Directed By: Sam Mendes

Starring: Daniel Craig, Christoph Waltz, Léa Seydoux, Ben Whishaw, Naomie Harris, Dave Bautista, Andrew Scott, Monica Bellucci, and Ralph Fiennes

Is Daniel Craig out of bullets?  Many have been considering this weekend's Spectre to be Craig's final outing as beloved British Secret Service agent James Bond.  Yes, Daniel Craig has been around the block as 007 a few times.  Yes, he had a tantrum saying he would rather kill himself than suit up again.  However, he also said he would only do another for the money.  As fate would have it, Craig was originally contracted for up to five films.  Given the massive successes of Casino Royale, Quantum of Solace, and especially Skyfall, I highly doubt he'll leave one film from his contract on the table.  The box office feats of Spectre will be just another reason for Sony, MGM, and Eon Productions to protect the crown jewel of their respective entertainment empires.  Still, I'll even admit that Sam Mendes leaves the Daniel Craig chapter of the franchise in a nice tidy spot at the end of Spectre.

The dead are alive.  It's Dia de Los Muertos in Mexico, and MI6 agent 007 (Craig) is in costume for the occasion.  He is pursuing a man by the name of Marco Sciarra (Alessandro Cremona), who is preparing to launch a terrorist attack at a stadium in Mexico on the sacred holiday.  Putting a stop to this treachery, Bond launches an assault on Sciarra and his men.  In the process of taking down Sciarra, he brings a building crumbling to its foundations and has a death-defying showdown in a helicopter hovering above thousands of innocent civilians.  Along the way, he gets his hands on Sciarra's octopus ring.  All of this would be kosher if 007 were authorized to carry out this mission.  Instead, Bond finds himself at the center of another international spectacle, and M (Ralph Fiennes) wants him off the field.  With the help of his colleagues Moneypenny (Naomie Harris) and Q (Ben Whishaw), that certainly won't be the case for long.

Despite being a rogue agent alienated by the crown, Bond is onto something.  Grounded in London, 007 naturally goes to Rome to attend the funeral of Sciarra.  There, he meets the woman he made a widow, Lucia Sciarra (Monica Belluci).  He also gets a rather violent introduction to an organization known as Spectre courtesy of their leader Franz Oberhauser (Christoph Waltz) and Sciarra's replacement Mr. Hinx (Dave Bautista).  Searching for more on Spectre, all roads lead to someone known as "The Pale King" and his daughter Dr. Madeleine Swann (Léa Seydoux).  Meanwhile, M defends the 00 program from his new boss and MI5 head Max Denbigh / C (Andrew Scott).  All the while, Denbigh seeks to build a new intelligence empire fueled by what he calls the Data Ghost and the intense collaboration of nine intelligence agencies around the globe through a program known as Nine Eyes.

is certainly a film that operates in the shadows of Skyfall.  It's a nearly impossible task to top a film that not only perfected the more serious 007 formula with Daniel Craig but carried the emotional heft of longtime Bond actress Judi Dench's on-screen death amidst the 50th anniversary of the franchise.  With this in mind, Sam Mendes arguably pulls another page out of the Christopher Nolan playbook (Nolan faced a similar challenge following up The Dark Knight).  Several years ago, I wrote about how The Dark Knight Rises gives Nolan's Batman trilogy an unmistakable interconnectedness tying up all loose ends.  Well, Mendes tries to do the exact same thing here for the quadrilogy of Daniel Craig 007 movies.  Though Spectre delivers on many levels, this is one area in which it flounders a bit.  While tying Casino Royale and Quantum of Solace into Spectre is relatively easy, Skyfall is the odd man out.  The film doesn't have lingering Easter eggs that are easy to tie into the titular organization, and this makes the big reveal rather difficult to swallow in some ways.

After 53 years of MI6, I'm sure it's challenging to conjure up new and inventive narratives each time around.  That being said, Spectre has a copycat problem.  As many longtime Bond viewers are sure to notice, the latest Bond film borrows quite a bit from a certain 1964 film and to a lesser extent other 007 films long gone.  That's right, Spectre is pretty much a modern update to the classic Goldfinger with shades of From Russia With Love as well.  Given that the Craig era has mostly been a refreshing reinvention of the fictional British spy, this is certainly far from desirable.  Mendes should be trying to create new great Bond movies instead of trying to replicate past movie magic and play on the old ones.

Now that I've vented and said what needed to be said about Spectre, let's talk about what is indeed awesome in this 24th Bond outing.  From a filmmaking perspective, it's always great to see a more audacious filmmaker like Mendes tackling a film of this nature.  As expected, Spectre gets high marks for its glorious golden cinematography, its terrific bullet-laced sound mixing, and some impressively elaborate stunt work.  These are all the things we've come to expect of the Daniel Craig era, and Mendes delivers them in grand style.  The score is also quite impressive.  All of this builds one suspenseful action thriller that dabbles with greatness.

Daniel Craig remains the central figure of today’s Bond franchise nine years later for good reason, and his performance in Spectre is the proof.  Charismatic yet rugged, he brings all the charms that have made him so popular over the past decade.  As much as I enjoy his performance as well as those of his returning supporting cast (Ralph Fiennes, Naomie Harris, and Ben Whishaw), this is a movie that’s all about the villains.  More specifically, the villain I must discuss first is Mr. Hinx as portrayed by Dave Bautista.  This specimen brings a physicality that’s been sorely missing from 007.  Oozing with menace and backing it up with his action sequences, he ranks very highly among modern Bond villains.  With both Guardians of the Galaxy and Spectre now on his notch, Batista might just be giving The Rock a run for his money in the not-too-distant future for the WWE’s most prominent alumnus on the big screen.  

Taking the role of the Franz Oberhauser, two-time Oscar winner Christoph Waltz has a tall task in front of him as the central antagonist of Spectre.  He is to Javier Bardem as Tom Hardy is to Heath Ledger.  He’s slippery.  He’s methodical.  He’s chilling.  Carrying out his role as Oberhauser in a nearly gleeful manner, Waltz is everything a decent Bond villain should be.  The only problem is that he’s not following up just an ordinary villain.  He’s following up Silva.  When you compile this with the fact that he’s treading in Goldfinger territory, his performance doesn’t quite escape the shadow of his predecessor’s larger-than-life Bond villain.  Still, it’s an enjoyable performance that gets the job done.

I’ve had a lot to say on Spectre, and I’m sure you’re wondering where I’ll land on this one.  The mark of a good film is whether I check to see how much time remains.  For this 24th Bond film, I didn’t glance at the clock at all.  Despite my legitimate criticisms, the time flies.  It’s still one entertaining romp featuring Daniel Craig in what may be his final performance in his game-changing take on 007, and I’ll drink to that.  Spectre gets a 0.03% rating.  Have some wine coolers with this one if you haven’t already ordered a certain martini.