The opening gambit of Spectre—the fourth outing in the 21st-century James Bond franchise—is absolutely spectacular, following 007 (Daniel Craig) through, around, and above raucous Day of the Dead revelers in Mexico City while he does a Secret Agent Thing. There is atmosphere to spare here, and humor, and action-movie grace. It's exhilarating. If this is how Spectre begins, what amazing goodies does it have up its sleeve for the rest of the movie?
As it turns out, not many. Spectre never reaches that same pinnacle of movie-movie joy again. It's like director Sam Mendes steps out once the opening has unspooled, and leaves the rest of the movie to his understudy.
The thin plot never catches fire, either. In the immediate aftermath of the events of Skyfall, Bond has gone rogue, chasing hints of a Big Bad Guy around the globe. Apart from occasional explosions of not entirely un-diverting action—the plane-versus-SUV game of chicken is mildly amusing—Bond's globetrotting spycraft is dreary and perfunctory; very little of the brains or verve of Casino Royale or Skyfall turn up here.
There's nothing the least bit surprising about anything Bond uncovers about the mysterious criminal organization called SPECTRE, or its leader, Franz Oberhauser (Christoph Waltz). And while the earlier films actively worked to make room for a Cold War relic like Bond in the new global paradigm, Spectre throws that all away in favor of a retro vibe that is never nostalgic yet sometimes icky, as with the character played by Monica Bellucci, who, like most of the so-called Bond girls is completely superfluous except as someone for Bond to mechanically bed. It's like a box-checking exercise of Essential Bond Scenes.
Of course, the sex is as empty, lifeless and PG-13-friendly as the violence, which is problematic when there's nothing but old-school Bond sex and violence, which, now, feels trite and tired. It's is a particular disappointment for the Craig-headed films—which had, until now, avoided that trap.