Ralph Fiennes is back as the new M, Naomie Harris returns as Moneypenny, and Ben Whishaw is growing into his role as Q.
The film is an inevitable global success, already opening to box office records in the U.K. But even as Bond is peaking in popularity, there might also be new signs of creative sclerosis, no doubt aggrevated by the pressure not to muck up a sure thing. “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,” write EW’s Chris Nashawaty in his B- review. “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.”
For more of Nashawaty’s review and a survey of other critics from around the country, scroll below.
Chris Nashawaty (Entertainment Weekly)
“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.”
Manohla Dargis (New York Times)
“There’s nothing surprising in Spectre … which is presumably as planned. Much as the perfect is the enemy of good, originality is often the enemy of the global box office. … [Craig and Mendes are] a reasonable fit, although their joint seriousness has started to feel more reflexive than honest, especially because every Bond movie inevitably shakes off ambition to get down to the blockbuster business of hurling everything — bodies, bullets, fireballs, debris, money — at the screen.”
Mick LaSalle (San Francisco Chronicle) ▲
“Spectre has everything anyone could possibly want in a James Bond movie. It has virtuoso action sequences, imaginatively crafted and meticulously filmed. It has two beautiful Bond women — ever since Eva Green, there are no Bond girls. It has an international conspiracy that taps into the current paranoia just as the Cold War Bond movies did in the 1960s. And it has a villain who immediately enters the pantheon, both for the way the role is written and for the way it’s played…”
Ty Burr (Boston Globe)
“In the hands of filmmakers with a sense of play, this could be a pop hoot, as witty and cruel as the Connery films and as effervescent as the Moores. But Craig has never handled the series’ humor well and Mendes can’t decide whether he’s making a straight 007 movie or inviting us in for a goof. … Spectre is a movie that wants to have fun but simply doesn’t know how.”
Rene Rodriguez (Miami Herald)
“The opening is exciting, outrageous and a cheeky showcase of cinematic craftsmanship. So why is the rest of the movie so dull? Spectre, which is rumored to be Craig’s last outing as Bond (this is his fourth time playing the character, and the weariness shows), has an aura of finality to it, as well as a perfunctory, let’s-get-this-over-with feel. The story is tangled and complicated, but not in a clever or revelatory way: It’s needlessly obtuse, like a first draft in dire need of tightening.”
Kenneth Turan (Los Angeles Times)
“Some of the individual stunts and action set pieces temporarily hold our interest — at that cost, they’d better — but the story itself is not convincing on its own terms, playing like a series of boxes (Bond asking for a martini shaken not stirred) that need to be checked off and forgotten. Part of the problem is that Craig, a potent actor whose resume includes Steven Spielberg’s Munich and playing the poet Ted Hughes in Sylvia, seems to be feeling increasingly strait-jacketed as Bond.”
David Edelstein (New York)
“Spectre makes a satisfying final chapter to the four-film saga of Daniel Craig’s 007, even if that saga turns out to be less than the sum of its parts. But it was a fascinating journey, wasn’t it? … The Craig Bonds are prime examples of what happens when brainy, intensely self-conscious fans — people who grew up with these series — get hundreds of millions of dollars to engage in a dialogue with the past. It’s fanboy culture on an undreamed-of scale.”
Stephen Dalton (Hollywood Reporter)
“Craig’s lack of humor or warmth remains problematic. His two main seduction scenes, first with a fleetingly featured Monica Bellucci, then with Seydoux, have a forced and jarring quality. The ingrained chauvinism of the Bond universe is a given, of course, and can be enjoyed in an ironic Austin Powers manner. But Spectre seems confused in its token nods to feminism, with Madeleine initially scorning Bond’s irresistible charms, only to melt helplessly into his arms a few scenes later.”
Ann Hornaday (Washington Post)
“Seydoux, who plays Bond’s love interest, may want to consult with Mission: Impossible’s Rebecca Ferguson for tips on how to find scripts that bring a female supporting role into the 21st century without losing an ounce of seductive allure. (Let us pause to lament the absence of the great Judi Dench, whose flinty intelligence was crucial to lending recent Bond films class they might not have otherwise deserved.)”
Guy Lodge (Variety)
“The film finally hits fifth gear when Waltz’s louche villain emerges from the shadows, though he’s not as eerily vivid or playful an opposing presence as Javier Bardem’s Silva in Skyfall. The Austrian actor brings his familiar streak of fruity menace to the role, though like much else in Spectre, he’s working to match comforting series archetypes rather than transcend them.”
Richard Roeper (Chicago Sun-Times)
“Once Franz gets Bond strapped in a torture device and has the opportunity to tell stories from his childhood and explain just exactly how he’s going to rip James apart, Waltz doesn’t disappoint. His Franz is wonderfully insane, and of course he constructs elaborate puzzles and even invokes the old Countdown Timer to Destruction instead of just putting a bullet in Bond’s head when he has the chance.”
Overall Metacritic rating (1-100): 60
Rotten Tomatoes: 62 percent
Length: 150 minutes
Starring Daniel Craig, Christoph Waltz, Léa Seydoux, Naomie Harris, Dave Bautista
Directed by Sam Mendes