SPECTRE. Daniel Craig, Léa Seydoux, Cristoph Waltz, Ralph Fiennes. Directed by Sam Mendes. 148 minutes. M (Action violence).

The 24th James Bond film - Daniel Craig’s fourth in the mantle – arrives in theatres this week, shepherded by British prodigy Sam Mendes, who returns to the franchise after the critically and publically lauded ‘Skyfall’. While not as strong as the previous instalment, it’s nonetheless an entertaining ride which very purposefully treads in the footsteps of the classic Bond films, for better or worse.

007 is on the trail of a criminal in Mexico City, the streets overflowing with Day of the Dead celebrations. By now, Craig plays Bond like a second skin, confident and muscular. After accidentally triggering an enormous explosion, Bond and his quarry do battle, moving from a crowded parade to the skies in a helicopter. Finally defeating his foe, Bond returns to London, where new MI6 head M, played now with grim determination by Ralph Fiennes, is battling against the bureaucracy closing in on the organisation. Both in London and abroad, Dennis Glassner’s production design is as impressive as ever, and Thomas Newman’s score provides the same punchy thrills it managed on ‘Skyfall’.

As the new Special Intelligence head, Max Denbigh, played by Andrew Scott from revisionist television hit ‘Sherlock’, is looking to close down the ‘obsolete’ 00-program while creating an internationally coordinated intelligence network. The story continues the same themes of ‘Skyfall’, weighing up what role agents have in the modern era of computer-centric counter-terrorism. In an age where it’s no longer feasible for the villain to cook up a plan that might involve sterilising the world’s food supply by using hypnotised beauty queens, a la ‘On Her Majesty’s Secret Service’, this seems like a reasonable mediation. This reviewer is certainly not envious of the screenwriter charged with cooking up Bond’s next adventure, seeing as they’ve just about done this pertinent ‘tech-threat’ plot to death.

At the same time, following a cryptic message from his old boss, Bond attends his latest victim’s funeral in Italy to track some leads. He falsifies credentials to attend a secret meeting of a criminal organisation, where a long-gone figure from his past appears, Cristoph Waltz’s Franz Oberhauser. Cover blown, Bond escapes from hulking, near-mute henchman Mr. Hinx through the streets of Rome in a quippy but relatively inert car chase.

All of this leads him to another former enemy – Mr. White, who figured prominently in ‘Casino Royale’. Vowing to protect White’s daughter from the aforementioned criminal syndicate, now revealed to be Spectre under Oberhauser’s leadership, Bond must go to great lengths and through exotic locales to keep her safe. The daughter is Dr Madeline Swann, played with an alluring blend of melancholy and glee by Léa Seydoux. Her chemistry with Bond is undeniable, and their relationship develops through their rush to save the world from the titular baddies.

The film, shot by popular cinematographer Hoyte van Hoytema, is visually attractive, though he and editor Lee Smith never give the action room to breathe. After opening the film with an ambitious long-take as Bond tracks his first victim in Mexico, the remaining set pieces falls victim to excessive cutting which makes it difficult to establish any geography or overall appreciation. This is a shame, as the stunts were benefactors of an extremely high budget, and the majority of them were carried out with minimal CGI effects.

The film, and particularly the screenplay, is steeped in the history of Craig’s time as Bond, as well as the wider franchise, with a few cheeky references for the book readers to find. After his grittier and more serious films in the role, ‘Spectre’ marks a return for the franchise to a thoroughly bulletproof, unflappable hero, only stopping here and there to bed women or have a few martinis. Craig has been openly discussing his character as a misogynist dinosaur on the press tour, and while it’s certainly more modern than, say, Connery’s Bond, it feels more evident here than in Craig’s other outings.

If this is Craig’s last outing as Bond (there has been no official confirmation either way, though Craig has been quite firm on the matter), then it’s not a bad way to go out. It’s not perfect, and it’s not as good as either ‘Casino Royale’ or ‘Skyfall’, but ‘Spectre’ does justice to the franchise history which it so evidently admires.

Callum Ryan is an associate of the Australian Catholic Office for Film & Broadcasting.

Out November 12.

Sony Pictures.

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