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FILMARTICLE

Like James Bond's Special Ordered Martinis, SPECTRE Will Leave You Shaken, But Not Stirred

There's plenty of big-spectacle fun to be had in the latest 007 adventure, but it's a significant downgrade after 2012's knockout SKYFALL.

One's take on the 24th James Bond movie will depend on how he or she feels about the following statement: In Spectre, Daniel Craig's 007 isn't miserable anymore.

For fans of the excellent yet punishingly sinister and brooding Skyfall, that's bad news; director Sam Mendes' 2012 go-round with Bond channeled Christopher Nolan's approach to the Batman universe by cloaking Bond in emotional darkness, literally darkly lit set-pieces, and widespread death—for all of its technical prowess and storytelling power, Skyfall is the rare kind of Hollywood spectacle that leaves viewers needing a couple dozen stiff Dry Martinis in order to process its weight. Spectre, on the other hand, is old-school 007, allowing Craig to deliver well-timed wisecracks amidst elaborate action set-pieces that, too, are punctuated by fun-loving punchlines.

After Skyfall's heft, though, the breezier Spectre feels oddly lightweight. The plot sends Bond on the hunt for the mysterious Franz Oberhauser (Christoph Waltz), a criminal mastermind who's been considered deceased for decades. To help find the bad guy, Bond teams up with Madeleine Swann (Léa Seydoux), the beautiful and much younger daughter of an old enemy. As familiar as Spectre’s set-up sounds, the film itself is even more traditional. Waltz’s interpretation of the super-villain is just Waltz being Waltz—he's an anticlimax following Javier Bardem's memorably creepy Silva in Skyfall. Naturally, Bond and Madeline fall in love and have throw-down sex; Oberhauser’s muscle-bound, dialogue-free enforcer (played by Dave Bautista) is the WWE version of The Spy Who Loved Me and Moonraker's goon Jaws; and Mendes tries so forcibly hard to connect Spectre to Craig's previous 007 movies, to establish a deeply rooted mythology, that the film feels like a "James Bond in the 2000s Greatest Hits" compilation.

While Spectre fizzles in story form, it dazzles as an exercise in visual overload. Fortunately, Mendes cares as much as about adrenalized grandeur as he does honoring the 007 legacy. Spectre's cold open, set in the heavily populated streets of Mexico City during a Day of the Dead parade, is a one-take whirlwind of toppling buildings, gunplay, and a fistfight inside an out-of-control helicopter bouncing around the sky as if it's in a washing machine—the sequence is Michael Bay with a brain. A brutal rounds of fisticuffs between Craig and Bautista on a moving train crunches bones and pounds flesh with the lifelike intensity of Gareth Evans' The Raid movies.

It's in those knockout sections, however, where Spectre's biggest flaw comes to light: for the first time in ages, a James Bond movie’s action apes popular cinematic touchstones instead of continuing to define 007's own. Pair that with Spectre's narrative repetition and all you've got is an entertaining diversion. Unlike every woman he's ever met not named M or Moneypenny, you won't want to take Bond home with you afterwards.

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