The Chicagoist will be launching later but in the meantime please enjoy our archives.

'Spectre' Delivers Familiar But Fun Bond Basics

By Joel Wicklund in Arts & Entertainment on Nov 5, 2015 6:14PM

Daniel Craig in "Spectre." (Photo: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Pictures/Columbia Pictures.)

James Bond is once again going rogue, and once again it's for all the right reasons—and once again he faces a nemesis plotting world domination who, despite his genius, can't shut up long enough to simply put a bullet in 007's head once and for all.

Yes, Spectre, the 24th film in the 53-year-old James Bond franchise, is comfortably and entertainingly familiar. Following the gritty recharge of Casino Royale, the stylistic disaster of Quantum of Solace, and the exciting but brooding Skyfall, this 007 outing feels like the most traditional of Daniel Craig's four appearances as Ian Fleming's macho superspy/assassin.

While Craig still gives the character a rougher, more impassive edge than his predecessors, Spectre does show the actor lightening up just a little bit in the role. This seems to have led to many early reviews dismissing this entry as routine or somehow taking the series backwards.

But let's be honest: There has never been a truly radical reimagining of this character or the key male fantasy components of this series ... only tweaks. And while I enjoyed the dark, melodramatic plotting of Skyfall, I was just as happy to see a somewhat less serious Bond this time out.

With the wonderful Christoph Waltz, Spectre also gives us the most classic Bond villain of the Craig films. For a while there was a publicity effort to keep the identity of Waltz's character a secret. Though the cat (ahem) has long been out of the bag, I won't divulge the name here. But any longtime fan of the series probably knew it as soon as the title of the film was announced.

As the movie begins, Bond is once again on the shit list at MI7 for some off-duty heroics in Mexico, seen in the action-packed pre-credits sequence that is one of the requirements of the series. This one is superbly staged, including an impressive, extended tracking shot following Bond through Day of the Dead festivities on the streets, up to a hotel, and then to the roof to find his intended target.

Ralph Fiennes in "Spectre." (Photo: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Pictures/Columbia Pictures.)

Suspended by his superior, the new "M" (Ralph Fiennes), 007 naturally ignores that order to follow up on clues to a major conspiracy left by the previous "M" (Judi Dench) before her demise. Globetrotting from Italy to Austria to Morocco and back to England, Bond gets to the bottom of the sinister plot and the evil genius behind it. His mission includes protecting his newest lady love, played by Léa Seydoux, who made an international splash in the explicit lesbian romance Blue Is the Warmest Color.

Another PR push has suggested some maturing in Bond's womanizing ways, as he actually beds down with [gasp!] an actress over 50 (Italian beauty Monica Bellucci). But Bellucci proves to just be a lay on the way, as the sexual focus quickly turns to Seydoux, so the "Bond girl" role isn't expanded to any significant degree.

Of course, the Bond movies never have been especially advanced when it comes to portraying women. Spectre does get some civics points for its anti-surveillance narrative, but the political content is not much weightier than the movie's non-existent feminist credentials.

No, the mission here—as always—is thrilling escapism and it's accomplished with lively direction by Sam Mendes, a screenplay with plenty of nods to the series' long history, and a reliably good cast. I enjoyed seeing Fiennes' "M" and Ben Whishaw's charming "Q" get out of their respective offices for a bit of action, but Waltz is the real star here. His charisma dominates the film. Even when he is off-screen for long periods, you anxiously await his return.

I could have done without Sam Smith's whiny theme ballad, "Writing's on the Wall" and the bad romance novel cover imagery in the credits sequence that accompanies it. On the whole, though, this is a solid, satisfying Bond entry for those who don't mind a 24th serving of an old—admittedly very familiar—favorite.

Spectre. Directed by Sam Mendes. Screenplay by John Logan, Neal Purvis, Robert Wade and Jez Butterworth. Starring Daniel Craig, Christoph Waltz, Léa Seydoux, Ben Whishaw, Ralph Fiennes and Monica Bellucci. Rated PG-13.

Opens Friday, Nov. 6 at theaters nationwide, with multiple advance evening screenings tonight.