With the James Bond film franchise spanning 23 (official) films over more than 50 years, a familiar formula has taken over and brought on a considerable amount of predictability.
You know the movies will open with a stunning action sequence, there will be ravishing Bond girls who are tough but still fall prey to the seduction, the spy, sleek automobiles, lots of boozing and some super villain trying to take over the world.
With “Spectre,” the latest installment opening Friday, you can check all of those elements off your cliché list.
That’s not to say that “Spectre” is a bad film — it’s not, though it’s overlong and riddled with gibberish chatter building a back-story that will likely appeal to Bond fanatics but become tiresome for casual viewers.
“Spectre” opens up in Mexico City during the Day of the Dead celebration, with a city clad in skeleton costumes and masks, with percussive drumming providing the pounding soundtrack. Bond (Daniel Craig, back for his fourth turn) makes his way across the rooftops trying to assassinate a man who is involved with a terrorist plot. Here’s when you’ll get a magnificent action sequence in a helicopter, the first of many exhilarating scenes in the film, directed by Sam Mendes, returning for his second Bond film after “Skyfall.”
Back in London, things aren’t going well for 007. Apparently he was acting on his own, but really he’s following posthumous orders from an old friend. Bond is suspended and the 00 program is on the verge of being merged with MI5, where the idea of a spy who is licensed to kill is obsolete. Could this be the end of James Bond?
Of course not. Bond won’t stop on this mission, continuing to follow lead after lead, bedding the widow (Monica Bellucci) of the man he killed in Mexico City along the way, before meeting an old enemy and teaming up with his daughter, Dr. Madeleine Swann (Léa Seydoux), the film’s second Bond girl. Spectre is the evil organization — run by Franz Oberhauser (Christoph Waltz, always a great villain) — that Bond is battling here in a globetrotting quest that will take him from London to beautiful locations in Rome, Morocco, the Alps and more.
During this sleuthing, he’s pursued by a mostly silent behemoth (Dave Bautista, who was so good as Drax in “Guardians of the Galaxy”) that proves to be a brutal combatant and formidable foe for Bond, though he lacks the panache of other Bond goons like Jaws or Odd Job. He does have an eye-popping introduction and he’s the pursuer in a spectacular car chase scene through the streets of Rome.
The film touches on some very timely themes, including government surveillance, and it draws some interesting conclusions on the evils of it, and it extols the virtues of man over technology in some powerful scenes with Ralph Fiennes, who plays Bond’s boss M.
With a two-and-a-half-hour runtime, “Spectre” is overstuffed, though it’s rarely boring. Craig isn’t the flashiest Bond around, but he’s got a cool, suave attitude and knows how to make a stunt work. While he’s quoted recently as having Bond fatigue, it doesn’t show in “Spectre,” where you can tell he brought everything he has to his performance.
The biggest flaw with “Spectre” comes not in any of the action or spy maneuvering, but in the theme song montage. “Writing’s on the Wall” by soulful British singer Sam Smith is a memorable song, but the accompanying visuals of octopuses and inky tentacle porn — the connection being to an octopus symbol found on a ring — is disturbing at best.