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Review: Sam Mendes’ ‘Spectre’ Starring Daniel Craig, Christoph Waltz, Lea Seydoux & Ralph Fiennes

Review: Sam Mendes' 'Spectre' Starring Daniel Craig, Christoph Waltz, Lea Seydoux & Ralph Fiennes

The Daniel Craig era of Bond movies has been something of a mixed bag so far. "Casino Royale" got things off to a strong start nine years ago — a classy, surprisingly emotional picture that truly delivered a 007 for the new millennium. But a script rushed by the writer’s strike and some poor direction led to follow-up "Quantum Of Solace" disappointing all but the most undemanding Bond fans. Then "Skyfall" rebooted anew, with some strong set pieces, a great villain, stellar reviews and a billion-dollar box office haul.

There were still complaints that Sam Mendes film didn’t quite feel like Bond in places, so it would be nice to report that his second movie in the franchise, "Spectre," will please both the hardcore and the more casual fan. Unfortunately, the new film, the 24th in the long-running series, feels more like a successor to ‘Quantum,’ or to one of the ropier Roger Moore films, than to its Oscar-winning predecessor. (It won for best Best Original Song and Best Sound Editing).

READ MORE: Daniel Craig Suggests ‘Spectre’ Might Not Be His Last Time As James Bond Role, But Says He “Needs A Break”

Things get off to an impressive start, technically speaking. An extended tracking shot (Bond goes “Birdman!”) follows Bond (wearing a "Live & Let Die"-ish skeleton outfit) through a Day Of The Dead parade in Mexico City, up to a hotel with a beautiful woman, out onto the balcony as he leaves her, and up onto the roof, where he proceeds to blow up the building across the road containing terrorists that were plotting an attack on a stadium. But an Italian hitman survives, leading to a chase on foot, then a fistfight in a helicopter above a crowded square, before 007 gets his man, plucking a ring with an octopus symbol off his finger.

As it turns out, the operation was a final assignment from Judi Dench’s now-deceased M. As it also turns out, this mission wasn’t approved by MI6 and M’s successor (Ralph Fiennes), and it’s come at the worst possible time, as the intelligence services are being overhauled and merged under ambitious bureaucrat C (Andrew Scott — Moriarty in “Sherlock”). Bond is grounded, but with the semi-reluctant help of Moneypenny (Naomie Harris) and Q (Ben Whishaw), he goes rogue, on a quest that will take him to the hitman’s widow (Monica Bellucci), the daughter of an old enemy (Lea Seydoux) and an organization led by the mysterious Franz Oberhauser (Christoph Waltz), that ties everything, including the previous movies, together. 

READ MORE: Watch: Monica Bellucci Stars In A New Clip From ‘Spectre’; Daniel Craig Says He Originally Expected To Pass On 007
As with "Skyfall," Mendes (and writers John Logan, Neil Purvis and Robert Wade, here joined by “Edge Of Tomorrow” and “Black Mass” co-writer Jez Butterworth) are pushing forward a more serialized, backstory-heavy Bond for the modern super-franchise era, while also paying homage to classic 007 entries. We don’t just have the return of the arch-nemesis organization of the title, but also an homage to the car flip from “The Man With The Golden Gun,” a “From Russia With Love”-style train fight, a downhill mountain chase a la multiple Bond pictures, the return of gadgets to the franchise, and a rather lighter tone than the previous entries, with more quips and gags than in any Craig-led Bond film to date (the best of which belong to Fiennes’ M).

In places, it works well. The two and a half hour runtime is indulgent, but Mendes does at least make "Spectre" move quickly. Craig’s clearly having fun with a slightly looser, less grim-faced Bond, while pulling off the action with his usual crunchy aplomb. “Guardians Of The Galaxy” star Dave Bautista has a ton of screen presence as an exquisitely tailored, near-mute henchman fashioned after Oddjob or Jaws, and his big throwdown with Bond on a North African train is easily the best set piece in the film. And Lea Seydoux is easily the film’s highlight, taking her place alongside Eva Green as the best of the modern-era female leads in the franchise. Compared to Vesper Lyn, her Madeleine Swann is underwritten, but Seydoux does a lot to flesh her out, and has tons of chemistry with Craig, even if she’s served a duff hand by the film’s climax.

But elsewhere, "Spectre" feels like it’s going over old ground in uninspiring ways, and that train fight aside, none of the action feels particularly engaging, especially when put against the opening sequence of “Skyfall.” Much of the same team is in place, and the budget’s even bigger, but a car chase in Rome feels empty and linear, the Alpine sequence is a bunch of stunts in search of some momentum to tie it together, and the big opening helicopter stunt is botched by some awful green-screen and baffling editing choices (if you’re making your chopper do corkscrews in mid-air, don’t cut away just as it flips).

But the massive, movie-breaking problem? Story. Plot holes might be forgivable in a Bond movie (even ones of the gaping, you-could-drive-a-truck-through-it size we get here), but they stand out more when you’re mistaking mystery for actual story, with Bond on a quest that jumps from set piece to set piece rather than building up to something more compelling. By the time Waltz enters the game late in the third act (spoiler: he’s giving the same performance he always does), you keep waiting for some kind of unexpected twist, reversal, or even a moment that makes you feel any kind of suspense. But while press has been asked to keep the film’s surprises under wraps ahead of release, the biggest surprise to me, was that there weren’t any. In general, this feels like a film patched together out of endless hastily-drafted script rewrites rather than a cohesive vision.

It looks handsome enough, though DP Hoyte Van Hoytema doesn’t make the compositions transcend your expectations the way that Roger Deakins did with “Skyfall.” And those looking for a film with all the classic Bond ingredients may find something to like here. But those of us hoping that Mendes might again be able to take those ingredients and make something more than the sum of those parts will be left bitterly disappointed. [C-]

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Compared to the two most recent Bond outings Spectre really captured the essence of Bond for me. Also, the inclusion of Dave Bautista is great casting. He is really becoming a real Hollywood star since Guardians of the Galaxy.

Silence Dogood

Glad to finally read a review that actually manages to point out what this movie is.
Spectre. The most nefarious antagonist in the Bond-franchise. The promise is so big, that it can only fail. The film itself sets up leads that go nowhere. Ideas, characters and backstory that is glossed over, which makes the film seem hollow and rushed. A good rewrite or three might’ve made this one of the greatest films in the franchise. Perhaps that’s what’s so frustrating. What should be an epic match of thrilling suspense is only half that. Plot twists that can be spotted within the first few minutes of the film (or even in the trailer), making it so obvious a two-year old can predict every major event. For the dark, gritty, narrative and character-driven Bond, this is not. Despite its fantastic visual (although foggy) look, despite its great stunts, great performance by Craig and others, despite that, it feels like Snapchat-filmmaking.
It does lay the groundwork for something bigger to come in the sequel. Something enormous. If they play their cards right, that is.


Watched it earlier today (I am based in the UK). This review doesn’t do this movie justice. Although not perfect, it’s still an excellent movie.

Daniel Southwould

He’s right, it’s repetitive, soulless rubbish. Don’t worry about spoilers, people. I guarantee you’ve seen it all before.

Nasty Kenny Catman

Best review I’ve read of Spectre so far. I rewatched Casino & Quantum just recently and I have to stay Casino is still pretty high up there, Quantum is perfectly fine, although as bit of a spin off more than a proper Bond-movie. Skyfall on the other hand I didn’t like and Spectre has that same patchwork feel to it. Like there’s too many Bond-movies on top of each other. Can Waltz play any other role? Graig was amazing though but especially Seydoux. Batista was awesome too!


Spot on review I think. Overlong, and really dull in places. Waltz is a great actor, terribly underused and doesn’t feel menacing enough. I think the writers made a mess of it frankly. Skyfall was overrated, but had great set pieces and moved along at such a pace one couldn’t stop to think about the plotholes. Spectre is just dull in comparison. The best lines are reserved for M & Q, Belluci is barely involved and Lea Seydoux becomes the damsel in distress after 5 minutes of meeting 007. First 20 minutes are brilliant, then the plot kicks in.

major smythe

This review is spot on.The film just does not make any sense!Far too many knowing nods to films gone before rather than developing any sort of coherent plot coupled with a woeful misuse of some excellent cast members- shame.


Have not seen it yet, but you are right
about Waltz.
Most boring one trick pony on the planet.

Harry Caul

Reviews have been warm – but very far from glowing. There appears to be unanimous praise for the action sequences – which is a bit wasteful given that action is a key ingredient in an action film. A bit like applauding a chef for bothering to put a couple of eggs in your omelette. I thought the whole point of Casino Royale (2006) was to re-invigorate the franchise and put James Bond toe to toe with Jason Bourne. And it succeeded – great tune, great opening titles, fantastic casting, effective storyline, proper love intertest, lean and free of wanton gadgetry. It’s no coincidence that once the Jason Bourne franchise reached its zenith and disappeared a year after Casino Royale that the rot began to set back in over in Pinewood. Having torn up the Bond rule book with CR, you began to sense that the producers got a little panicked and hastily reached for the glue and have been busily pasting the pages back together. The music and titles have gone from poor to wretched, the women have been put back in their place, story lines, like the women, shafted, and bad guys are now a film away from getting their Persian moggy back. This is what happens when your competition takes a hiatus and focus groups are allowed to return to their comfort zone. Mads Mikkelsen, Mathieu Amalric, Javier Bardem, Christoph Waltz – if ever there was a very clear arc of great to smart to ham to glazed ham villain casting this should tell you everything. In Jason Bourne’s lamented absence, the focus groups have voted and all the toys are back in the pram along with the tongue back in the cheek. Now, where is that Persian cat.


im actually kind of glad to hear that its closer to qos than skyfall, enjoyed qos way more, completely underrated, great set pieces, something skyfall sorely missed. agree with timothy dalton on this one.


Props to the reviewer for giving his honest thoughts. It’s hard to imagine that some of the more reverential sites and publications would dare to derail the gravy train and their future exclusives with a critical review.

Casino Royale was a good film and a fresh start. QoS a frenzied lamentable mess. Skyfall was a laughably over rated piece of hokum that was a great example of how the Bond franchise has become – all sizzle and little sausage.


Yeah just as I thought, Spectre is pish!


Always appreciate the thorough reviews, but what’s with the Briticisms? Ropier? Duff? I suppose they’re fitting for a Bond review, but they’re ubiquitous on The Playlist.


"enjoy your 15 minutes" LOLOLOLOLOLOLO

AA Hill

Interesting review. I’m not the hugest Bond fan. I liked Casino Royale well enough(I didn’t think it was brilliant though) and QoS got some unnecessary hate. Skyfall was atrocious. The acclaim that movie got is laughable. As for Spectre, I’m cautiously optimistic, this review not really changing my mind on seeing it. Probably because of a few dud statements, the QoS stands out but I think the implication that Christoph Waltz is the same in every movie is about as ridiculous as it gets though. That’s what happens when people don’t watch Carnage or The Zero Theorem. I mean, even his two performances in those Tarantino movies are starkly different.


enjoy your 15 minutes


Which is, admittedly, rare for Lyttelton… according to Metacritic, he’s usually pretty close to the critical consensus.


So far at least, this is the outlier review on the web… al the other reviews have been glowing.


‘ "Quantum Of Solace" disappointing all but the most undemanding Bond fans’ — Watch QOS again; it is a much better film than the initial bandwagon critical response would have you believe. Skyfall on the other hand was completely overrated. How disappointing that Spectre looks like another dud – not really surprising though, all the marketing has felt very flat and uninspired.

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