While it might be hard to completely dislike Spectre, Daniel Craig's fourth (and likely last) James Bond film, it's hard to admire a film so awash in old ideas and hampered by inconsistent tone. The talent is there: Sam Mendes is back to direct and Craig is still believable as Bond, real action hero. Plus, Hoyte Van Hoytema's cinematography is stellar, even awe-inspiring during the opening Day of the Dead sequence (which includes a Touch of Evil-like tracking shot). And three of the four writers of Skyfall wrote Spectre as well. But the latest Bond doesn't have Skyfall's graceful rhythm, it's a Bond mix tape, and not a great one.
Beginning with an Octopussy-like title sequence, Spectre pays homage to Bond's cinematic past many times in a forced effort to please the die hards. But action fans won't be disappointed with the typically over-the-top action sequences, foreign sets, international intrigue, and beautiful people. Spectre is eye-catching and satisfying on a base level. It's simply a bit of a letdown after Skyfall. There's no growth in the filmmaking or the character.
After Bond kills a building, a couple guys, and a helicopter during the beginning sequence, he must face M (Ralph Fiennes) who's concerned about the future of the agency, now folded into the Joint Intelligence Service. M is in a power struggle with the questionable Max Denbigh (Andrew Scott). But Bond, being Bond, doesn't care about office politics or his suited overlords.
Bond, who nabbed an octopus ring from one of the bad guys on the helicopter, heads off to Rome for the funeral and discovers the ring is his entrance to a criminal organization that meets that night. Once inside, he's somehow discovered by the leader, Oberhauser (Christoph Waltz), and a car chase ensues with a giant hitman Mr. Hinx (Dave Bautista) on his tail. Bond escapes and sets out to discover more. He finds Dr. Madeleine Swann (Léa Seydoux) who can help him find the organization. The search does eventually lead to Oberhauser, who reveals his name is actually Ernst Stavro Blofeld and knows all about Bond's past. Secret agents are revealed, strangely goofy torture scenes and escapes ensue, and Bond goes after Blofeld in a giant closing sequence.
If the plot sounds familiar that's because it is. There are few surprises between the film's thrilling beginning and ending action sequences. The middle act is a long boring chase as Swann is kidnapped by Hinx and Bond must rescue her. Then Hinx finds them again on a train. The bloat is tiresome, considering the film runs 148 minutes and includes chase scenes just for the chase. Lazily, Spectre falls into the old trap of using action to drive the story instead of the other way around.
Then there are the many Bond tributes, the first of which is thematic and harkens back to Skyfall, which posits Bond as essential in today's modern age of drones and hackers. Is the old spy prototype obsolete? No chance. The more obvious touchstones, which any Bond fan should recognize, come in waves. Bond fights on a train as he once did in From Russia with Love. And the settings have been done before. Blofeld's amazing lair recalls You Only Live Twice and the beautiful Alpine outpost is an homage to On Her Majesty's Secret Service. Where's the vision? Mendes seems to be playing it very safe after doing the exact opposite with Skyfall.