“Spectre” is the fourth James Bond film starring Daniel Craig and the second directed by Sam Mendes.  Following the events of “Skyfall,” on a mission to Mexico City, Bond discovers evidence of a secret organization called SPECTRE, who may be harboring a secret from his past.  Meanwhile, at MI6 headquarters, Joint Intelligence Service head Max Denbigh questions their relevance and Bond’s actions.  As the new M struggles to combat increasing pressure from the government, Bond digs deeper and meets up with Moneypenny and Q to seek out the daughter of an old nemesis of his, who may lead to the secret behind SPECTRE.


In terms of cast performances, Daniel Craig once again delivers as Bond, but he is not as restrained in the role as he was in “Skyfall.”  What Craig has understood and applied to the character during his reign as Bond is that although he is a skilled assassin, he is not completely superhuman and there are moments when he comes close to morally crossing the line.  Madeline Swann (Léa Seydoux) is perhaps the most well-developed Bond girl in the history of the series as she adds subtle nuances and somewhat playful aspects that give her a better-written personality than what we have been used to with previous Bond girls.  Portraying M a second time, Ralph Fiennes adds more dimension and a sense of vulnerability as he faces intense scrutiny from the Joint Intelligence Service.  Although Q and Moneypenny are similarly well-developed, in comparison to previous appearances, they do not have as much screen time to come into their own.  Christoph Waltz, as new villain Oberhauser, delivers his usual slimy charisma, but his character as a whole is underdeveloped and is somewhat of a letdown, in contrast to the sheer creepiness and homosexual undertones of “Skyfall”’s Raoul Silva.  Despite her role being a small cameo, Monica Bellucci makes the most it, thanks in no small part to a great deal of body language and small details that speak volumes about her sadness of loss.          


The stunt and fight choreography are, as always with these films, impeccable.  Both of these have been a signature staple of the James Bond franchise, as have the gadgetry and guns, and the ways in which the stunt people and choreographers set up the action are highly creative, especially during a fight sequence on a train between Bond and Hinx, a big, hulking figure reminiscent of classic series heavy Jaws.  On the other hand, the prologue, set on the Day of the Dead in Mexico City, does not quite have the same intensity or suspense that made the Istanbul prologue in “Skyfall” so effective, although there is an impressive continuous take photographed that displays the festival at its most colorful.  Also, whereas “Skyfall” was more tightly packed in its writing by balancing the action with more subdued character moments, “Spectre” is more often prone to placing action first and characters second, much like the earlier Bond films.  This entry’s overall theme of global surveillance does not ring as true as the Cold War or terrorist undertones of previous ones.  However, the set pieces, designed by Dennis Gassner, seem to keep in tune with the architectural styles showcased in the James Bond films from the 1960s, while also keeping up with modern design.  The aesthetic of the Joint Intelligence Service, for example, gives off a very oppressive and almost fascist vibe, leading M to declare it “Orwell’s worst nightmare.”  There are also some nice tracking shots, particularly in Austria and Rome, as photographed by Hoyte van Hoytema, who succeeds the incomparable Roger Deakins as cinematographer, as well as one of the biggest explosions ever seen on film.


“Spectre” does not entirely match the mastery and overall flawlessness of “Skyfall,” but as a whole, it qualifies as a worthy enough entry in the James Bond franchise.


**1/2 “Ya-stars”