by Patrick B. McGuigan
Daniel Craig is stellar in the latest installment in the more-then-half-century old series of James Bond films.
Craig has made Bond his own. It makes one a bit melancholy to think he will likely soon surrender the part. Time and box office dictates take their toll on even the best thespians.
‘Spectre‘ is not quite as solid as either “Skyfall” (2012, my favorite of the Craig performances, and thus far the best box office performer of the Craig era) or ‘Casino Royale’ (2006).
However, it is just as well-done as ‘Quantum of Solace’ or most Bond films since the years Sean Connery portrayed the most immortal member of Her Majesty’s Secret Service, as envisioned by Ian Fleming.
For this story, a quartet of screenwriters ably serve director Sam Mendes as he takes the Bond legend back to some of its past big-screen glitz, with new and old gadgets playing supporting roles.
As for those gadgets, Ben Wishaw is a fine “Q” this time, as he was for Skyfall. Make no mistake, however: This film is solidly in the darker and more realistic portrayal of a flesh-and-blood human being that Craig has established as his distinctive mark on the series.
Andrew Scott is Max, seemingly a misguided British bureaucrat who thinks there is no longer room for a human touch in espionage. As the story evolves, we learn Max is something more sinister.
Monica Belluci shines in her brief turn as the widow of a professional assassin.
Naomie Harris captures the heart, once again, as Moneypenny, assistant to the new M (Ralph Fiennes), replacing Judi Dench (whose character perished in the last film).
As Dr. Madeleine Swann, Lea Seydoux is beautiful, smart and credible as Bond’s deepest love since the first Craig installment.
As Blofeld, Christoph Waltz brings his own unique set of skills to the quintessential Bond villain.
The name of the international cartel of evil Blofeld runs – the film’s title — comes straight out of the original novels, as does Blofeld chartacter – but the particulars of this story are suited to these troubled times.
A great merit of this narrative is the way the collective energy of the film approaches the moral struggles of nations and peoples aspiring to uphold the rule of law — and democratic governance — while struggling with the harsh realities of battling international terror.
We live in particularly perilous times, in some ways the equivalent of a world war, yet it is a struggle without borders or rules of engagement.
The limits of government power in an era of mass killings aimed at law-abiding and peaceful innocents is as timely a contemporary issue as one can imagine. That is illustrated in this film alongside the temptation to grant, for safety’s sake, tyrannical power to those who govern us.
In the best Bond tradition, the film jumps from Mexico City to London, to Tangiers, to Austria, to Italy and Morocco. The music is appealing, including Sam Smith’s song for the opening credits, “Writing’s on the Wall.”
The film is entertaining and frequently thought-provoking.
One deft moment comes in an exchange between Madeleine and James, highlighted in some second-round promotions for the picture.
She asks him, “Why does a man choose the life of an assassin?” Bond replies, “It was either that or the priesthood.” Humorous, yet with that Fleming-esque edge with the unspoken question: what sort of people do you want on your side in a fight for your life?
In a pre-release interview, Craig – who has always made it clear that although he inhabits the character he does not “channel” 007 – told a reporter that Bond “has issues, but I hope there is a hero out there watching everybody’s backs. It would be nice to think there is someone out there looking after us.”
Best news of all came in the credits: James Bond will return.