James Bonds, like great athletes, rarely exit the stage gracefully. Bonds always seem to go out on stinkers, like Michael Jordan playing for the Wizards.
“Spectre,” set up to be the Daniel Craig finale as Bond, isn’t a terrible installment in the franchise. It’s the lightest of the Craig Bonds — no sin in that. But like the end of Connery, the exit of Roger Moore and the layoff notice given Pierce Brosnan, it’s a tired, trite “greatest hits” re-packaging of stunts, chases and fights from earlier, better Bonds.
It’s terrible only in that it’s a terrible fall off from “Skyfall.”
The new M (Ralph Fiennes) may not approve of Bond’s epic shoot-out/blow-up/chopper chase in the middle of Mexico City’s Dia de la Muerta (Day of the Dead), one of the most heavily populated set pieces (with a doozy of a long-take tracking shot) in Bond history.
But his old boss, the last M (Judi Dench) would approve. She’s sent him after one last foe, of a conspiracy of foes.
“Kill him,” she says on her video after death. “And don’t miss the funeral.”
That sends Bond after The Pale King, and his daughter (Lea Seydoux), from Rome to Austria, London to Morocco. The context here is “global security,” a vast intelligence gathering collective that will be the end of privacy as we know it.
And since you’ve heard about the casting you know who the villain is — Christoph Waltz, a stretch. You have heard who he plays, and what his character likes in a pet.
Cliches abound, from the “From Russia With Love” heavy (Dave Bautista of “Guardians of the Galaxy”) battled in exactly the same set piece that Sean Connery battled Robert Shaw in that film, to the villain’s Nehru jacket and loafers without socks.
If you’re not laughing at the hero and the “Bond Girl” unpacking their evening wear for dinner on board an overnight train through Morocco, it’s only because you’re not in on the joke.
Waltz is introduced, and disappears for two thirds of the movie. For the first time ever, he simply phones it in when he’s on screen.
Monica Bellucci turns up as the bed-able widow MILF (Moll I”d like to…) Bond entices early on.
Most of the weaker Bond films are the ones that make a little too much use of the quizzically comical Q, played to amusing effect by Ben Whishaw in this series. He doesn’t hurt the movie so much as indicate that six credited screenwriters couldn’t think of anything else for their McQueen-ish tough guy Bond (who wears his suits and vests a size too small) to do.
The best lines are given to peripheral characters, which must have irked Waltz no end.
“You’re a kite dancing in a hurricane, Mr. Bond.”
Director Sam Mendes cut corners on sound effects, which kills the joy of an Aston Martin DB-10 being chased by a Jaguar C-X75 through the empty streets of Rome, two hulking behemoths tearing through narrow alleys in near silence.
At least the ingrate Craig, rightfully dismissing this role in some recent interviews, learned to drive a stick shift doing this.
A brawl that ends with the damsel in distress asking, “What do we do NOW?” may be the biggest howler in the script. Post near-death coitus is the answer.
Epic explosions that aren’t (epic), big set-pieces that don’t dazzle and attempts at wrapping this entire series into one neat, limp package aren’t assets.
Even the Sam whathisname theme song just hangs there over the arty/erotic opening credits, instantly forgettable.
You can’t say that about the Craig-Bond years. The action amped up, and the tough-guy seriousness worked, even if he never quite had the Connery-Brosnan blend of sadism-plus-silly that makes the character work.
But “Spectre” doesn’t make us long for Craig taking another shot at Bond (he is contracted to do a fifth, should he so desire), or puzzle over who might get the World’s Greatest Secret Agent Role next. It just makes you wish you had those last two and a half hours back, so you could watch “Thunderball” and “Live and Let Die” and “Goldeneye” again, and at least enjoy the theme song.
MPAA Rating:PG-13 for intense sequences of action and violence, some disturbing images, sensuality and language
Cast: Daniel Craig, Lea Seydoux, Christoph Waltz, Ralph Fiennes, Naomie Harris, Ben Whishaw, Davve Bautista
Credits: Directed by Sam Mendes, script by John Logan, Neal Purvis, Robert Wade, Jez Butterworth. A Sony/MGM release.
Running time: 2:28