What remains intact is the visual splendor we expect from every James Bond picture. Spectre opens up strong with James on a mission in Mexico City during the Day of the Dead. There’s an exciting chase, a fight on a helicopter and a grand explosion that sends Daniel Craig racing across rooftops that crumble. It’s a thrilling opening that sadly doesn’t match the ho-hum plot. Bond is told to lay low by a company taking over the agency, but he just can’t help himself from investigating a secret organization he uncovers. He breaks out the usual gadgets, talks to all the right people and fights Dave Bautista on a train. The dots connect fairly early, but we’re stuck with Bond going through the motions of slowly uncovering clues in lavish locations with no big surprises.
Our villain for the picture was intended as a twist with Christopher Waltz playing the new Blofeld. There’s a backstory revealed of Blofeld’s family ties to James Bond and an orchestrating of the secret agent’s life, but all of this comes too late as a third act surprise that is anything but. More importantly, Waltz felt underused as Blofeld – never cackling or shouting at the camera loud enough to be a notable character. If a Bond film is going to go backwards, can it at least have standout villains?
The James Bond checklist is followed as a mix of both faithfulness and nostalgia. He sleeps with women and slurps some martinis (shaken not stirred). There’s an expensive car chase around a snowy cliff as a plane descends on our hero, piloted by gun-toting bad guys. Bond is taken to the secret base of the evil Spectre operation where our antagonist tortures him. Dave Bautista pops up as the muscle that gives Bond a good fight. There are plenty of big explosions to admire that may be too massive for their own good. And, of course, it wouldn’t be Bond without a cool car armed with all sorts of weapons and devices.
But is this all that’s required for a James Bond movie? After the brilliance in both Casino Royale and Skyfall, I’m not ready to see James Bond slip back into its old habits. It can’t go this route with such a fantastic cast with Ralph Fiennes as M and Naomie Harris as Moneypenny. At over two hours, the picture is far too long for floating between globetrotting questioning and gorgeous action set pieces amid a standard agency conspiracy plot. There’s no tension or wit to any of this – relying more on subtle grit than secret agent excitement. It may be time to retire the Bond franchise for a few more years before Daniel Craig stars in a much lesser James Bond movie. As it stands, Spectre is his worst Bond picture and I hope this is as bad as it gets.