The Aisle Seat - Movie Reviews by Mike McGranaghan
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THE AISLE SEAT - by Mike McGranaghan

"SPECTRE"

Spectre

The James Bond films have hit many highs and lows over the decades. Some have been great, others substantially less so. (Remember The World Is Not Enough, which cast Denise Richards as a brilliant scientist?) Current star Daniel Craig has himself starred in one of the best, Skyfall, and one of the worst, Quantum of Solace. The styles of the pictures change to reflect the times, but the basics are always the same, and success depends on how well those basics are assembled with each new chapter. That leads us to Spectre, which won't send Bond fans into fits of ecstasy, but provides enough of what one expects from a 007 outing to generate solid entertainment.

The plots of these things tend to be needlessly complicated, but the gist of Spectre is this: Bond discovers that all the villains he's faced recently are part of a covert terrorist operation determined to take over the world in a very timely, technological way. Stopping them means locating their leader, the casually ruthless Oberhauser (a terrific Christoph Waltz). And the key to finding him lies with Madeleine Swann (Lea Seydoux), the daughter of a man Bond once tangled with.

Spectre has all of the Bond staples. There's a cool (and appealingly bizarre) opening credit sequence, a sultry romance, some nifty gadgets, and a handful of fantastic action scenes. An opening set piece, taking place at a Day of the Dead celebration in Mexico, is wonderfully atmospheric, and later on there's a very tense chase between a car and an airplane, both of which make their way to places where cars and planes are not supposed to go. If you're making a checklist of the stuff you want from a Bond movie, everything is here.

What makes the film a little different, though, is that it isn't as much of a stand-alone adventure as many of the 007 installments have been. Spectre ties together things that have happened in Casino Royale, Quantum of Solace, and Skyfall. This gives the ultimate confrontation between Bond and Oberhauser more weight than usual. (The movie's spin on the traditional Bond-escapes-torture-by-the-bad-guy routine is particularly effective.) Additionally, there's increased involvement from the supporting characters. M (Ralph Fiennes), Q (Ben Wishaw), and Miss Moneypenny (Naomie Harris) all factor much more prominently into the plot than they typically have. The decision to take this approach is very satisfying, as it pays off the audience's investment in the Daniel Craig years. Suddenly, Bond feels like part of a whole world, rather than just like a lone wolf operating on his own.

Director Sam Mendes and cinematographer Hoyte Van Hoytema give Spectre a dark, moody visual style that emphasizes the weight of the evil machine Bond is up against. Nowhere is this more evident than in a long sequence in which 007 and Madeleine arrive at a hidden compound where Oberhauser's operation is nearing completion, and in a climax set inside a dilapidated old building. The franchise has always relied on megalomaniacal villains, ticking clocks, and narrow escapes. Spectre spins those things in a slightly more offbeat way that may irritate some Bond purists, but which plays as both homage and reinvention.

The major hurdle faced here is that the middle section of the film has moments that drag. Running nearly two-and-a-half hours, Spectre occasionally walks when it should be running. A number of scenes could have been trimmed or deleted altogether to quicken the pace. Given the heinousness of what Oberhauser and his colleagues are trying to do, the movie ought to move like a bullet as it shows Bond working to stop them before it's too late. At times it does, but at other times, it seems to dawdle a bit. Some judicious tightening would have made Spectre a little more breathless in its suspense.

Even if imperfect, this is still a largely pleasing entry in the series. Daniel Craig remains a great Bond, Waltz is suitably, despicably evil, and the action is first-rate. Spectre proves that this long-running franchise still has a lot to offer.

( out of four)


Spectre is rated PG-13 for intense sequences of action and violence, some disturbing images, sensuality and language. The running time is 2 hours and 28 minutes.


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