Spectre was shot with an anamorphic lens on 35mm film, and even as a non-Bond fan, I had to admit the inevitability of this movie looking spectacular merely from seeing the preview beforehand. Hoyte Van Hoytema (Interstellar, Her) is the cinematographer at helm, once again showing his mastery with colors and tones. The movie opens with James Bond investigating the demise of the former M (Judi Dench), which leads to hints and an unveiling of an organization named Spectre that has overarching whispers of control and malevolent significance in Bond's life.
Bond's latest venture has everything you would have expected from a traditional Bond feature, but often with a twist. The attempts to add depth to the flick aren't always successful though, making us wonder if what we really want is for Bond to be modernized. Bond is a maverick, operating at the behest and often exasperation of his superiors, but this movie strangely has the most aid from his surrounding team than before. M (Ralph Fiennes), Q (Ben Whishaw), and Moneypenny (Naomi Harris) all play crucial roles in the film. There are points where attempts are made to flesh out Bond's past, his relationship with one of the Bond girls (a stunning Lea Seydoux), but it may be a case of too little too late. Do we as an audience care? We're so used to James Bond being a misogynistic man of mystery with no past and no fond connections to the secret service he's a part of, it's almost baffling to see any wavering from this course (although not necessarily unwelcome). Daniel Craig reportedly declared the process to whip his body into shape were so exhausting that of course he'd show off his effort, but we actually never see Bond without his shirt except in the opening sequence (marking this the first Bond movie where we don't see a topless Bond, apparently). This as much as anything else signals a shift in the Bond gears, and it's admittedly ridiculous that that is the case.
Craig's stint as Bond also created a sort of serialization of the series, first having Quantum of Solace pick up mere minutes from the end of Casino Royale. Spectre ups the ante here, but its attempt to keep up continuity with the introduction of its villain Christoph Waltz isn't entirely plausible. Rather than maintaining the illusion that the creators of the recent Bond franchise have had this end goal in sight from the beginning as a good serialization does, the cohesive element of Spectre operates more as a clunky shoehorn in an attempt to make use care more about Bond and his past than we want to. Craig is only third for appearing the most as Bond (the record goes to Roger Moore, who played Bond seven times), but he appears polished to the point of bored at a few moments in the movie.
Skyfall, the previous Bond film which also brought together Daniel Craig and Sam Mendes, was a game changer. Despite what you might have felt about the Home Alone-esque plot, there was something undeniably kinetic and visually beautiful about it in a way that had never before been experienced for James Bond. And the entrance of Javier Bardem as the villain might possibly be the best introduction ever. Spectre is also visually compelling, but its plot structure doesn't seem to settle -- not certain whether to please the Bond lore of old, or to keep pushing the envelope as it did in its previous movie. Because it strays from its roots, it invites comparison to other spy flicks -- notably the Mission Impossible movie that was released only a few months ago. Normally I would say their intents are different as well as the purpose of their protagonists, but I couldn't help thinking constantly about Rogue Nation when watching Spectre. When put side by side, the plot outline as well as the supporting cast of characters, the main heroine, and even the role of the supporting Secret Service are remarkably similar, and Bond may suffer for it.
As usual, Bond has is a svelte version of the spy movie, but there's something about that polish that takes away from the crackle and excitement of an action film. Seydoux and Craig almost succeed in making up for it in their slow-burning smolders, but it takes more than a pretty car to make a convincing chase sequence.