The new James Bond movie adventure, directed by Sam Mendes, is as traditional as it gets. Were it not for its superior technical quality, Spectre might have been classified as a 1980s production. An arch-villain dreams of ruling the world through a secretive global network, women exist only to be bedded by Bond, and clues and leads are found in the world's most picturesque locations. Bond’s nemesis is his oldest adversary, while Ms Moneypenny, with whom Bond shared some promisingly intense moments in the previous edition Skyfall, has dived back into the secretary pool from where she originally emerged. When the British government describes the MI6 unit as irrelevant and ripe for closure, it is hard to disagree.

Austrian actor Christoph Waltz, who has evidently failed to move on since his international breakthrough Inglorious Basterds in 2009, plays one of the most forgettable villains in Bond history. Waltz’s Oberhauser wants to control the world through a network of CCTV computers, which will sound horrific only to those who have never logged on to Google Maps or booked a taxi through Uber.

Even as Bond (Daniel Craig) pursues the trail that will eventually lead him to Oberhauser, first disrupting a Mardi Gras procession in Mexico City and then whooshing past Rome’s antiquities in his Aston Martin DB9 GT, M (Ralph Fiennes) and the 00 programme face the end of the road. Irked by Bond’s insubordination, M suspends him yet again, leaving the spy to rely on Q (Ben Wishaw) for weaponry and information.

Monica Bellucci makes a mystifying cameo in a role that requires her to be comforted by Bond while she is still in her widow’s weeds. Lea Seydoux takes position as a poor replacement for Bond’s true love, Vesper Lynd (Eva Green), and looks all set to be the new missus.

Safe and sorry

There is a far more interesting partner for Bond right under his nose – Naomie Harris’s perky Moneypenny, who matched wits and punches with Bond in Skyfall. The numerous scriptwriters on Spectre have devoted considerable attention to inventing a new back story for Oberhauser (he has childhood links with Bond, it seems), and a romance between Bond and Moneypenny would hardly have been a stretch.

The plot is flimsier than cotton candy, formulaic as in a textbook, and as gorgeous looking as a fashion catalogue. Hoyt Von Hoytema’s striking use of wide frames and aerial views suggest an epic narrative with something on its mind. The camera matches step with Craig’s fleet-footed and quick-witted hero, swooping, gliding and tracking its way through the bucket-list locations and bathing the proceedings in black-and-amber hues. Among the fabulously choreographed action sequences is the lengthy single-shot sequence set in Mexico City.

Spectre may just rope in new generations of viewers whose memories of the older films do not stretch back beyond Daniel Craig, but successful demographic management cannot conceal the cloud hanging over one of cinema's oldest franchises. Bondmania suffered huge knocks from the rise of me-toos in the 1990s, especially the Jason Bourne trilogy. Britain’s most well-travelled agent has been playing catch-up with Bourne ever since, and he has increasingly come to resemble that athletic and nimble intelligence operative rather than the smug satyr represented by Roger Moore. Daniel Craig, with his bouncer physique and sardonic manner, is a cross between Sean Connery and Pierce Brosnan, and he reached his potential in Skyfall, Sam Mendes’s intelligent and sexy version of the Bond universe.

New beginnings

The death and destruction at the climax of Skyfall’ suggested fresh beginnings for the principal characters as well the franchise itself. The honour of the British secret service had been restored, the secret agent’s childhood home had been razed to the ground long with its memories, M was dead along with the arch-villain, and Bond and Ms Moneypenny were getting it on. When the new M (Ralph Fiennes) asked 007 if he was ready to take on a fresh assignment under the new dispensation, Bond relaxed for what appeared to be the first time and replied, “With pleasure.”

In Spectre, Mendes translates “pleasure” to mean business as usual. Skyfall suggested that the Bond galaxy was seeking a new orbit, but Spectre drags it right back to base. Bond is routinely described as a “hired assassin” in Spectre, and his doubts about his role in the new world order appear to have been quelled. He has loved and lost, exorcised his personal and professional ghosts, and taken his rightful place as a cocked gun.

“What do we do now,” Seydoux’s Madelaine breathlessly asks Bond after he has finally vanquished a persistent adversary.  A creature of habit and the victim of an image trap, Bond responds in the only way he can. The old-fashioned sexism in this movie isn’t restricted to the women.