09242017Headline:

“Spectre” movie review

By Jeff Boudreaux

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James Bond’s demons (at least in the Daniel Craig universe) come back to haunt him in “Spectre,” where 007 must face an entire network of assassins, in what could turn out to be Craig’s swansong as Ian Fleming’s iconic secret agent. Director Sam Mendes (“American Beauty,” “Away We Go”) returns to the helm from the last chapter of the James Bond saga, and it shows as this way-overlong film plays like the tired, bloated cousin of “Skyfall,” that came in town just in time for Thanksgiving but isn’t going to leave without a good fight!

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The latest installment in the long-running franchise starts out with a literal bang (don’t they all?) at a “Day of the Dead” celebration in Mexico, where James is doing what he does best – mixing business with pleasure. Donned in a celebratory mask that fits the occasion, our hero realizes that there’s truly no rest for the wicked and sets his sights on a terrorist by the name of Marco Sciarra (Alessandro Cremona), who has plans to blow up a Mexican stadium. I wouldn’t count on it when 007 is around, but for anyone who is familiar with these films, James Bond doesn’t “officially” run his own show – He answers to M (Ralph Fiennes), who (like his predecessor) never seems to be happy with Bond no matter how many lives he ultimately saves. Just because a city street and some old building gets collaterally demolished, M places Bond off of field duty. And just like Dirty Harry, when has being unassigned ever stopped the likes of Agent 007?!

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With an octopus-symbolled ring left behind by the dead terrorist, Bond reveals to his close allies Moneypenny (Naomie Harris) and Q (Ben Whishaw), that he will be fulfilling the previous M’s (Dame Judi Dench) dying wish by attending the funeral of the man he killed, which may ultimately uncover the all-reaching sinister organization known as SPECTRE. While the funeral does get Bond closer to the truth behind the organization, it creates an all-out war on the 00 program and 007 in particular, as criminal mastermind Franz Oberhauser (Oscar-winner Christoph Waltz) unleashes all of his resources, including the relentless assassin Mr. Hinx (Dave Bautista) to squash Bond for good. As they say, it’s a good idea to keep your friends close, but your enemies closer, so Bond travels to Austria to pump his old adversary Mr. White (Jesper Christensen) for information, who agrees to trade secrets of SPECTRE in exchange for the protection of his daughter, the beautiful Dr. Madeleine Swann (Léa Seydoux). Although the two appear to get off to a bad start, she proves to be more than just extra baggage for 007 – in fact, the two join forces to get to the bottom of SPECTRE and uncover just how Oberhauser relates to so many moments in Bond’s past.

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From the previews, as well as the posters which certainly played up the “Día de los Muertos” aspect of the story (a scene which accounted for roughly ten minutes), I was expecting a much darker Bond installment this time around. I think it would have served the story significantly better had the sinister aspect of this global intelligence/terrorist network had been highlighted instead of simply presenting Bond with a rehash of a bunch of old ghosts from his past. That’s not to take anything away from Christoph Waltz, who’s excellent here as usual and makes for a charming and super-interesting antagonist, but it’s the latest Bond girl, Léa Seydoux, that steals nearly every scene she’s in. Dr. Swann gracefully matches Bond in every way imaginable, and is probably one of the strongest female characters in recent Bond filmdom. Also, the presence of wrestler-turned-actor Dave Bautista as Oberhauser’s top assassin, pays homage to the classic Bond pictures “The Spy Who Loved Me” and “Moonraker,” as a virtual reincarnation of the legendary Jaws (the huge, but fun bad guy who’s oh so hard to get rid of and was played magnificently by the late Richard Kiel).

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Don’t get me wrong, the movie had a great beginning and ending as well as some spectacular scenes throughout, it just would have benefitted with some fat being trimmed from the middle. At the very least, the film’s elephantine running time should have undoubtedly been scaled down for patrons who additionally had to watch a music video by Sam Smith performing “Writing’s on the Wall” before the film started, only to have to listen to the same exact song when the opening credits roll! If you ask me, it’s not the smartest idea in the world. So, Mr. Craig, I honestly hope you do happen to return for another go at 007. You’ve been a very entertaining James Bond, and I think you deserve a tighter script and better direction before you take your final bow as the legendary secret agent.

** (two out of four stars)

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