The clichéd ghosts of James Bond past hauntSpectre, an action adventure whose biggest failure is looking back on 007’s own success.
Never coming close to the style or substance of 2012’s previous installment, Skyfall, Daniel Craig’s fourth turn as the superspy isn’t his worst — Quantum of Solace still has that ignominious lowlight — and he and director Sam Mendes remain a dynamic duo for the franchise. As much as Spectre (**½ out of four; rated PG-13; in theatre’s Friday nationwide) flirts with breaking from tradition, though, it leans heavily, to its detriment, on large-scale set pieces with vehicles and explosions aplenty, gorgeous women and dastardly villains hardcore Bond fans expect.
Mendes carries over the drama of Skyfall right from the start of Spectre, with Bond on a rogue mission to Mexico to track down an assassin. His boss, M (Ralph Fiennes), is none too pleased with him creating an international incident, since a government bureaucrat (Andrew Scott) is trying to shut down the “double-0” program of secret agents in favour of a nifty intelligence collective using drones and surveillance.
Bond, however, doesn’t have time for those shenanigans. He finds that his own past is connected to a mysterious ring with a small octopus symbol on it, and in Rome he discovers the secretive roundtable of terrorists known as SPECTRE. Christoph Waltzturns the evil up to 11 for Franz Oberhauser, the group’s leader, who has a surprise in store for Bond at his Moroccan headquarters — but only after 007 meets Austrian doctor Madeleine Swann (Léa Seydoux), a love interest and traveling companion who hangs with the suave spy while Bond takes out baddies in the Alps, on a train and back in jolly old England before the explosive climax.
Mendes again brings bona fide skill and confidence to the Bond director chair. And because of that, the Spectre visuals are a sumptuous lot, from the trippy opening credits (always a Bond highlight, but these are some of the best) to 007 doing business in Day of the Dead wear to the ruined London government building where his fate is seemingly written on the wall.