Spectre was never going to outdo Skyfall. That was almost a given. That this fleeting feeling turns into actual realization at about the midway point is both frustrating and almost expected. Grappling with richly thematic pursuits such as the potential obsolescence of field agents in an increasingly connected and constantly monitored world, returning star Daniel Craig and director Sam Mendes give it their all, but the film, watchable as it is, can’t help but seem over plotted and sometimes even dull.

With an emphasis on character development and a more subdued tone, this 24th film in the popular, globally recognised franchise continues to expand the edgier Craig era of the titular spy. From it’s riveting opening in Mexico, featuring a stunning Iñárritu inspired single tracking shot during the day of the dead parade, Spectre is visually arresting and never less than compelling to sit through. The stunts feel real, the threats menacing. It introduces a classic bond villain; the kind who discusses world domination in dimly lit boardrooms and runs a secret ill-intentioned agency in a clandestine, remote lair, all while MI6 is under threat of a takeover by a new government intelligence agency. We find Bond embroiled in a personal hunt, leading him to confront his secretive past and requiring the help of everyone from quartermaster Q to his boss M, who serves again as a sort of sidekick.

One of the challenges that Spectre tries to overcome but doesn’t completely succeed at doing is setting itself up as a standalone film in the Bond canon and not just a sequel to Skyfall. That’s obviously hard to do because Mendes’ first film was so resonant, so revisionist that Spectre can’t help but feel like a shortchanged attempt at exploring the same themes and concepts with the joyless doom and gloom aura being less functional, more rote this time. It also doesn’t help that the Christopher Waltz character (missing for most of the film) is setup as the grand orchestrator of everything that has happened in the Daniel Craig Bond films up to this point, creating a sort of continuity but also expectations during the films viewing that this is where it all comes to some sort of epic, outstanding conclusion (it doesn’t).

As he did before, writer John Logan (along with co-writers Neal Purvis and Robert Wade) tries to move the series forward by quietly and patiently exploring Bond’s history. This makes the quests seem more personal – less a duty bound obligation and more a compelling need. This also makes the plot, a mishmash of exotic locale hopping and chase movie conventions, more purposeful that it ought to be. The conclusion wraps it up nicely but changes the dynamics for future films in the series as well – we should expect this because like Bond, Mendes likes things shaken, which helps partially salvage the otherwise workmanlike, predictable and frankly overlong third act. But despite all of this, as Sam Smith sings during the opening credits, for Spectre, the writing was always on the wall.

Rating: ★★★☆☆

About Faizan Rashid

A veteran Dubai based film critic, Faizan has been reviewing movies for nearly a decade. His work has been published in local newspapers such as 7days and on prestigious online websites such as MSN Arabia and wearethemovies.com