Posted by Joel Copling on November 5, 2015

"Spectre" perfects the concept of the MacGuffin. You know, hopefully, what a MacGuffin is. It's a plot element that exists within a narrative to ask a question shrouded in enough shadowy mystique that it diverts one's attention from the real question to be asked. In the case of this, the 24th film in the series about the secret agent man who prefers his martinis to be--well, you know the answer to that--the MacGuffin is everywhere. It exists within the very foundation of the plot. It exists within a supposed truth regarding our mysterious protagonist. It exists within the motivations of nearly every suspicious character with whom he interacts. It even exists within the rationale behind the film's existence, which, of course, means it evades until the last our inevitable reaction: "Is that it?"

The plot is the MacGuffinest MacGuffin of all. Following a pretty thrilling stretch in Mexico City in which James Bond (Daniel Craig) escapes by the skin of his teeth (and thanks to an indestructible love seat) from the clutches of a madman, an incident that nearly incites a grander, more international one, M (Ralph Fiennes) grounds him from all field operations as a form of punishment (With the amount of destruction in Bond's wake, here more or less glossed over, one can't blame the new boss). MI5 and MI6 have merged, M gains his own boss in the form of C (Andrew Scott), who shuts down the 00 program, and this is just as Bond discovers that a new and terrible threat has emerged.

He is the film's other major MacGuffin (although, this critic hastens to add, not the only remaining one). His name is Oberhauser, and no, that is not his real name, which is thrown into the chaotic finale almost as an aside. He is played by Christoph Waltz, an actor who has perfected that chilling sort of calm attributable to the best villains. The problem is that this is almost exclusively the only note Waltz plays in the role, meaning that there is no threat here. The actor is fine but underutilized, the secret behind his identity (a card played far too early, though the film thinks no audience member will catch it) has no impact, and the organization of which he is the head disappears before the halfway point and becomes a gaping loose end.

Character motivations are also a MacGuffin, which by now I hope you have come to realize means "a victim of evasion." Bond beds the widow (Monica Bellucci) of the man from the opening scene for no reason other than the whims of the screenplay (by John Logan, Neal Purvis, Robert Wade, and Jez Butterworth). He also has a relationship of vague sorts with the daughter (Lea Seydoux) of a member of that organization because he needs to have the stereotypical "Bond girl" (Can we retire this trend soon?); she of course plays some sort of important part in the plot that is disregarded by the end, because she is also an evasive MacGuffin. Action sequences are conceived well by director Sam Mendes, though none equals the opening scene (There is routine hand-to-hand combat with a henchman played by Dave Bautista, an equally routine car chase, and the finale, which is merely another in a long line of finales involving a ticking clock). In fact, everything about "Spectre" feels routine, including its reliance on that ever-evasive gimmick.

Film Information

Daniel Craig (James Bond), Ralph Fiennes (M), Lea Seydoux (Madeleine Swann), Ben Whishaw (Q), Christoph Waltz (Oberhauser), Andrew Scott (C), Dave Bautista (Hinx), Naomie Harris (Moneypenny), Rory Kinnear (Tanner), Jesper Christensen (Mr. White), Monica Bellucci (Lucia), Stephanie Sigman (Estrella), Alessandro Cremona (Marco Sciarra), Alessandro Bressanello (Priest).

Directed by Sam Mendes and written by John Logan, Neal Purvis, Robert Wade, and Jez Butterworth.

Rated PG-13 (intense action/violence, disturbing images, sensuality, language).

148 minutes.

Released on November 6, 2015.