Spectre – Christian Movie Review
Daniel Craig’s grim, fierce and gritty James Bond is back, but this time with something slightly different than any of the previous Craig Era 007 movies: a markedly nostalgic and consistent tribute to the classic James Bond films. I’m not well-versed in the Connery Era of Bond, but even I picked up on a few of the film’s little “Easter egg” tributes to the original James Bond movie franchises.
The creative nostalgia factor is really what “Spectre” has going for it the most — that and the marvelous locations for the film. However, I am disappointed to say that this is my least favorite Daniel Craig Bond movie. It doesn’t come close to “Skyfall,” thanks mostly to the second half of the film, which just feels sadly and sometimes tediously unimaginative in its plot ideas.
Though I should admit something: if “Spectre” was intentionally allowing the classic Bond movies to shape the plot ideas, then I might be mistaking what was originally intended for nostalgia as something uncreative. It’s very possible I just didn’t get “Spectre.” (Though I won’t be explaining specifically why the plot felt tired and cliched in the final act; I hate writing spoilers into reviews, even with a spoiler warning.)
All of this debate about the film’s entertainment value is, of course, in the context of comparing this movie with the other Daniel Craig Bond movies — not an easy task. “Spectre” is still better than the majority of action movies. In terms of entertainment value and gravitas, you can’t go wrong with the Daniel Craig James Bond. The Craig Era helped pop culture take Bond more seriously.
More details on the entertainment value and the themes of redemption in “Spectre” (without spoilers) in a moment, but first let’s cover the Parental Guidance Content in case you’re wondering what PG-13 content is in the film before you see it…
Parent Guidance Content at a Glance for this PG-13 Movie…
Violence/Gore/Scary Content: A man gouges another man’s eyes out by pressing his thumbs (which have little knives glued to his fingertips) into the victim’s eye sockets slowly. Though we don’t see it happen on-camera, we see the profile of what’s happening, and we see blood running down the attacker’s thumbs. He then snaps the victim’s neck. A character shoots himself in the head, and we see his dead body sitting in the chair afterward. Bond throws two men out of a helicopter. Scores of faceless goons get eliminated by Bond. A man is yanked off a train with a rope tied to his neck. A man is blown up by an explosion and later we see a huge scar across his face.
Sexual Content/Nudity: Two implied sex scenes but nothing is shown. A woman takes her dress off before one of these scenes, but only her back and bare shoulders are shown. Later she is seen sitting on a bed in lingerie.
Language: Several s-words, h-words, b-words. No f-words.
Alcohol/Drugs/Smoking: Bond drinks regularly throughout the film, privately and in public with other characters.
Entertainment Value & Film Craft
Although “Spectre” as a whole is my least favorite Daniel Craig James Bond movie, the introductory sequence of “Spectre” is one of my favorite openers — right up there with the breathtaking parkour chase scene in “Casino Royale.” I love it for its atmosphere, not necessarily because its action was anything groundbreaking. It shoots the scene in the middle of a huge Dia de la Muerte street festival in Mexico City. It’s hypnotizing and filled with a strange mix of foreboding tension and ghostly festivity. The skeletons on swings reminded me (just for a fleeting moment) of the parade of road warriors in “Mad Max: Fury Road.”
And that’s really the primary strength of this movie besides the nostalgia factor: it broods and bleeds atmosphere out of its veins. It sweeps you away into one stunning, atmospheric location after another: the streets, ruins and basilicas of Rome; the deserts of Tangier with a lonely night train winding its way in a slow arc through the rusty-orange colors of a slow-burn sunset; the Thames River in the heart of London with Big Ben’s glowing face presiding over the action.
However, the screenwriting, in my opinion, worked against all the positives. It felt as if they were patch-quilting old plot points from the political intrigue of “Captain America: Winter Soldier” and “Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol” — but those movies communicated their ideas with better originality and zeal. “Spectre” jogged lazily through them like a veteran athlete going through the warm-up routines without even thinking. Compared to “Skyfall,” which had an ambitious originality and narrative spunk that kept you riveted every second of the way, “Spectre” felt a little lazy in many scenes and too reliant on old spy movie cliches.
Worldview & Themes of Redemption
I was a bit harsh on “Spectre” in the section above, but it did have some powerful elements in its story. I especially liked the way the film channels an odd sort of Cain and Abel theme. It has a very interesting “sibling drama” to it that is something new for the Bond franchise — something that builds on what “Skyfall” started. And when Bond comes full-circle with his past, in an even more direct way than he did in “Skyfall,” we see Bond finding a certain kind of redemption from the violent, empty life that has gnawed on his spirit for so long. Like “Skyfall,” his profession is as much of a villain to his inner well-being as the actual villain, but “Spectre” brings Bond through a more complete process of “deliverance” from the loveless, rootless wandering that has plagued him.
(Let’s just hope it sticks. You start to feel sorry for the poor guy. Stop making him save the world all the time, people! Just call the Avengers or something and let Bond settle down and have a family or go on a vacation that doesn’t involve mastermind criminals and 4.2 million bullets.)
Besides Bond’s personal redemption arc, there is also a powerful theme of mercy that presents itself mostly through the actions of the characters. It’s a more subtle theme that hovers in the background, but it comes through if you’re paying attention. Without giving too much away, an evil organization “without mercy” is contrasted with acts of mercy, and those moments are some of the most memorable points in the story.
Conclusion: “Spectre” May Not Have the Greatness of “Skyfall,” but It’s Still a Very Entertaining Spy Movie
And beneath all the bullets and spy cliches, there are some deeper thoughts on sibling rivalry — Cain and Abel style — and themes of mercy that are still resonating with me even though it’s been a few hours since I walked out of the theater. To be clear, this movie does not have any overt religious ideas (the Cain and Abel comparison is my own), but it does have some worthwhile messages beneath all the glitz and stirring James Bond nostalgia.
My rating for “Spectre”: [usr 6.8] (See my notes at the bottom of this article about the rating scale.)
[Note: if you’re a fan of C.S. Lewis, please check out my new blog Stabs of Joy or my podcast Aslan’s Paw. Both seek to crack open the surprising treasures of Christian belief — the things that Western society has forgotten, ignored, or never encountered — with the help of logic, literature, film, music, and one very unsafe Lion.]
Note about my rating system for the movie’s film craft and entertainment value:
1 star = one of the worst movies ever made (the stuff of bad movie legends), and it usually (not always) has below 10% on Rotten Tomatoes
2-3 stars = a mostly bad movie that has a handful of nice moments; it usually falls between 10-30% on Rotten Tomatoes
4-6 stars = a decent movie with some flaws, overall. Four stars mean its flaws outweigh the good. Five stars mean equal good, equal bad. Six stars mean it’s a fairly good movie, with some great moments even, that outweigh a few flaws. A 4-6 star rating usually means it falls between 30-59% on Rotten Tomatoes (but not always).
7-9 stars = a rare rating reserved only for the best movies of that year; and a film must have a Fresh Tomato rating (60% or higher) on Rotten Tomatoes to be given 7 stars or higher, with a few exceptions (if I strongly disagree with the critics).
10 stars = one of the best films of all time, right up there with the all-time greats (i.e. Casablanca, The African Queen, Gone With the Wind, Lawrence of Arabia, Star Wars Episode IV, Indiana Jones, etc.).
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