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Drawn Out Spectre Will Test the Patience of All but the Most Devoted Bond Fans

Drawn Out <i>Spectre</i> Will Test the Patience of All but the Most Devoted Bond Fans

DVD Release Date: February 9, 2016
Theatrical Release Date: November 3, 2015
Rating: PG-13 (for intense sequences of action and violence, some disturbing images, sensuality and language)
Genre: Action
Run Time: 148 min.
Director: Sam Mendes
Cast: Daniel Craig, Christoph Waltz, Lea Seydoux, Ralph Fiennes, Ben Whishaw, Naomie Harris, Andrew Scott, Monica Bellucci, Dave Bautista

According to recent press reports, Daniel Craig's time playing James Bond may be drawing to a close. The actor told Time Out London that he'd rather “slash my wrists” than play Bond again, but it’s hard to know how serious to take such comments. Such provocative comments could simply be part of the headline-grabbing PR machine that expensive, major studio releases need to keep their films and stars in the public eye ahead of a film’s release. (Indeed, during that same interview, the writer pressed him on whether he’ll be moving on “for good” from the Bond franchise, and Craig said, “For at least a year or two, I just don’t want to think about it.”)

Craig’s tenure as Bond has seen the franchise reinvigorated with his first outing as 007 in the well-liked Casino Royale, a lull with Quantum of Solace, and a rebound with the visually stunning Skyfall, which received an Oscar nomination for Roger Deakins's cinematography.

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Skyfall was also directed by Sam Mendes (American Beauty, Revolutionary Road), who takes the reins again for Spectre, the latest chapter in the long-running Bond series. Craig is back, of course, but Deakins hasn't returned for Spectre. This time the outstanding cinematography is from Hoyte Van Hoytema (Interstellar).

Mendes brings lush visuals and a pleasing throwback sensibility to Spectre, but the visuals aren't the problem with the film, nor is Mendes's direction. It’s the script that’s to blame for this overlong, meandering movie. While plot isn't always essential to enjoyment of a Bond film, the bad story choices from this screenplay pile up, dooming Spectre during its second half.

Spectre is at its strongest during its opening moments, including a Day of the Dead parade and Bond's pursuit of a terrorist on the ground, through the air (via helicopter) and away from collapsing buildings. It concludes with a fall onto a conveniently placed couch—a rare moment of levity in a series that has, along with today's more other-worldly superhero movies, grown darker and more tragic.

Alas, that moment is short-lived. Spectre is a very somber affair, although the moodiness during its early stretch has an engaging throwback quality. Yes, there are fleeting sexual encounters, but the principal characters are heavily shadowed and little more than bare male chests and female limbs are seen. The film’s central romance, between Bond and Madeleine Swann (Lea Seydoux, The Grand Budapest Hotel), doesn't develop until the film’s second hour, but the story’s attempt to generate a meaningful relationship between Bond and another woman is, it turns out, the movie’s downfall (the film is rated PG-13 in part for “sensuality”—an accurate description not only of the sexuality in the film, but of Spectre's music and mood during its first hour.)

Swann is the daughter of a Bond nemesis, and Bond drags her across continents—sections are set in Mexico, London, Austria, Rome and Tangier—in pursuit of Franz Oberhauser (Christoph Waltz, Muppets Most Wanted), a key figure in Spectre, a shadowy criminal group. But the agency is facing troubles within as well as without. The double-0 program once again is on the chopping block, and the head of the organization (Andrew Scott) doesn’t exactly have Bond’s back.

With so much going on, it’s hard to care about a cast of supporting characters—M (Ralph Fiennes, Skyfall), Moneypenny (Naomie Harris, Southpaw) and Q (Ben Whishaw, Cloud Atlas)—that is underused, even though the movie is enlivened anytime they appear. Waltz’s villain is also less than memorable, possibly because after a brief glimpse of the character early in the film, he doesn’t reappear until the 1-hour-and-45-minute mark. (Yes, I checked my watch, astonished at how long it had been since we’d first seen the top-billed Waltz.) Most films would be wrapping up by that point, but Spectre still has 45 long minutes to go.

Maybe Bond fans will find enough connections to earlier Bond stories to feel satisfied with this bloated entry in the long-running series, which has seen its share of highs and lows. If Spectre is on the lower end of that spectrum, that doesn't mean the series can't bounce back. But other changes—the stories could use some humor, a tighter story and a star that actually wants to embrace the role of Bond—are called for.

Regardless of whatever alterations or updates are on tap for future Bonds, a break is due for the series—for the star, for the screenwriters and for the audience. Some rest will give the creators a chance to return, refreshed, for new Bond stories that show an understanding that sometimes less is more.

CAUTIONS (may contain spoilers):

  • Language/Profanity: Lord’s name taken in vain; “oh s-it”; “cocky little ba-tard”
  • Drinking/Smoking/Drugs: Drinking; asked how much alcohol he consumes, Bond replies, “Too much”
  • Sex/Nudity: Kissing and sex implied via shadowy, from the waist up shots; Bond’s upper body is caressed by women
  • Violence/Crime: Buildings collapse; gunfire; Bond is injected with “smart blood”; Moneypenny has a male friend in bed, covered by a sheet; Bond describes his occupation as “I kill people”; a car explodes; a plane crash; a man’s eyes are gouged and his neck snapped; fights and fisticuffs; needles puncture Bond’s neck; an eye wound; a man falls to his death; a helicopter crash
  • Religion/Morals/Marriage: A Day of the Dead parade in Mexico

*Published 11/5/2015