Movie review: Reclaiming original Bond lore, Spectre is a step back for the franchise | Arts

Movie review: Reclaiming original Bond lore, Spectre is a step back for the franchise

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Stalking in a winter wonderland: Daniel Craig is James Bond once again in Spectre. - PHOTO COURTESY OF  MGM/DANJAQ/COLUMBIA PICTURES INDUSTRIES
  • photo courtesy of MGM/Danjaq/Columbia Pictures Industries
  • Stalking in a winter wonderland: Daniel Craig is James Bond once again in Spectre.
Spectre
★★ 
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Until now, Ernst Stavro Blofeld and the rest of the SPECTRE global crime syndicate hadn’t appeared in a James Bond film since 1971’s Diamonds Are Forever. But in 2013, after decades of rights-wrangling, MGM and the estate of film producer Kevin McClory finally reached a legal settlement, allowing Bond’s original infamous foes to return to the franchise.

As its title might let on, the 24th Bond film is overeager to reintegrate its birthright, shoehorning it into the narrative reboot that began with Daniel Craig’s 007 and temporarily rejuvenated the franchise. But the slapdash Spectre is a nostalgic deviation that unearths many of the quips and clichés that Casino Royale supposedly dispatched, and it rolls back the Craig films from a reinvention to a mere rehash.

A power struggle to create a privately funded über-intelligence apparatus threatens to render the 00 section obsolete. With the clandestine help of Q (Ben Whishaw) and Moneypenny (Naomie Harris), Bond (Craig) goes rogue (again) on a globe-trotting search for the mastermind behind the worldwide tentacles of criminal mayhem dogging him and killing those close to him. It’s essentially the same plot as Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation.

When Bond literally wanders into a secret SPECTRE meeting, he discovers it's headed by Franz Oberhauser (Christoph Waltz), the thinly veiled John Harrison of this sequel. The Oberhauser name, which appears in one of Ian Fleming’s Bond short stories, sets up a half-baked plot twist seemingly drawn from—I kid you not—Austin Powers in Goldmember.

The reveal has about as much resonance as Sam Smith’s turgid theme song. Bond’s reaction, which should be a shock that catapults the plot, is more of a shoulder shrug. Craig’s carefree fourth round as Bond resembles Sean Connery’s fourth, in Thunderball, when Connery was most at ease inside Bond’s skin. However, the added cheekiness flies in the face of the emotionally (and sometimes physically) tortured portrait that has served as the centerpiece of the Craig canon.

There’s little chemistry between Craig and Léa Seydoux, who plays Madeleine Swann, the daughter of another Bond adversary. Swann’s function—beyond being another sexual conquest—is to help track down Oberhauser, even though Bond accomplishes it on his own prior to her arrival. Meanwhile, the palpable sparks between Craig and Monica Bellucci early in the film end in an eye-blink.

A few moments prove memorable: An extended tracking shot through Mexico’s Day of the Dead festivities before the opening credits, a train-car brawl between Bond and henchman du jour Mr. Hinx (Dave Bautista). Otherwise, the action scenes fall flat despite Spectre reportedly being among the most expensive movies ever produced. The gunfights and aerial stunts are edited to the point of stasis. An auto chase through Rome seems designed to spotlight the reflection lines of Aston Martin and Jaguar concept cars. There’s something called “smart blood,” and a spectral analysis of a SPECTRE member ring somehow reveals the group’s entire organizational chart. At one point, Bond drives a speeding motorboat down the Thames, flanked by Big Ben and the London Eye, and shoots down a helicopter using his Walther handgun ... apparently, just because he can.

Spectre does have a basic appeal for aficionados like me, with its copious callbacks to Bond lore, good and bad. Indeed, devotees endured, and even embraced, far worse entries during the latter days of the Roger Moore and Pierce Brosnan eras. But this distended 140-minute theme-park ride doesn’t leave us shaken or stirred. There are the girls and gadgets. M (Ralph Fiennes) is back to being a man. We get planes, trains and automobiles, plus helicopters and boats to boot. We teleport to Rome, Morocco, Mexico, Austria and merry old England. We visit deserts and snow-covered mountains. Hey, is that monologuing heard inside SPECTRE’s secret lair? Welcome to The James Bond Experience!


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