For the last few years, the James Bond franchise has had a little trouble getting itself back on track. After the outstanding “Casino Royale,” which featured the perfect blend of a compelling narrative and thrilling action, the series took a turn for the worst with “Quantum of Solace,” which skimped on the story while filling the runtime with far too many numbing action sequences. “Skyfall” was a bit of an improvement, but ended up having the opposite problem in that it didn’t feature enough excitement, while the narrative mostly dragged for its nearly two and a half hour runtime. Now we’re faced with the latest Bond adventure, “Spectre,” for which we can only hope that the filmmakers looked to past successes to help get the series back to the greatness it once enjoyed.
As “Spectre” opens, we find James Bond (Daniel Craig) in Mexico City, hunting down an assassin, Marco Sciarra (Alessandro Cremona), that the late M had unofficially ordered him to find. After a major scuffle, Bond returns to London where the current M (Ralph Fiennes) removes him from active duty. However, this doesn’t stop Bond from continuing with his investigation, which includes questioning Sciarra’s widow (Monica Bellucci) and looking into a mysterious signet ring that he got from the assassin. His search leads him to a group known as SPECTRE, and their mysterious leader, Franz Oberhauser (Christoph Waltz), a man who has a connection to Bond’s past. Meanwhile, M has to deal with a power struggle with another government official known as C (Andrew Scott), who not only manages to get the 00 program shut down, but is also trying to bring Britain into a global surveillance network, a play that just might be connected to the case Bond is currently working on.
After two Bond films that had been something of a disappointment, it’s truly a pleasure, as well as a great relief, to be able to say that “Spectre” finally gets the franchise back to where it belongs. Utilizing the blueprint that had made “Casino Royale” such a massive success, “Spectre” once again uses the same perfect blend of a compelling narrative and heart-pounding action sequences to deliver one of the more memorable Bond films of the last decade.
The story here not only comes with plenty of drama, with Bond going on a last mission from the former M, but also works extremely well as a mystery that unfolds as the film goes on. Most fans will already know what SPECTRE is, but the film uses it to its advantage by presenting its mysterious leader, Franz Oberhauser, as a man who seems to know an awful lot about Bond’s past, things that only certain people could possibly know. Utilizing characters old and new, screenwriters John Logan, Neal Purvis, Robert Wade, and Jez Butterworth weave a fascinating tale that leaves you in a constant state of wanting to know what direction it’s going to go in, not only on Bond’s side of the narrative, but also regarding M trying to stop what he perceives to be some major mistakes by C. As evident by the last two outings, this only goes to show just how incredibly vital the story is in these films, for when it doesn’t present something that’s gripping and compelling, it’s almost certain the film will become another one of the franchise’s forgettable entries.
This brings us to the other side of the formula: the thrilling action sequences that these films have come to be known for. In this department, “Spectre” ups the ante considerably, starting with an opening that features massive destruction, a footchase, and a fight in a helicopter, all of which will leave you out of breath. Of course, the film doesn’t stop there, presenting such thrills as a fantastic car chase through Rome, Bond chasing down a kidnapped acquaintance with a plane, and a fight aboard a train with a deadly opponent. Combine all of this with the captivating narrative, and you have a film whose nearly two and a half hour runtime simply flies by.
All of this doesn’t even get into the film’s gorgeous look, featuring excellent cinematography from BAFTA nominee Hoyte Van Hoytema (“Interstellar,” “Her”), and a particular old-style feel from it having been shot on film. The bottom line is that it’s great to see Bond back at the top of his game, with the filmmakers finally returning to the winning formula that results in the best Bond films. Now that they’ve rediscovered it, hopefully they’ll continue to take advantage of it as the franchise continues on, leaving us with even more memorable Bond films in the future.
“Spectre” arrives on Blu-ray in a 2.40:1, 1080p High Definition transfer of pretty good quality. The picture is slightly grainy, possibly a side effect of it having been shot on film, but it does nothing to hinder the viewing experience, providing a mostly sharp image that shows off the film’s beautiful look. The 7.1 DTS-HD Master Audio is splendid, giving you all of the dialogue, sound effects, and Thomas Newman’s score in excellent quality. Overall, this latest Bond adventure has been given great treatment that will leave fans quite satisfied.
Spectre: Bond’s Biggest Opening Sequence (20 Minutes): A fascinating look behind the scenes at the thrilling Day of the Dead opening sequence.
Video Blogs (9 Minutes): A series of six vlogs that explore subjects like director Sam Mendes, the Music, and the cars. Unfortunately, they are very brief (about 90 seconds apiece) and don’t go into much detail.
With a perfect blend of a compelling narrative and breathtaking action sequences, “Spectre” marks a return to greatness for the James Bond franchise, whose past two entries had struggled to find the right mix of these two vital elements. Not since the outstanding “Casino Royale” has a Bond film been this gripping and this thrilling, sparking hope that the filmmakers will continue on this path to deliver more great films for the superspy in the coming years.
Now available on Blu-ray and DVD.
Follow me on Twitter @BeckFilmCritic and be sure to subscribe for the latest updates.