I’m going to start out by saying: I’m not with the critics on this one. While I wouldn’t put it above Skyfall, I would rank Spectre alongside Casino Royale as an exemplary, absolutely thrilling Bond movie. I’m not an automatic sucker for Bond, either, although I’ve been on board with all four—yes, including Quantum of Solace—Craig films. The earlier ones I’ve attempted to watch are slower than an ant pushing a brick through the desert, so I’ve been quite content with what the new millennium has brought us.
In the aftermath of the events of Skyfall, Bond (Daniel Craig) has gone on a holiday. At least, he claims to have done so. He’s actually been tracking down a lead provided for him by the late M, who has told him to find a man and kill him. In a spectacular opening sequence set in Mexico City during a celebration for el día de los muertos, Bond makes a big mess of the job, but he succeeds in getting his man, as well as a ring with a mysterious design on it, one that seems to mean something to Bond.
Meanwhile, MI6 is in the process of being absorbed into the rest of British intelligence, much to the chagrin of the recently mantled M (Ralph Fiennes). A cocky upstart codenamed “C” (Sherlock’s Andrew Scott) is spearheading the merger. In a very zeitgeist-y way, he believes that stuff like universal surveillance and drones are the future, and that the 00 program is anachronistic, something that he plans to axe as soon as he can. Consequently, Bond has to go rogue in order to chase down the enigma his former superior left behind.
Continuing the trend of reviving the tried-and-true Bond formula, Spectre features Bond with beautiful women, indomitable henchmen, globetrotting plotting, and spectacular action. There’s nothing surprising here, craftsmanship-wise. Skyfall director Sam Mendes has returned to the helm, and he continues in maintaining the tricky line between complete self-seriousness and fizzy atmosphere, a line he balances even better than in the previous film. We’d miss Roger Deakins’s unmatched camerawork more if he hadn’t been replaced by rising star, Hoyt van Hoytema (Interstellar, Let the Right One In), who is given the space to create his own brooding, chiaroscuro visual style, one that stands apart from Deakins’s sharp lines and picturesque lighting. Suffice it to say that the opening shot is van Hoytema’s statement of purpose; it dispels any fears you might have about this movie’s quality.
For me, the story was the main attraction, which seems to be getting the most flak from other critics. Without spoiling anything specifically, one can just say that the screenwriters have taken a page from J. J. Abrams’s playbook for Star Trek into Darkness, a film I had an excellent time with, despite the fact that it was likewise treading on well-worn ground. Critics, whose job it is to be familiar with film history, are not the ideal target for Spectre’s clever twists, which you can see coming from a mile away if you know the Bond series with any depth.
2015 has been a banner year for action films. Spectre never reaches the dizzying heights of Mad Max: Fury Road, nor is it as purely enjoyable as Mission: Impossible - Rogue Nation, but number three isn’t bad. In fact it’s good, very good.