Sequels have a much bigger mountain to climb. That’s the case certainly with Spectrethe 24th entry in the incredibly successful James Bond franchise and the sequel to Bond 23, Skyfall. Daniel Craig is back for his fourth go-round with the planet’s favorite secret agent and so are director Sam Mendes and screenwriters John Logan, Neal Purvis & Robert Wade, joined by Jez Butterworth.

pete hammond review badgeAs I say in my video review (click the link above), Spectre is no Skyfall, but it will have to do. At a cost of about $250 million and at nearly two and a half hours, this outing does feel a little tired. But maybe that really doesn’t matter a whole lot because for Bond fans we just can’t wait for these movies, and this one is definitely stylish and intense enough to deliver all the required action — and then some. I just wish Craig’s Bond had more of the wit of past Bonds and a little more of the sophistication. (Then again Craig appears to be closer in reality to the way Ian Fleming first described him, so maybe he’s the ideal Bond after all. But Sean Connery ruined everything for me. I just don’t think he can be topped — so sue me.)

And it’s odd, but in addition to trying too hard to bring back some of the elements that made Connery’s original iconic turn in the role so memorable (starting in 1962 with Dr. No), this edition seems to be lifting from modern copycats like Bourne or Mission: Impossible — particularly the latter in ratcheting up the chases and the action. In some ways it is almost like watching the imitated morph into the imitator. Mendes and his writers pack this with all the requisite set pieces required these days, and it works, but there is a bit of a feeling of deja vu. I looked at my watch a couple of times. The main villain here, Franz Oberhauser, played by Christoph Waltz who specializes in playing evil, also seems quite predictable.

Still, the film, like all Bonds, gets off to a roaring start with a Spectre-tacular helicopter fight high above the streets of Mexico City, where Day Of The Dead celebrations are taking place. Mendes and his cameraman Hoyte Van Hoytema pull off a sensational tracking shot that has to be seen to be believed. Impressive stuff. After this initial outing, Bond is grounded by his superiors, but of course that doesn’t begin to stop him from globetrotting in search of Oberhauser, who is head of the shadowy organization called Spectre.

Meanwhile, M (Ralph Fiennes), Moneypenny (Naomie Harris) and Q (a fun Ben Whishaw) are dealing with a rogue government operative named C (the writers love to keep the names short) who is trying to get rid of the 00 agent program and replace it — something not all that desirable to say the least. Along the way of course there are the Bond women: first, and briefly, Monica Bellucci, and then most significantly Lea Seydoux’s Madeleine Swann, who joins up with him on his quest (as well as romantically). She adds a good deal of warmth Craig simply can’t seem to muster in the role, but in terms of past Bond films, this pairing doesn’t have the requisite chemistry required. But she tries.

As for Waltz, he always seems to be playing these kinds of characters so his appearance as the key villain here has a blah sort of feeling to it. His big set piece where he tortures and penetrates Bond with a very long needle is compelling without being complex. We sort of know where this is going. Tom Cruise got out of his impossible scrapes in M:I – Rogue Nation in much more entertaining ways and against more complicated villains. But I doth protest too much.

You can’t go wrong with the locations (Rome, Morocco, Austrian Alps, Mexico City) or the atmosphere here, even if Craig and Mendes like showing us a much more troubled Bond than previous outings. 007, despite many imitators, has survived, and as the final credit assures us, “James Bond Will Return.” There are few guarantees in life, but that is one of them. I’m still a fan and can’t wait for the 25th, because even a medium Bond is a cut above. Producers, as always, are Michael G. Wilson and Barbara Broccoli.

Do you plan to see Spectre? Let us know what you think.