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James Bond fans, rejoice! Daniel Craig – arguably Hollywood’s best Bond – is back in a 2 ½ hour homage to all things shaken and stirred. With veteran director Sam Mendes (who helmed “Skyfall”) behind the camera, Dutch camera talent Hoyte van Hoytema (“Her” and “Interstellar”) choreographing the action, and Craig – fit, feral, and dressed for ass-kicking success – out front, “Spectre” delivers a powerful jolt to Stick Season audiences, kicking the Hollywood holiday season into high gear.
I know what you are thinking. Hasn’t the Bond series always provided powerful imperial propaganda for the unwashed popcorn-snorting masses, using mindless action-oriented entertainment to justify (since 9/11) the Global War on Terror, secretive national security measures, and other underhanded behavior in the name of fighting the alleged baddies? Absolutely. But, in the “chickens come home to roost” department, the enemies in “Spectre” nestle closer to downtown London than ever before. Mysterious “Spectre” overlord Franz Oberhauser (the quietly spooky Christopher Waltz) and his burly henchman (think Oddjob meets Jaws from 007 days of yore) prove dangerous foes for 007. Even more disturbing, however, is that MI6 itself is under siege, and Bond, Moneypenny (Naomie Harris, always lovely), the new M (alas, Dame Judi Dench is gone, but Ralph Fiennes able handles the job), and Q (a delightful Ben Whisaw, first introduced in “Skyfall”) must contend with smooth-talking new MI6 technocrat Max Denbigh (call him “C”, played with extra smarm by Andrew Scott), who seeks to create a Global Intelligence organization of computers, drones and AI to replace flesh-and-blood agents like Bond, and the entire 00 program. No spoilers here, but our real-life 21st century concerns about the trade-offs of living in our new Surveillance Society lurk menacingly in the background of the “Spectre” story.
Up front? Brawls, babes, booze, gadgets, and cars, of course. Craig’s Bond blows the carbon out from the film’s first moments, in a remarkable Mexico City “Day Of The Dead” action sequence – skeletons, rooftops, building implosions, helicopters – that will leave you breathless. From there, it’s off to London, Rome, Tangiers, and beyond – as 007 hops around the globe bedding women, bashing bad guys, and generally saving the day. Daniel Craig plays a Bond for the new millennium – no Sean Connery charm, Roger Moore goofiness, or Timothy Dalton felinity here. Craig’s Bond is all business. And yet, new Bond gal Madeleine Swann (Leya Seydoux) – brainy, tough, and impatient with Bond theatrics – does manage to bring out Bond’s softer side, if only at odd moments. Best of all, perhaps, for Bond fans, are the ongoing references to earlier Bond films that layer this new story. Keep your eye out – and enjoy the ride. “Spectre” may not be the best Bond ever, but it’s right up there, and this may be Craig’s last ride as 007 on the big screen. Don’t miss it.