Mostly Spectre-cular endgame for 007
Action/148 minutes/Opens today
James Bond (Daniel Craig) is about to lose his job. The Double-0 section has been marked for termination and 007 is on suspension after an unsanctioned operation in Mexico.
But the British spy is not one to sit on the sidelines, as he embarks on a globe-trotting quest after receiving a cryptic message from the grave. Being laid off will be the least of his worries, though, when he uncovers a terrifying conspiracy plotted by a nemesis from his past.
BOND'S greatest adversary isn't megalomaniacs bent on world domination or a bureaucratic employer that disavows him whenever he becomes a liability. It's time.
Spectre is Craig's fourth Bond film and Eon Productions' 24th. After more than 50 years, we've seen Ian Fleming's legendary secret agent live through the Cold War, post 9-11 terrorism and irreverent Austin Power parodies.
Now, in a world of WikiLeaks and surveillance drones, flesh-and-blood field agents are archaic, or at least, that's what Spectre posits. Bond may be difficult to kill, but the way he makes a living is much easier to end in the face of budget cuts and emerging technologies.
Time has also taken its toll on the 47-year-old Craig's Bond; his pale face, lifeless eyes and gaunt frame are like those of a corpse. If Casino Royale represented childhood folly; Quantum of Solace, teenage angst; and Skyfall, the existential crisis of middle age, then Spectre is the immortal spy coming to terms with his impending retirement.
Ghosts from Bond's past resurface - Mr White (Jesper Christensen) from Casino Royale and Quantum returns, while former friends and foes make appearances, albeit not in person.
But the scariest phantom to haunt Bond is Franz Oberhauser, the shadowy mastermind of the titular criminal organisation Spectre, featured in six previous Eon films. Christoph Waltz plays the man whom Bond has seen in past lives with confident charm, but lacks the menace of Skyfall's Raoul Silva or Casino Royale's Le Chiffre.
It's not just familiar faces that the film conjures up, but also old tropes and setpieces from the Sean Connery and Roger Moore eras. There is a hidden lair in the middle of "nowhere", of which the supervillain graciously takes Bond on a tour while explaining his evil plan.
There's a laconic henchman - Mr Hinx, played by former wrestler Dave Bautista - who gets to beat up Bond in a From Russia With Love-inspired train brawl. There's even an elaborate death trap in the rather contrived and anti-climactic finale, in which Bond takes a literal walk down memory lane.
And then there are the Bond girls: Lea Seydoux initially holds her own against Bond as Mr White's fiercely independent daughter, Madeleine Swann, although the script turns her into a damsel in distress by the third act. Monica Bellucci proves more beguiling as Lucia, the widow of a Spectre member, but merely delivers exposition in her short screentime.
Supporting cast members Ralph Fiennes as Bond's handler M, Ben Whishaw as quartermaster Q and Naomie Harris as secretary Moneypenny carry the B plot competently as they hold the fort against new intelligence chief C's (Andrew Scott's) ambitious plan to bring MI6 "out of the dark ages".
The movie is exquisitely shot by Skyfall director Sam Mendes and Her cinematographer Hoyte Van Hoytema in austere greys and bleached sepia.
However, the languid pacing, especially in the middle act, is less engaging. Also, the action scenes - which include Bond's first snow sequence since Die Another Day (2002) - lack the visceral excitement of those from Craig's earlier instalments.
Sam Smith's "written in 20 minutes" theme The Writing's On The Wall is flaccid, while composer Thomas Newman recycles a lot of his motifs from Skyfall.
Craig has made no secret of his disdain for the role, even though he's contractually obligated to do one more film. At the very least, this "greatest hits" entry, with its homages to traditional instalments and opining about the irrelevance of old-school fieldwork, marks the end of an era.
Spectre manages to tie up all loose ends of Craig's earlier films, but falls short of being the culmination of Bond's personal journey that it promised to be, ending not with the emotional wallop of Casino Royale or Skyfall, but with a whimper.
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