Spectre (12A) ***

Daniel Craig as James Bond in Spectre. Picture: PA Photo/Sony.
Daniel Craig as James Bond in Spectre. Picture: PA Photo/Sony.
(Back to camera) Garrett Hedlund as Jamie McAllan. (Front of cart) Mary J. Blige as Florence Jackson (also inset)  and Rob Morgan as Hap Jackson.

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Daniel Craig’s licence to kill as Ian Fleming’s suave secret agent comes full circle in Spectre, a robust yet emotionally underpowered tale of espionage and dark family secrets that ends with a series of whimpers rather than an almighty bang.

If Skyfall popped a cork on a muscular new era for 007, becoming the highest grossing film of all time in the UK, then Spectre is the morning after, when the champagne has gone flat, leftover snacks are starting to go stale and someone has fallen asleep face down on the sofa.

That could be any of the four screenwriters, who doze off after the tour-de-force opening sequence at a Mexican day of the dead parade, and allow plot holes and lapses in logic to pock their narrative.

How can Bond travel around the globe unseen when he has nanobots in his bloodstream so MI6 and the enemy can track his movements?

Would a brilliant operative like Q really whip out his laptop on public transport and conduct vital forensic analysis without a second thought for security protocols?

Death sequences are anti-climaxes and the central love story, which is supposed to kindle doubts in Bond’s mind about his loyalty to Queen and country, barely smoulders, let alone melts celluloid.

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The newly appointed M, Gareth Mallory (Ralph Fiennes), battles with political forces, including Max Denbigh (Andrew Scott), to protect the integrity of MI6 following a merger with MI5.

A cryptic message reveals ghosts from Bond’s past and 007 (Craig) follows a chain of evidence that leads to Dr Madeleine Swann (Lea Seydoux), daughter of fugitive Mr White (Jesper Christensen), who was last seen in Quantum Of Solace.

Aided by technical wizard Q (Ben Whishaw) and plucky agent Eve Moneypenny (Naomie Harris), Bond criss-crosses the globe in his Aston Martin DB10 and infiltrates a menacing organisation named SPECTRE, fronted by the enigmatic Franz Oberhauser (Christoph Waltz).

Rome, Tokyo, Altaussee in Austria, Tangier and London provide a picturesque backdrop to Bond’s escapades as he meets his physical match in hulking henchman Mr Hinx (Dave Bautista).

Spectre was always going to struggle to meet expectations, but it’s disappointing how far short this 24th big screen mission falls.

At 148 minutes, the film overstays its welcome and a number of key scenes overrun, particularly the introduction of Waltz’s shadowy archvillain.

Action set pieces, apart from the glorious opening salvo, lack power, sacrificing slam-bang thrills for ponderous exposition.

Craig struts and swaggers through the melee, bedding beauties who seemingly self-combust with a single glance.

He also endures a wince-inducing torture sequence that warrants the film’s 12A certificate.

Dame Judi Dench’s absence is palpable but Fiennes and Whishaw are gifted expanded roles and come into their own, while Harris is surplus to requirements.

When one of the characters rebukes Bond’s recklessness and tells the agent he has gone too far, nothing could be further from the truth.

Spectre doesn’t go far enough.

:: SWEARING :: SEX :: VIOLENCE :: RATING: 3/5