Daniel Craig is back for his fourth go-round as James Bond, but unlike his earlier innovative efforts, “Spectre” seems to have him merely running in place, and looking backwards a lot while he’s doing it.
This 24th Bond film hits all the necessary benchmarks: beautiful women, gorgeous cars, stunning stunts in exotic locales, gunfights and fistfights, chases galore, and of course, a dastardly villain. But it breaks little new ground.
The film seems more interested in tying up all four of Craig’s Bond films with a nice little bow than it does in trying something fresh. That makes for a solid but unspectacular entry in the canon. This probably won’t matter to die-hard fans, but it could be a sign that Craig is ready to move on to other acting pursuits.
Let’s not forget just how refreshing the first blond Bond was back in 2006’s “Casino Royale.” Craig brilliantly revived an ailing James Bond franchise. Rather than another Bond in a long line of rather insipid ladies’ men more interested in hurling quips at villains than throwing punches, Craig brought a sorely needed tough-guy demeanor back to Agent 007. Over the course of this re-launch, we witnessed Craig’s Bond gradually transform himself from something of a thug into a suave agent of Her Majesty’s Secret Service.
Craig’s third Bond film, the 2012 “Skyfall,” was the biggest James Bond movie ever, taking in more than a billion dollars at the box office and doubling the earlier franchise record. And at least thematically, it would have made a perfect bookend film for Craig’s James Bond career. Believed dead for a good chunk of the movie, Bond nurses himself back to health but it’s clear he’s physically not up to snuff. What’s a Bond to do when he’s clearly past his prime? The whiff of mortality pervades much of “Skyfall,” and although he comes through in the end — he’s Bond, James Bond, after all — the film has a resonance unusual for a Bond film.
Aspects of “Skyfall” persist in “Spectre.” Once again Bond has gone rogue, “off the grid,” so to speak, in order to prevent his superiors from dictating to him what exploits he can and can’t get up to.
His MI6 boss “M” (Ralph Fiennes) is furious with him, of course. But M’s preoccupied by an even more clear and present danger, a government trying to shut down the entire MI 6 operation. Again, shades of “Skyfall.” Have armed agents been made obsolete by computer whizzes?
M’s departmental troubles give Bond free rein to pursue his own personal mission which involves following up on a lead left him by the former “M” (Judi Dench), in a message videotaped shortly before her death (in “Skyfall.”) This pursuit leads him to the heart of Spectre, an international cabal of villains out to control the world via worldwide surveillance.
The sophisticated head of said cabal, played by Christoph Waltz, turns out to have a personal history with Bond. Not only that. If he’s to be believed, much of what happened in Craig’s three previous Bond films were his handiwork as well (see what I mean by Bond looking backwards a lot in this movie).
This would have been a neat trick if the film could really convince us of this deep-seated connection. Unfortunately, it’s done in such a slapdash manner that it seems more a matter of plot contrivance than a revelation of profound significance.
Nonetheless, Craig still looks born to the role, wearing his sharp suits, driving his slick Aston Martin, and firing off his state-of-the-art weapons with aplomb. And if this really is the last time he dons the Bond persona, how fitting that he walks off the stage hand in hand with a lady love. James Bond always gets the girl.