Entertainment

Lots of action but too long, too dark

Daniel Craig appears in a scene from the James Bond film, “Spectre,” which opens Friday.
Daniel Craig appears in a scene from the James Bond film, “Spectre,” which opens Friday. Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Pictures

What It’s About

For James Bond devotees, the 24th film “Spectre” checks off the requisite elements in super-spy 007’s playbook. But this time around, the behemoth has become unwieldy in between dazzling action set pieces.

Dizzying camerawork provides genuine thrills as the suave secret agent starts out in Mexico City, blending in to Day of the Dead festivities — and splendidly breaking a fall.

Hunting the mobster Sciarra leads him to Rome and a nefarious crime syndicate with global reach, Spectre. Then, he’s off to Austria and Algiers. The visual panoramas are magnificent, and the skirmishes on planes, trains, automobiles, boats and helicopters fulfill the chase checklist.

Meanwhile, the MI-6 espionage group must contend with Bond’s rogue behavior and a weaselly wonk, C (Andrew Scott), who thinks agents in the field are obsolete and high-tech surveillance will save the world.

Tell that to the unflappable Bond (Daniel Craig), who is determined to prove him wrong, thus providing job security for his new superior M (Ralph Fiennes), ally Moneypenny, techno-whiz Q (Ben Whishaw) and chief of staff Tanner (Rory Kinnear).

Performances

In his fourth turn as Ian Fleming’s lethal lothario, Craig is smooth moves and icy glares, coolly conducting business and turning up the steam as he woos the ladies. His Bond is a brooder, as the previous films have given him a darker backstory.

Lea Seydoux (“Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol”) intrigues as Dr. Madeleine Swann, a brainy blonde who can fend for herself and falls easily for our tortured hero. He’s not indestructible, and the chinks in his armor have been more noticeable post-millennium.

Sultry Monica Bellucci (“The Matrix Reloaded”) makes history as the oldest “Bond girl,” at 51, but she’s a mere cameo as Lucia, Sciarra’s mysterious widow.

Two-time Oscar winner Christoph Waltz (“Inglourious Basterds”) seems tailor-made to be an arch villain in the Bond canon, and he’s suitably venomous as psychotic Oberhauser/Blofeld. But the main problem here is that his character is of little consequence until midway. And then it’s too little, too late. And as written, the character is a parody of Dr. Evil, which in the “Austin Powers” movies was already parodying a Bond villain.

The M1-6 group is a tight unit, further gaining favor. As Gareth Mallory, the stellar actor Fiennes capably fills Judi Dench’s shoes as the dear departed M.

What Works

The familiarity that sometimes flattens this work also blankets it with a comfort level that helps us get through a much-too-long movie. There are insider nuggets that fans will get a kick out of noticing.

Sam Smith’s dramatic delivery of “Writing’s on the Wall” fits the typically over-the-top slinky credit sequence, and Thomas Newman’s score enhances John Barry’s iconic theme.

The cars are enviable, the outfits well-tailored and the quips crisp.

What Doesn’t Work

The superior “Skyfall” raised the bar — and hype — for this latest adventure, but the story is too meandering and uneven to make us care.

A Bond movie is only as strong as its villain, and after Javier Bardem’s chilling turn three years ago, much was expected of Waltz. His cunning mastermind is not properly utilized, and his story feels contrived and tired.

Even his hulk of a henchman, Mr. Hinx (Dave Bautista) feels recycled, a standard blend of Oddjob and Jaws.

Logic is not a major concern with screenwriter Jez Butterworth and director Sam Mendes, who have fashioned a sleek, but ultimately hollow, film. After a successful reboot in 2006 with “Casino Royale” and the promise of “Skyfall,” her majesty’s secret service deserved a crown jewel.

“James Bond Will Return” the end credits reveal, but will it be Daniel Craig or a new 007? That is the takeaway here.

‘Spectre’

2 1/2 stars out of 4

  • CAST: Daniel Craig, Christoph Waltz, Lea Seydoux, Ralph Fiennes, Ben Whishaw, Naomie Harris, Dave Bautista
  • DIRECTOR: Sam Mendes
  • 148 minutes
  • Rated PG-13 (intense sequences of action and violence, some disturbing images, sensuality and language)
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