The latest entry in the enduring James Bond spy movie franchise is an homage to the series’ past.
“Spectre,” starring Daniel Craig in his fourth turn as 007, looks awfully familiar. References to the earlier films and entire scenes lifted from them show up again and again.
There’s Bond on a train with a beautiful Bond girl; Bond in a helicopter (twice); and Bond in snowy action scenes (for the eighth time). There’s a villain’s fluffy white cat and exploding headquarters. And SPECTRE, the evil organization Bond confronts in the film, makes its seventh appearance.
All of the above make “Spectre” redundant.
But this recycling is by design. It also dovetails with one of the movie’s major themes.
Bond and the MI6 British intelligence service led by M (Ralph Fiennes), whom 007 routinely disobeys, are accustomed to dealing with international superspies. They’ve been doing that since 1962’s “Dr. No.” In “Spectre,” MI6 is threatened by an enemy within.
While the exterior villains of SPECTRE prosecute their plot to dominate the globe, a determined foe in the heart of London schemes to push 007 and the entire 00 program out of business.
Max Denbigh, played with sneering aloofness by Andrew Scott, is the boss of Britain’s newly created Centre for National Security. Bond names Denbigh C for short. The C could stand for “contemptuous” of MI6.
“We’re going to bring the British agencies out of the dark ages,” C says. “Why can’t you just face it, M? You don’t matter anymore.”
M and 007 do not fancy being displaced. When their right-hand woman, Moneypenny (Naomie Harris), tells the suddenly relieved-of-duty Bond that talk in the office is that he’s finished, he asks her what she thinks.
“I think you’re just getting started,” she replies.
Indeed, except for a lull during which Bond and the movie’s principal Bond girl, Madeleine Swann (French actress Léa Seydoux), temporarily lose sight of their next move, things stay frantically busy. Much of the energy is expended eluding Spectre’s No. 1 assassin, the never-give-up the hunt Hinx (Dave Bautista).
Give credit where credit is due. “Spectre” sees the return of Sam Mendes, the British director who brought the series back to critical acclaim with 2012’s $804 million-grossing “Skyfall.”
Mendes’ cool and stylish touch glistens in the slick, usually fast-paced “Spectre.” The film is lushly photographed, too, in the international locales fans expect.
Oscar-winning Austrian actor Christoph Waltz also brings his trademark style to the film, co-starring as Spectre’s soft-spoken, sadistic leader, Oberhauser. The character is another nod to the Bond legacy, especially Ernst Stavro Blofeld, the emotionless SPECTRE boss who menaced 007 in three 1960s films.
Waltz’s Oberhauser casually, comfortably fills the villain shoes. But the conflict Bond and, even more so, M, have with C produces more heat.
C’s culminating efforts to solidify his power, and 007’s continuing battles with Oberhauser, drive the exciting third act.
It’s here that the film surges into best of Bond territory. What comes before is not the best. Patience is required for the movie’s pieces to come together, or simply appreciation for Bond being Bond.
“Spectre” runs nearly two hours before the film’s action-driven grand finale finally arrives to make the waiting worth it.