**The following is an in-depth review of “SPECTRE” and does contain spoilers.**
"SPECTRE" is the 24th Eon Productions James Bond film and the fourth to star Daniel Craig as British secret agent 007. It is also a return to formula for the character, who has been stripped of some of his more fantastic elements since Daniel Craig first took up the role in "Casino Royale."
"SPECTRE" pays homage to many different eras of the character. The film begins with Bond in Mexico for the Day of the Dead festival, with much of the imagery harkening back to the Roger Moore film "Live and Let Die." This leads in to quite possibly the most exciting of any James Bond pre-title sequence to date.
(Image: "Skyfall," United Artists Corporation and Columbia Pictures Industries, Inc. 2012.)
We soon learn that Bond isn't in Mexico on any official MI-6 mission, instead he is carrying out a personal mission given to him by his former M in a video message he received shortly after her death in "Skyfall." His current M - played by Ralph Fiennes - is not at all happy about Bond's recklessness, and with the 00 program in danger of being shut down, relieves Bond of duty and restricts him to London.
Bond, of course, finds a way to circumvent his restriction and sneaks off to continue investigating the mystery M's posthumous message has sent him on. Again, the idea of James Bond going rogue is a call back to an earlier adventure. Timothy Dalton's Bond defied MI-6 orders and went on a personal vendetta in 1989's "Licence to Kill."
Bond's investigation leads him to the terrorist organization SPECTRE and ultimately to its leader, Ernst Stavro Blofeld. This is the first time the character of Blofeld - this time played by Christoph Waltz - has been seen in an official Bond film since 1971's "Diamonds are Forever," apart from a brief scene showing the character's apparent death in "For Your Eyes Only."
Blofeld, it seems, has been in the shadows the entire time, orchestrating the events of the previous three Bond films. This is a unique plot thread for the James Bond movies. The first 20 James Bond films were all tied together with a very loose continuity between them, but this is the first time that a set of films have been treated as a coherent film series with the events of one film leading directly into the next to form a single narrative.
Hard continuity between films isn't new to the Daniel Craig Bond films. "Quantum of Solace" picked up moments after "Casino Royale" ended, making it effectively a two-part movie and "Skyfall" developed the back story of James Bond growing up in an orphanage, which was briefly mentioned in "Casino Royale." "SPECTRE" ties all three films together in a nice, neat little bow, and even gives a little further development into Bond's character when it is revealed that Blofeld and Bond were briefly foster brothers.
Making a triumphant return to the Bond films are the gadgets that have for decades defined the character, but have been noticeably absent during Craig's run on the series. In the first proper Q Branch scene since "Die Another Day," Bond is given an exploding watch. He later in the film steals an Aston Martin DB-10 from Q Branch which is equipped with a flame thrower, machine guns and an ejector seat.
With all that said, "SPECTRE" isn't the greatest Bond movie ever made. Christoph Waltz's Blofeld is a very one-dimensional character. His entire motivation seems to be, "My father loved you more than he did me, so I became evil," and, "You thwarted my previous attempts to do evil stuff, so now I really want to kill you." Blofeld doesn't have a whole lot of substance, but Waltz plays the character magnificently.
"SPECTRE" also suffers from a dodgy sub-plot, where the head of MI-5 - which is being merged with MI-6 - believes that ground espionage should be replaced with surveillance, including surveillance on British subjects who have demonstrated no intention for wrongdoing. While this could have been incredibly relevant to current events, the plot thread was poorly developed and could have been left out entirely without changing the story.
With the chance of Daniel Craig returning for another Bond flick being up in the air, the odds are quite good this may turn out to be his last outing as the character. If that's true, "SPECTRE" does a great job of feeling like an ending, not just to a movie but to a film series. As with Christopher Nolan's Batman trilogy, we are presented with a clear ending to the Bond mythos, and it's an ending that is very fulfilling, while also leaves the door open for something more.
In spite of its flaws - which really are few - "SPECTRE" is a delightful return to a more traditional Bond, and that is a welcome return. Fans needn't fret, however, about the Bond franchise coming to an end. We are told very matter-of-factly in the credits that James Bond will return. It just may not be Daniel Craig, and that's alright.
"SPECTRE" is a wonderfully entertaining James Bond movie, that once again feels like a James Bond movie. Bond is back, and he's better than ever. If you have enjoyed Daniel Craig's run on the character, don't miss this movie. If you haven't been impressed by the groundedness of Craig's Bond, that's OK too because this movie bring Bond back to his roots, and that's something every fan should want to get behind.
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