SpectrecoverGrade: B
2015, 148 min., Color
Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of action and violence, some disturbing images, sensuality and language
MGM/Twentieth Century Fox
Aspect ratio: 2.40:1
Featured audio: DTS-HDMA 7.1
Bonus features: C-
Includes: Blu-ray, Digital HD
Amazon link

James Bond films are notorious for their pre-title sequences, and the one for Spectre (2015) is spectacular. In it, Bond (Daniel Craig) falls level to level as a building collapses, only to land, seat first, onto a well-placed couch . . . and walk away, causing viewers to think that maybe, just maybe, the franchise is trying to find its way back to the original tongue-in-cheek spy adventures that made 007 such a worldwide phenomenon in the first place. But what follows lies somewhere between the extreme gritty realism of the previous three Craig-as-Bond films and the campy fun fans got when Sean Connery and Roger Moore had the license to kill. It’s as if the screenwriters couldn’t agree what direction they wanted to go, and director Sam Mendes went along with it.

Spectrescreen2But that opening sequence is enough to make you wonder: What happened to the snappy exchanges between Bond and Q or M, or Miss Moneypenny? Or the women he beds? And why didn’t Christoph Waltz as Blofeld get more screen time to give him a chance to be a stronger, bolder, more menacing villain? Henchman Mr. Hinx (Dave Bautista) is engaging while onscreen, but afterwards he doesn’t stick with you the way Odd Job or Jaws did. Q (Ben Whishaw) has little to do and little charisma, and even the “Bond girls” (a universal term, not mine) seem less memorable this 24th franchise outing. Spectre is still plenty entertaining, but despite a budget that’s reportedly the most expensive of all the Bond films ($245 million), it doesn’t “wow” the way some Bond movies do. The locations don’t have that überexotic feel to them that previous films often did. Director Mendes decided to go with a selectively desaturated and nearly monochromatic color palette for a Day of the Dead sequence in Mexico, and the other non-European location, Tangier, features a similar dusky-golden palette. And the plot features elements we’ve seen before in a number of Bond movies.

SpectrescreenIn Spectre, Bond goes rogue again, off on his own agenda because of information provided him by M (Judi Dench), who had been killed in the previous film. A criminal organization is focused on committing acts of terrorism, and Bond is bent on stopping them. Against the orders of the new M (Ralph Fiennes), he travels to Rome to talk to the wife of a man he just killed (Monica Bellucci), then to Austria to confront a man who used to work for SPECTRE and MI6 (Jesper Christiansen), and finally to seek out the man’s daughter (Léa Seydoux), who is now in grave danger.

It’s at the bad guy’s base where things start to get a little convoluted, as the screenwriters try to both complicate the narrative and insert information for what turns out to be an origin story for Ernst Stavro Blofeld and the organization fans have been following all these years. But the terrorism plot would have been just fine, thank you, had the writers focused more on dialogue and on the kind of dominoes-falling plots viewers got in earlier Bond films. Unnecessarily added here are an internal affairs subplot and a crossover background story that links Bond and Blofeld. But the writers could have stuck to basics rather than resorting to contrivances. For example, now that the attractive Naomie Harris has taken over as Miss Moneypenny, the screenwriters still haven’t figured out what to do with her, given that they can no longer play up the hollow flirtations between lovestruck but plain-looking Moneypenny and Bond, who prefers his women shaken, not stirred.

Despite the complaints, remember, this is the Bond franchise, and as A View to a Kill—still the weakest entry of the bunch—has proven, even Bond at his worst is way better than most action-dramas Hollywood produces. While Spectre may not be the mega-movie that Skyfall was, it’s entertaining enough and a solid B on the Family Home Theater grading scale. On Blu-ray it also happens to look awesome, with a 7.1 soundtrack really giving the special effects the heft that they deserve.

Language: No “f” words and less than a dozen other profanities
Sex: Surprisingly no sex scenes, no nudity
Violence: Eye gouging, torture (blood shown), crashes, explosions, killings
Adult situations: Drinking, one scene involving drunkenness
Takeaway: Daniel Craig is rumored to still be interested in his fifth and the franchise’s 25th bond film, and he’s still a convincing Bond, especially if the writers challenge him with something new—like a return to those terrific tongue-in-cheek lines