Directed by Sam Mendes. Produced by Michael G. Wilson and Barbara Broccoli. Written by John Logan, Neal Purvis, Robert Wade, and Jez Butterworth. Release date: November 6, 2015.
James Bond has never been better than he is in Spectre - at least, for the first 15 minutes. This Bond opening is likely the best in the entire franchise, mixing a gigantic chase through hundreds of people dressed as skeletons, a fist fight on a helicopter that doesn't understand how to stay upright, and one big laugh into a fantastic sequence. However, after the opening and the requisite title sequence - with a song performed by Sam Smith - we have another 130 minutes to sit through, and they're far, far more mixed.
The majority of the problem comes from the screenplay. It is more interested in giving 007 (Daniel Craig) a sightseeing tour of the world than anything of interest, but only until it reveals what's in its mystery box, revealing that it wants to haphazardly and half-heartedly connect itself to the last three Bond films, making them retroactively worse in the process. Spectre promises a lot and delivers very little.
The aforementioned mystery box revolves around S.P.E.C.T.R.E. and its leader, a man named Franz Oberhauser (Christoph Waltz). After killing an assassin and seducing his widow (Monica Bellucci) in the span of a few minutes - does Spectre have the shortest screen time for a Bond Girl in history? - he learns that S.P.E.C.T.R.E. is a shadowy organization with nefarious schemes. How nefarious? You'll have to watch to find out, but upon learning exactly what it and Oberhauser have planned, you'll likely have two reactions: (1) A quick slap of your palm to your forehead and (2) "Didn't Captain America: The Winter Soldier do this just a year ago?"
It all leads up to a villainous reveal that plays out much in the same way that it did in Star Trek Into Darkness - maybe even worse. By that point, though, it's likely that you'll have stopped caring. I started tuning out the plot as soon as we reached our third country in the span of a few minutes and realized that this was less of a narrative-driven film and more of a "James Bond: World Tour" that gives its actors various beautiful locations to explore in character before jetting them off to the next one. It's inefficient when it comes to getting things done, instead deciding to linger and accomplish nothing to let us take in the scenery.
If you ignore the story and just focus on individual action scenes that are linked together by characters with vague motives, you fare better. This is some of the most technically proficient action you'll see at the cinema. In addition to the aforementioned Mexico City sequence, we also get an extended car chase set in Rome, a deadly chase down the Austrian Alps, a fight on a moving train in the middle of the desert, and a race against time in a building set to explode. I'm sure I missed a couple, too. This is all wonderful, and if you're just here to see James Bond do action-y stuff - much like one of the pre-Craig films - then you're not going to be too disappointed.