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'Spectre' gets high marks for Bond-style spectacle, but low marks for originality
Daniel Craig in Spectre (2015) - photo by Josh Terry
SPECTRE 3 stars Daniel Craig, Christoph Waltz, Lea Seydoux, Ralph Fiennes, Monica Bellucci; PG-13 (intense sequences of action and violence, some disturbing images, sensuality and language); in general release

The 24th entry in the James Bond franchise isnt the best, but its plenty of fun. Spectre doesnt offer much in the way of new material, but in a series known for its iconic tropes, the challenge is making the familiar feel fresh.

Spectre mines those tropes well. Youve got the fast cars, the femme fatales, the gadgets, the exotic locations and the tailored suits that make shooting a gun look so very stylish. The set pieces prop up some fantastic fine-tuned action, and every penny of the films budget makes it up onto the screen. If youre looking for trademark Bond entertainment, Spectre will deliver the super-spy goods.

The new film picks up where the 2012s Skyfall left off. MI-6 is in shambles, and the head of MI-5 (Andrew Scott) is trying to merge all of British intelligence and scrap the 00 program in the process. Bond (Daniel Craig, back for a fourth turn as the legendary 007) doesnt help matters when he blows up half of Mexico City trying to hunt down a bad guy named Sciarra (Alessandro Cremona).

M (Ralph Fiennes) gives his man the obligatory suspension, but that doesnt stop Bond from following one lead after another until he uncovers a secret organization that has masterminded the mayhem behind all of the Craig-era films: Spectre.

Led by a mysterious baddie named Oberhauser (Christoph Waltz) and enforced by a nasty brute named Hinx (Dave Bautista, playing a decidedly less humorous character than his role in Guardians of the Galaxy), Spectre has been looking forward to a final showdown with the 007-sized thorn in its side.

In true Bond fashion, the resulting adventures criss-cross the globe, from London to Austria to Morocco and back, giving the agent plenty of opportunity to shoot the bad guys and woo the ladies (Monica Bellucci and La Seydoux) along the way.

Director Sam Mendess pyrotechnics and action sequences are more than up to standard, but Spectres biggest success may be the way it blends Bonds smirking humor into the festivities. The Daniel Craig era has been marked by a dark, brooding Bond that seemed much more angry than any previous incarnation. But Spectre manages to evoke a few good laughs from the audience without tipping into the groan-worthy double-entendres and bad jokes that marred Pierce Brosnans films.

Spectre does a good job of working the traditional Bond toolbox, but it gets into trouble when it starts to roll out plot devices and themes that have visited practically every spy franchise from here to Hollywood: the super-secret global conspiracy, the threat of worldwide surveillance from a super-network thats just about to go online. Its all fun, but weve seen it before, many times.

We could say the same for Waltz. As Oberhauser, Waltz essentially plays the same character that has defined his Oscar-winning work in Quentin Tarantinos films. Great action movies are often defined by great villains, but Spectre only gets half of the formula. They got a good actor, but they didnt give him much to do, and Oberhauser wont top anyones villain list unless theyre ranking on makeup.

That being said, Spectre is still impressive entertainment, and worth the extra effort to see in IMAX (the opening sequence in Mexico City is especially impressive). It may not be the best of the Bond movies (or even the Daniel Craig movies), but a good Bond is still a good bet on the big screen.

"Spectre" is rated PG-13 for intense sequences of action and violence, some disturbing images, sensuality and language; running time: 148 minutes.
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