Spectre is the James Bond film I had hoped and expected to see after Casino Royale in 2006, one that retains the dark edginess of the 21st century 007 but is peppered with the crowd-pleasing conventions accumulated in a half-century of films about Ian Fleming's Cold War counterspy.
The sexy winks at the previous films are too numerous to count, but subtle enough not to get in the way of the action and the angst. Daniel Craig is as good as ever, less driven this time and therefore relaxed enough to echo some of Sean Connery's welcome wryness. SPECTRE itself, of course, is a long-lost adversary from Fleming’s novels and Connery’s films. It stands for the Special Executive for Counter-Intelligence, Terrorism, Revenge and Extortion, an acronym I’ve had memorized for a half-century.
Christoph Waltz and Andrew Scott are terrific super villains, with Waltz archly expert at the cat-and-mouse game and providing us with a menace as timely as the possibility of nuclear blackmail was in 1965. The credible nightmare for the 21st century global police state surveillance, which was also the looming threat in the last Captain America movie.
But like most Hollywood action films now, the emphasis isn’t on the public menace, but on the personal vendetta. Heroes and villains in fantasy adventure films used to fight simply because the lives of millions were at stake. Now they invariably do so because of daddy issues or mommy issues or sibling rivalry issues. The fate of millions seems to be a distinctly secondary consideration, when it’s not entirely irrelevant. If the world is blowing up or Godzilla is attacking, many of these 21st century heroes are solely concerned with saving their child, and everybody else can go to hell. This, I suspect, is yet another result of having an American culture that has preached me-first and me-only for decades.
However, Sam Mendes' direction is lush and romantic, with scene after scene like a succession of paintings, though I sometimes wish he'd work on his pacing. All in all, a completely enjoyable afternoon out with Bart Rettberg, Matt Mattingly, Jake Cole and Paul Beals.