Family Movie Review: Spectre (PG-13)

Spectre ChesapeakeFamilyMovieReviewKernel Rating (out of 5): whole popcorn kernalwhole popcorn kernalwhole popcorn kernalhalf popcorn kernal

MPAA Rating: PG-13        Length: 148 minutes

Age Appropriate For: 14+. Typical James Bond stuff: adult characters drink and curse; there is kissing, implied sexual content, characters shown in bed, and the suggested nude silhouettes of women during the title credits; and lots of action violence, including some various fistfights, some explosions, characters are shot, threatened, beat up, tortured, or otherwise killed.

'Spectre' is the most throwback of the latest James Bond films, and that eye toward the past is a weakness. Despite its strong action sequences, the film never seems to find the right groove.

By Roxana Hadadi

"Spectre" is the fourth of the Daniel Craig era of James Bond films, and after following the excellent, thrilling, unnerving "Skyfall," it feels disappointingly typical. A surprising amount of "Spectre" feels not only like previous Bond films, but like previous action films – like last year's excellent "Captain America 2: The Winter Soldier" or this past summer's "Mission: Impossible 5 – Rogue Nation." The uniqueness just isn't there.

Lucky for "Spectre," though, that so much else works. Craig continues to be just prickly enough as Bond, charming, roguish, and loyal but still, at his core, the kind of man who honors his allegiances. The action sequences, from a fantastically good opening in Mexico City during an eerie, meticulously detailed Day of the Dead festival to the cool efficiency of an evil organization's meeting, where members discuss with cold detachment the profit margins for human trafficking, build a very particular vibe.

But "Spectre's" greatest detriment is how it fails to kick its narrative into high gear, into really clicking together, and so why the film is beautiful to look at and has a lot to admire, it won't consume you like "Skyfall" or even "Casino Royale" did. "Spectre" tries to make things even more personal for its protagonist, but you'll be left curiously untouched.

The film focuses, of course, on Bond (Craig, of "The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo"), who travels on his own to Mexico City, where he causes an international incident killing an assassin during a busy parade; his antics, which include stealing a helicopter and blowing up a city block, are splashed across newspapers. It's a tough time for the 00 program, though, and program leader M (Ralph Fiennes, of "Wrath of the Titans") isn't pleased: The British government is thinking about shutting them down and instead pursuing a massive surveillance program that would essentially watch every British citizen. "British intelligence out of the Dark Ages and into the light," says head honcho C (Andrew Scott, of "Jimmy's Hall"), and it's very clear he wants to cancel the 00 program altogether.

Nonplussed, Bond carries on with his own activities, inspired by a secret message left by someone very important in his life who sends him to Rome. There, his infiltration of a secret society reunites him with an old foe; puts him in the midst of new baddie Oberhauser (Christoph Waltz, of "Big Eyes"), introduced wielding an unnerving amount of power from the shadows; and gathers him a new love interest, the tough but pragmatic doctor Madeleine Swann (Léa Seydoux, of "Mission: Impossible 4 - Ghost Protocol"). How everyone's lives are connected, and how they have inspired each other's actions throughout the years without even knowing it, then became the main dramatic tension of "Spectre."

Well, except for where that isn't that much dramatic tension. There just isn't! Unlike "Casino Royale" and "Skyfall," which zigged Bond right when you thought he would zag left, once you see the decision Bond makes at the beginning of the film, there's a clear sense of where he is going to go, and then he does just that. Characters have no unexpected edges; there's a final reveal for one that is supposed to be surprising, but lands more like a shrug. Bond fans who have seen the previous films will recognize the twist coming, but how the film keeps it too close to the chest for too long, failing to build any tension.

All of the action – the chases in expensive cars, the faceoff between a stolen plane and a caravan of SUVs on a snowy mountain – is fun to look at, but "Spectre," for all of its callbacks to Daniel Craig's previous three films as Bond, doesn't use its past effectively. This is a movie going through the motions, and although the motions are more effectively engineered than most other action blockbusters, "Spectre" will leave you wanting.

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