‘Spectre’ Review: A Bond-Sized Victory Lap


Movie Rating:


At its best, the Daniel Craig era of James Bond has been all about reinvention. ‘Casino Royale’ kicked things off with an origin story that allowed the Bond conventions to be twisted through the character’s inexperience. In ‘Skyfall’, Sam Mendes reverently deconstructed and toyed with the iconic images and elements of the series. (‘Quantum of Solace’ did whatever the hell it was supposed to do… poorly.) In ‘Spectre’, the goal seems to have been to take the newfangled Bond mythology and apply it to a traditional Bondian world-domination plot.

Fair enough. The character is fairly thin, so there wasn’t really any more wiggle room to pull him apart further. The trouble is that the somber tone and commitment to continuity of the Craig era keeps dragging ‘Spectre’ down whenever it attempts to soar into glorious pulp. It’s tough to offer fleeting fun when you’re burdened with backstory and po-faced drama.

Things kick off rather wonderfully with a spectacular cold open action sequence that involves a massive tracking shot through the streets of Mexico on the Day of the Dead and a hair-raising helicopter sequence. Just when you think the movie might find a way to match the excellence of ‘Skyfall’, one of the laughably worst songs and opening credit sequences in the history of the series stinks up the screen, and it’s clear the machine won’t run quite so smoothly this time.

That awkward seesaw between Bond brilliance and mishandled tedium continues throughout the butt-numbing 148-minute running time. Thankfully, the film scores more wins than losses by the time it stumbles into the end credits. At the same time, the whole endeavor feels like a victory lap. ‘Casino Royale’ was a perfect jump start for the never-ending series and ‘Skyfall’ was an ideal extension with welcome sprinklings of self-awareness. Apparently, returning director Mendes did everything he could do with the series last time. It’s a perfectly acceptable entry to be sure, but by the end even the most devoted Bond fans might find themselves pleased by Craig’s recent media tour that suggested he may done with the character.

This time, good old Bond (as in James) uncovers a secret dastardly organization known as SPECTRE, but MI-6 seems curiously disinterested in finding out what that evil group is all about. The new M (Ralph Fiennes, amusingly more direct that Judi Dench’s character) has his hands tied by a new Agent C (Andrew Scott), who’s pushing the agency to focus more on surveillance than a creaky old network of womanizing, alcoholic spies with full passports and licences to kill.

So, Bond is forced to go rogue (as he tends to do these days) and figure out the whole SPECTRE mess himself. Helping him in secret are Ben Whishaw’s deadpan hilarious Q and Naomie Harris’ delightfully active Moneypenny. Sharing Bond’s bed are Monica Bellucci’s tragic widow (end of characterization) and Lea Seydoux’s absurdly named Madeleine Swann (who serves up more romantic tragedy for the Craig-era Bond girls). Causing trouble are Christoph Waltz’s mysterious villain (well, unless you know basic Bond history) and his henchman played by Dave Bautista with a pair of long thumbnails (used exactly as you’d hope).

Where Sam Mendes and his gang succeed most are in the incredible action set-pieces. Arriving every 20 minutes or so with due diligence, Mendes serves up some old-fashioned massive Bond destruction in exotic locales that will raise pulses and help the popcorn go down smoothly. The interactions between Bond and the reinvented sidekicks created in ‘Skyfall’ also delights with snappy witticisms that replace the stale one-liners of the old days. The movie certainly looks gorgeous and expensive as well, so no one will feel as though their inflated ticket prices were wasted. However, where things fall apart is in the storytelling.

Ultimately, ‘Spectre’ is a very simple and conventional Bond narrative: Evil man wants to control world, Bond must stop him. But the telling is hopelessly drawn-out and sluggish. The film has too many subplots competing for screen time, since the side characters now require more depth than a token jokey scene or two. Attempts to tie the villain’s plot into contemporary global surveillance concerns are tiresome – and quite frankly, explored far better in ‘Captain America: The Winter Soldier’. The same can be said for the script’s weary attempts to pull together all of the movies of the Daniel Craig Bond era, which never feels like more than a token effort rather than a master plan long held secret.

Perhaps saddest of all, an ideally cast Christoph Waltz feels wasted in an overly simplistic role. The man who was seemingly born to deliver a Bond villain speech with smiling panache is stuck with a perfunctory villain character and nowhere near the depth of Javier Bardem’s perverse scene-stealer from ‘Skyfall’.

There’s an odd sense of anticlimax to ‘Spectre’. In theory, it’s the film that should finally pull all the threads together from the recent Bond era and deliver a conclusion that shoves the somber series back into the goofy 1960s theatrics that made this the longest-running film franchise of all time. It was a nice goal, but perhaps one that was simultaneously too ambitious and not ambitious enough. Sure, going back-to-basics qualifies as a pleasant surprise, but the dramatic stakes were raised so high over the past few flicks that the filmmakers simply can’t reconcile the old Bond with the new.

Despite that conceptual failure, the movie still offers plenty of classy thrills and eye-candy. Bond’s history has far lower lows than ‘Spectre’, even in the recent batch of movies. (Here’s looking at you, ‘Quantum of Solace’.) This is still very much a massively expensive blockbuster worth experiencing. Maybe the struggles will lead to another much-needed reboot. The Daniel Craig era has been nice, but ‘Kingsman: The Secret Service‘ succeeded far better at delivering a traditional yet modern cartoonish Bond romp earlier this year. Perhaps it’s time for a new Bond and a new tone for the franchise, just with some supporting players and lessons retained from the Craig regime. It’s been fun, but not even diamonds are forever in this franchise.

What Did You Think of 'Spectre'?

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  1. Shannon Nutt

    I won’t have a problem if Craig leaves the franchise now or stays around for one more movie (which he’s contracted for, lest anyone forget), but the LAST thing this franchise needs with the next Bond is another reboot – I didn’t feel Craig’s Bond needed one, and if they start rebooting the story every time a new actor comes in, then Bond is going to lose the history we love so much…the cool thing about Connery through Brosnan was that they were all the SAME Bond. Yeah, it didn’t make much sense, but there was an connectivity of story that I really enjoyed. That went away with Craig and I hope they build on his Bond with the next one instead of trying to start things over all again.

    • Bolo

      And they didn’t really get much mileage out of the whole “reboot” thing beyond some very small aspects of ‘Casino Royale’. There’s a bit of M busting Bond’s chops for lacking experience, but M is always busting Bond’s chops for one reason or another. And Bond doesn’t yet know Felix Leiter, who still has both his legs. There wasn’t really a whole lot of narrative clutter that needed to be cleared away.

      The series has always had a continuity that was creaky at best anyway. And they never had any problem deciding which parts of the previous installments they felt like acknowledging or not. They didn’t have any trouble getting through the Brosnan era without him picking up a framed photo of Diana Rigg and making a sad, reflective face.

      I think they just went with the reboot angle because reboots were/are get audiences to give a series another chance after an unpopular installment.

      I still found it really weird that they kept Judi Dench as M. Not that I mind her in the role, it was just odd considering they were trying to position ‘Casino Royale’ as a fresh start.

      • The Daniel Craig movies are the first time the franchise has ever made more than a token attempt to build a continuity from one entry to another. His four movies since the reboot are all directly connected to each other. Prior to that, everything was extremely shaky, even within an individual actor’s run.

        When Casino Royale was being developed, the original intent of the reboot was to bring in a young James Bond, someone in his mid-twenties or early thirties. However, the producers didn’t like any of the young actors they auditioned as much as they liked Daniel Craig (who was 38 when the film was released, making him several years older than Sean Connery when he took the role). So that aspect of the reboot kind of got lost.

        • Bolo

          I realize this comes down to how one defines a reboot.

          To me, recasting, changing the tone, or employing different plot devices don’t necessarily make something a reboot. I feel you can do all those things and still be making something I consider a sequel. I consider Schumacher’s Batman films to be sequels to Burton’s Batman films.

          So for me, putting more emphasis on continuity between films in the Bond series isn’t what makes Craig’s run a reboot.

          To me, a reboot is more about wiping the narrative slate clean. So I consider the reboot aspects of ‘Casino Royale’ to be that we are seeing Bond on his first mission as a double 0, and that he doesn’t yet know Felix (who has not yet had his leg eaten by a shark). And I don’t think either of these aspects really played into the movie in a big way.

        • timcharger

          And while Craig might have been 38 during Casino Royale,
          and his face isn’t young looking, when Bond came out of the water
          in that film, Craig’s abs looked like he was 28. Definitely the most
          fit of all the Bonds. So the reboot story of a young Bond starting
          his 00-career, that did work.

  2. timcharger

    Phil: “Maybe the struggles will lead to another much-needed reboot.”

    Completely disagree. Hollywood needs less reboots.

    Yes, there are problems. But find creative ways to
    fix them. Work the problems. And if unsolvable,
    franchises can always do what many have done. Ignore
    certain entries, events, and storylines. Pls no more reboots.

    • timcharger

      Phil, your words after the “much-needed reboot”
      line is: “modern cartoonish Bond romp”.

      If that’s the “new tone” you want, you’ll get same
      reaction. You think Kingsman 24 would be as
      successful? You’ll be calling for a reboot way
      before Kingsman 4 to be a serious, gritty spy
      flick. (And I did enjoy Kingsman, btw.)

      And this new “modern cartoonish Bond romp,”
      you’ll be pining for Seth Rogen as the next Bond?

      • Deaditelord

        Or better yet, Seth MacFarlane as James Bond. I suspect he’d look appropriately dapper in a tux. 🙂

        Seriously though, I’m perfectly fine if Daniel Craig decides to move on. I just don’t have any interest in seeing Bond return to the campier outings that represented the Moore/Brosnan era. Maybe if the next Bond movie could find a way to balance the tone somewhere between the serious and slightly over-the-top then I’d be okay with a change. However, having endured the crapfest that was Die Another Day, I have little faith in Bond’s producers realizing that delicate balance… and this is coming from a lifelong fan of the series.

        • Scott

          Fact: a lot of people (myself included) never LIKED the James Bond series UNTIL this new iteration. If you want the old James Bond go ahead. It’s weird that the reviewer here is always slamming movies for being too “old fashioned” and yet Bond is not enough like the old Bond.
          I really hated James Bond movies until these that took the character seriously (the only other one was LIVING DAYLIGHTS).
          And for the guy who said these movies offered no surprises- did you SEE Skyfall? The reinvention and introductions of M, Q and Moneypenny were total surprises and really cool.
          I never saw M getting killed and replaced coming. Brilliant.
          These have been the best of this series (Quantum excepted).

  3. NJScorpio

    Okay…quick…ideas for the next Bond reboot. Go!

    1) WWII-era 007, Jewish British spy, played by Sacha Baron Cohen.

    2) Modern era Mexican national, international drug cartels, played by wrestler Batista.

    3) Time travel martial arts trained Bond played by Keanu Reeves.

  4. timcharger

    “A Bond-Sized Victory Lap”
    Is that title yours, Josh?

    I would guess that means a huge victory lap,
    meaning this is a pretty good film. Bond-sized
    can’t possibly mean tiny, right?

    So my point is, that title and Phil’s review is a
    disconnect. Phil’s review is lukewarm, slightly
    positive. Can’t wait for a new Bond to replace
    Craig. Hardly the time for a large victory lap.
    Phil wants Craig to go straight from the finish
    line to the lockers. No time to bask in glory.
    Already awaiting to setup the next race.

    • Phil

      Wouldn’t you say a victory lap is one extra unnecessary round of something? That’s what I think the film represents in terms of the Daniel Craig era of Bond. I mentioned it being big, bloated, and long (hence the reference to size). Then I threw the name Bond in there because it’s a James Bond movie. I also credited the review to myself because I wrote it and mentioned the title of the movie in the review so people would know what I was talking about.

      • timcharger

        So Phil, Spectre comes in 3rd place for you.
        (And that’s just counting the Craig films.) “Wouldn’t you say
        that a victory lap” goes to a winner?

        Crediting the review to yourself does NOT mean that the
        editor didn’t title your work. Josh often writes titles the
        write-ups. And I asked him that. You should know very
        well that this often occurs at HDD.

        Thanks for explaining that what you meant by “victory lap”
        is that Skyfall was the victor and that Spectre is an
        unnecessary extra lap. And your understanding of victory
        laps is fine social commentary on the excess glorification
        and pageantry of sports.

        But this sentence alone:
        “At the same time, the whole endeavor feels like a victory lap.”
        does NOT convey your intention.
        What FEELS like a victory lap to you is not the common
        understanding of that phrase.

        “Curtains calls” may also FEEL to one like an unnecessary excess.
        But if that person also used that phrase, most would think Spectre
        was an amazing performance, with a Bond-Size Curtain Call.

        But let me guess, for you “victory laps” are for dumb jocks? And
        “curtain calls” are for talented artists?

        Your understanding of “victory laps” might indicate what you
        really think of track athletes and race car drivers.

        Which is all well and fine that you hold such a view. But unless
        you explain it. Victory laps go to the victors. And victors usually
        get more than 3 out of 5 stars.

        • That’s enough bickering, please.

          “Curtain call” would not be appropriate. Curtain call implies finality. Although this movie feels like a wrap-up in a lot of ways, Craig is still contracted for one more sequel and will almost certainly make it.

          • timcharger

            Josh, let me still suggest the subtitle fix:
            “Spectre: Skyfall’s Victory Lap.”

            That will better convey Phil’s message. Not a swipe at all.

            The curtain-call-comment does incorrectly imply finality.
            That’s why my fix doesn’t use it. But it still applies that
            the common usage of victory lap and curtain call means
            a winning performance.

            If you knew what Phil meant, you would have just stated
            it. You punted because you too thought his wording was


            I seriously think Phil would have laughed at the girlfriend
            breakup analogy. But I could be wrong.

  5. charles contreras

    In spite of his recent comments, I personally wish that Daniel Craig would make one more Bond film. What he’s brought to the character, as well as the on-screen chemistry with his co-stars, has met my expectations for the Bond franchise. And if he does commit to one more, and this is just my idea, why not have Quentin Tarantino direct it? I’m willing to bet that Tarantino would add a fresh perspective to 007.

    • Tarantino lobbied to direct a Bond film with Pierce Brosnan, but the producers shot him down. A Tarantino Bond film would be 95% Tarantino and 5% Bond. That’s just not what they wanted.

      There’s nothing stopping Tarantino from making a non-Bond riff on the franchise like James Cameron did with True Lies, but he seems to have lost interest in that.

    • Bolo

      Tarantino would be my #1 pick to write and direct a Bond film. A filmmaker who values character interaction is exactly what this series needs.

      • I don’t really want a Bond movie filled with pop culture references to ’70s TV shows and kung-fu movies, or lingering fetishistic shots of the actresses’ feet.

        As I recall, the pitch Tarantino gave the producers was that he wanted to adapt Casino Royale as a period piece set in the 1960s (which would have made no sense at all with Pierce Brosnan in the lead, but Tarantino has his own ideas and doesn’t care for feedback). I think Guy Ritchie’s Man from U.N.C.L.E. movie stole the thunder from that idea, and its box office failure guarantees that nobody will try it again.

        • charles contreras

          Point taken on what you’ve said regarding Tarantino as a potential Bond director. I just thought it would have made for a unique perspective. I watched Spectre yesterday, and I was quite satisfied with it, even though it wasn’t on the same level as Skyfall, and I didn’t expect it to be. I was happy to see supporting characters such as M, Q and Moneypenny got more screen time with this outing, and I hope they continue to do so in future Bond adventures.

        • Bolo

          The characters in Bond movies pride themselves on their tastes, as do the characters in Tarantino movies. Instead of expounding on their favourite 70s tv show, they fuss over alcoholic beverages and how they’re best served. Instead of blathering about how cool they think Sonny Chiba is, they drool over how much they love gold. They’re all proud snobs in their own way. Tarantino can adjust the obsession to the character’s level of sophistication and still retain his voice.

          I find Tarantino is execellent at writing scenes where one character has to extract information out of another using a combination of charm and intimidation. His last two films have had some scenes like this that I consider great. His characters push each other’s buttons in the same way I loved seeing in Bond movies. I love the way he’s able to play humour and tension against each other in those scenes.

          I agree that they probably will never hire Tarantino. The Bond producers don’t like American directors, and Tarantino will definitely do things that will alienate part of their audience.

          As for the ‘The man From U.N.C.L.E.’ killing any future attempts at a retro espionage thriller, I think that’s pretty absurd. That’s like saying that ‘Catwoman’ guaranteed that nobody would ever try a female superhero movie again. And I could just as easily say that the success of ‘X-Men: First Class’ proves that younger audiences are game for Cold War adventures.

          • timcharger

            That would make a hilarious SNL sketch. Or parody short film.
            But no, I don’t want Tarantino’s Bond.

            Imagine what Le Chiffre’s torture scene would have been like.
            Le Chiffre would have brought in a boom box to play a K-BIG’s
            Super Sound of the 70’s around the naked Bond. Le Chiffre
            would have danced and strutted around the bounded Bond.
            Goodness, what would Le Chiffre have cut off instead?!

            Funny parody, but no thank you. The serious Criag with
            occasional funny quips, I’ll take that.

  6. Rob

    I liked the movie. I am also a long time Bond follower and I feel like finally I’m seeing Craig in a classic-style Bond movie. True, the old movies now seem cartoonish and cheap by today’s standards, but I am actually not a fan of Craig’s first 2 outings which I felt were pretty light on the action, as a result of the studio’s attempt to keep things more grounded and modern day ‘Bourne-ish’. I was glad to see Craig jump on planes and choppers etc. using a gadget in a car and such. I was glad to see the Bond intro with the circles, this being the first Craig Bond movie I’ve seen it in.

    While I did not care much for the second half of the movie and I was disappointed that there was not more action in the Austria snow setting (Inception had a better snow action scene), I enjoyed the flick and like it second to Skyfall. I liked all of the nostalgic throwbacks and love seeing how the action scenes are fleshed out now compared to the old movies. I mean, that train fight with Jaws (Spy Who Loved Me) looks like a Wily Coyote fight compared with the train fight in this new flick! The pace was uneven compared to, say, Rogue Nation. But even with all those minor problems, I’m a satisfied customer.

  7. Phil

    Just to clear up the confusion: I love Casino Royale and Skyfall and rate them at the tippy-top of the Bond series. I loved this take on the character. It might even be the best era in Bond history. I just felt that things seemed a little tired this go around. I don’t want a reboot because I hate this version of Bond . I want it because I enjoyed this era and think they should cut out while they’re ahead. Part of what I love about Bond as a franchise is the way it changes constantly to fit the times (sometimes in good ways, sometimes in bad ways). It’s like a 50 year history of contemporary action movies held together by Bond conventions. I welcome a change because it’s fun to see this franchise shift and grow. Plus next year Craig will have played Bond for a decade. That’s usually how long each actor gets (unless you’re named Lazenby or Dalton). Change can be good, gang. Remember when Daniel Craig took over the franchise and everything changed and Bond felt fresh again? Wasn’t that great? Just saying.

  8. Shannon Nutt

    I liked this entry just fine. Is it SKYFALL? Of course not, but it’s certainly no QUANTUM OF SOLACE or DIE ANOTHER DAY or A VIEW TO A KILL either. It’s a decent enough Bond entry that fans of the series should enjoy well enough. I was never bored with it.

  9. Csm101

    I haven’t seen Spectre yet, but even if it’s just good and not awesome, I would like to see Craig do one more 007 movie before he bows out of Bond’s shoes.

  10. William Henley

    I have hated every single Craig Bond movie up until this one. It wasn’t that I didn’t like Craig, it was that I felt the stories were utter garbage.

    This movie changed that for me. Not only was Spectre the first Craig Bond movie that I liked, I will go as far as to say that it is the best Bond movie of the Entire franchise! 5 out of 5 for me! I was on the edge of my seat the entire time! Great story, great tie-ins with previous movies, beautiful photography, brilliant acting and directing – this is everything a Bond movie should be!

    • William Henley

      BTW, when I say I hated all previous Craig Bond films, I mean that. Quantum of Solace has got to be the WORST Bond film ever made, followed by Skyfall. Yes, I hold those worse than anything done by Roger More or George Lazenby. Casino Royal was just Okay, I would place it probably toward the middle of Bond films as a Meh. So me saying Spectre is the best Bond film of all is high praise.

  11. damonous

    I am glad Sam Mended is done (the most schizoid of modern directors). For every intensely cool action scene, you have to suffer 35mins of boring, over-wrought drama. To say that, “At least it didn’t end in a super-silly re-enactment of Home Alone”, is not much of a complement for Spectre.

    I think it’s time to replace Craig…if nothing more than to rid the stench of the last two installments. There have only been two excellent Craig Bonds: Casino Royale and Quantum of Solace (and don’t belittle the latter, unless you’ve watched it back-to-back with the former).

    Besides, if there’s a fifth Craig movie, who’s the villain going to be THIS time who will say, “No, really I was the one behind everything that happened to you, before!”?

    • Barsoom Bob

      I’m totally with you on rating the current series with Craig. The producers just lost their balls after everyone whined about Quantum. They have been throwing every reference to the old movies up on the screen in a desperate effort to make everyone comfortable with the familiar, and, in the process, have squandered all the new vitality that was created with the Craig reboot in Casino Royale and Casino Royale Pt.2. This was the origin story from beginning to end. Why else do you think the shooting into the gun barrel scene was put at the end of Quantum. They set up a new 21st century Bond, cold blooded after the death of Vesper, finished with his revenge for the man who actually used her, introduced a 21th century version of SPECTRE with QUANTUM, showed how shadowy and deep the tentacles of QUANTUM reached into their organization and government, Apparently, It was too different for most people, and they complained they didn’t understand it. I really thought it was fresh and exciting and I enjoyed the helll out of them. Craig’s Bond was now fully formed, ready to be totally on the job as M’s best agent, and should have had a straight up, fight QUANTUM and save the world a new adventure. That is what the third Craig Bond should have been.

      Enjoyed SPECTRE more than Skyfall, but I acknowledge that Skyfall is a better movie, and there is certainly nothing wrong with either of them, they are better than most of the others, outside of prime Connery. They just represent to me a step backwards in time, when we had a new Bond ready and raring to go.

  12. Billy Milby

    The movie was simply amazing, There were really no gripes from me, aside from the sub-par score from Newman. What a great time!

  13. timcharger

    Not to fix Phil’s subtitle, but my choice for this film.
    The name of this installment of Bond should have been:
    Spectre of Solace

    This is the film I was hoping to see after Casino Royale.
    It has a bit of the best of both Quantum of Solace and
    Skyfall combined. Which also means less of the bad
    from both those films, too.

    Casino Royale is still Craig’s best for me. If QoS and
    Skyfall didn’t exist, and it was just the bookends of CR
    and Spectre, that would be fine by me.


    Did anyone else expect Benedict Cumberbatch to
    show up as a cameo? It seemed appropriate to me,
    but it didn’t happen.

    I’m getting pretty tired of Andrew Scott’s Moriarty


    What’s up with the ending? Not really a spoiler,
    but you’ve been warned…
    James tosses his gun into the river. His
    conversation with Q about the rumors of Bond.
    He only needs to get 1 more thing. Drives off
    with the girl… it implies something. Why do the
    writers have to go this route? Are there focus
    groups that make writers believe that women
    will only like the film if the hero chooses the
    girl instead? Really, do we really want Superman
    to give it all up for Lois Lane?

    It should have ended with a Bond Will Be Back!

  14. Chris B

    Saw it last night and enjoyed it. The first half is exceptionally strong and ranks up there with some of the most exciting Bond exploits I’ve seen. It lost momentum in the second half though. Waltz’s villain who had been built up to be the ultimate boogeyman via the shadowy Spectre boadroom sequence, turns out to be a slightly less menacing version of his “jew-hunter” character from Inglorious Bastards ..wearing capris no less. The tying together of the mythology started to feel kind of redundant, as did the whole climax-in-London 3rd act. Still a fun time at the movies though, 3 1/2 stars.

    • Chris B

      it’s funny because now that I’ve seen the movie and watch the trailers on TV, I can’t help but notice that literally every scene in the previews are taken from the first half of the film and not from the second half. It’s like two Bond movies slammed together; a great one and a pretty sub-par one…and the filmmakers know it.

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