[Screen It]


(2015) (Daniel Craig, Lea Seydoux) (PG-13)

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Action: A British secret agent sets out to stop a villain from controlling a global network of surveillance systems.
Following an international incident where British secret agent James "007" Bond (DANIEL CRAIG) kills a terrorist intent on carrying out a stadium bombing but does so on his own accord, his new handler, Gareth Mallory, a.k.a. "M" (RALPH FIENNES), essentially grounds the agent from further work. That's while M deals with his superior, Max Denbigh, a.k.a. "C" (ANDREW SCOTT), having merged the MI5 and MI6 operations and is now prepared to active a global surveillance system and shut down the double-O agent program.

Undeterred, and with the aid of Eve Moneypenny (NAOMIE HARRIS) and gadget guru Q (BEN WHISHAW), Bond attends the funeral of the man he killed and meets his widow, Lucia Sciarra (MONICA BELLUCCI), who informs him of a meeting of the criminal organization known as Spectre. Bond gets into that, but is identified by its leader, Franz Oberhauser (CHRISTOPH WALTZ), and barely manages to escape from a hulking hitman, Mr. Hinx (DAVE BAUTISTA). Bond's search for more information leads him to a dying assassin, Mr. White (JESPER CHRISTENSEN), who gives him intel in exchange for Bond promising to protect his adult daughter, Dr. Madeleine Swann (LEA SEYDOUX).

He travels to Austria to find her, but she wants nothing to do with him. That is, until he rescues her from Mr. Hinx and other kidnappers. From that point on, Bond tries to get to the bottom of what's occurring, and that includes another dangerous encounter with Oberhauser.

OUR TAKE: 5.5 out of 10
It might seem odd to begin a movie review -- and one about the latest James Bond film no less -- by comparing it to a football team's season, but stick with me. For reasons still somewhat unclear, I've been a lifelong Detroit Lions fan. They've had their ups and (mostly) downs, but each year there's renewed hope that the new season will be special.

2014 was just that, with a new coach directing to the team to a winning record with a fairly rare playoff appearance. This year, however, with the same coach at the helm, it's been a disaster, with a few highlights, but mostly the feeling that we've seen all of this before and that everyone is simply going through the motions.

Meanwhile, 2012 was a terrific year for Bond with the release of "Skyfall." With a new coach, um, director orchestrating the moves, the old franchise suddenly felt fresh and new, and the end result delighted critics and moviegoers alike. That resulted in a global box office take beyond the $1 billion mark for the first time in the series' storied history.

Thus, just like with my "mighty" Lions, I was hoping for more of the same from Bond in 2015 with "Spectre," especially with director Sam Mendes coaching and star Daniel Craig leading the team on the field. While it might not be the utter disaster that is the Motor City Kitties, it's something of a disappointment considering raised expectations that stemmed from just how good "Skyfall" was. It still earns a recommendation, but only due to a number of action set pieces that are far better individually than the collective whole.

Screenwriter Jez Butterworth joins "Skyfall" screenwriters Neal Purvis & Robert Wade and John Logan in coming up with a new story, but methinks that's where the problem lies. Not in having four scribes, mind you, but rather in the plot that simply isn't that great. And that has nothing to do with them tinkering with Bond classics of old and their reconfiguration of a classic Bond villain.

Instead, the storyline -- which takes up where the predecessor left off -- simply feels lackluster and recycled, which is somewhat of a surprise considering how fresh "Skyfall" felt. If there was one complaint about the last pic, it was in having a fairly mediocre villain, and that trends only worsens here. While Dave Bautista is okay continuing in the long line of secondary bad guys who are big, tough and resilient, Christoph Waltz is unimpressive (which is a shame considering how good of a villain he was in "Inglourious Basterds").

It doesn't help that he really doesn't show up until the end, and when he does, the fireworks simply aren't there. And any film buff knows the hero is only as good as the villain. That doesn't derail Craig's work as 007 (he's still as good as ever, even if he looks tired and ready to move on), but it prevents him from gaining extra yardage and running up the score in the iconic role.

The pic also suffers a bit from not having cinematographer Roger Deakins behind the camera. Hoyte Van Hoytema is competent, but doesn't come up with the impressive arrangement his predecessor used to make "Skyfall" one of the prettiest and most visually imaginative Bond flicks ever. And Sam Smith's opening song has nothing on Adele's brilliant version the last time around.

That said, a number of the big action set pieces and fight and stunt sequences are handled quite well, and those moments and various bits of homage to the Bond oeuvre manage to keep things interesting and engaging enough to overcome the plot issues that end up exacerbated by the film's 148-some minute runtime.

In the end, I enjoyed enough of "Spectre" to give it a slight recommendation, but those expecting the enthralling brilliance of "Skyfall" will likely be just as disappointed as any Lions fan halfway through just about any given season. The film rates as a 5.5 out of 10.

Reviewed November 2, 2015 / Posted November 6, 2015

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