Since Daniel Craig's announcement as Bond, he has had his fans and his detractors. His unveiling as the new 007 couldn't have gone worse, with his lifejacketed entrance causing sniggers about his "Bondness".
Casino Royale however quickly silenced those doubters and turned many of the haters into fans. This was not your parent's Bond with eyebrows raised, midget butlers and innuendo, nor your grandparents Connery fuelled misogyny porn... this was gritty, realistic and believable but it very much formed the first part of the all to familiar now origin story, which finally, after FOUR films concludes with SPECTRE.
Many felt Quantum Of Solace weak, and they'd be right. The movie indeed works best as a double-feature to Royale, starting moments later, while Skyfall ruled the box office with it's more low key, survivalist vibe, by the end you felt things were set up for a balls to the wall Bond movie and you so nearly get it here!
Ahead there are mild spoilers, I say mild because anyone who has read about the movie, seen a trailer or indeed seen the title of the movie knows where the story is headed. If you read on, don't complain I spoiled the obvious for you.
SPECTRE begins with arguably the most spectacular Bond opening ever, not in sheer spectacle (although carnage wise it is up there) but in sheer audacity and beauty. This is the first time we see a proper opening with the gun barrel and theme, and we go straight into the now ubiquitous "Scorsese" tracking shot. Every director seems to be doing this but never has it been done with so much going on. Anyone who doubts Craig's physicality will be put straight by this long scene, he navigates some pretty tricky free walking without breaking stride. This is both Bond and Sam Mendes swaggering after the success of Skyfall.
Bond is quickly brought down to earth however as his exploits earn him a suspension. This is post-Snowden Bond, it's all about surveillance and the mood has finally turned against the Double O's. While Bond begins a secret mission even M has no knowledge of, M is fighting a different battle with his new boss C, played by Moriarty himself, Andrew Scott. Intelligence is being merged into one super programme funded by the private sector and C will run it all.
Bond manages to infiltrate a secret gathering and we're introduced to our two main villains, Oberhauser & Hinx (Dave Bautista) and from there we're into a journey through the best of Bond.
If there is a criticism of SPECTRE, it is that there is a LOT borrowed from other films, almost to the point where it passes homage and enters parody. When Bond visits an alpine clinic you almost expect him to use the name Sir Hilary Bray. A visit to Tangier evokes memories of The Spy Who Loved me, a character's cable car ride is eerily similar to For Your Eye's Only and a train ride is ripped from Live & Let Die and From Russia With Love. The film just manages to make these work without being too distracting, but it's a little disappointing to see quite so many familiar set pieces.
This is Craig at his best as Bond, the self-doubt of Skyfall is gone, but this is a guy who has perhaps as an actor AND character realised there is more to life than his chosen role, and he is closer than ever to leaving it all behind. If there is a criticism, it is that there isn't that much chemistry with many characters this time out. Craig and Naomie Harris work well as in Skyfall, but Monica Belluci and Lea Seydoux seem to lack the same spark with Craig that Eva Green and Judi Dench had. Seydoux is good though, as she always is.
The villains are interesting, Dave Bautista is a near mute character but has that Jaws vibe everyone talked up when he was cast, he could have been given more as Guardians Of The Galaxy showed what he can do, but as a henchman he is pretty good.
Christoph Waltz is....well it's Christoph Waltz, this was the casting I was least happy about as it seemed far to obvious and could have been Green Hornet bad if not handled correctly. Thankfully that's not an issue and if anything he compliments the prior Craig era villains. You can see why Raul Silva or Le Chiffre were the way they were through him and that's a good wrinkle.
As I said before, while I won't spell it out for you you know where this is going. SPECTRE'S biggest strength is that it avoids the trap so many other movies have fallen into by trying to get a big twist in. When reveals happen, you knew they were coming, they pay off well and feed into prior movies. There is a bizzare juxtaposing of torture and cute that signals the "big reveal" that takes you back to Casino Royale and some Connery era Bond. Mendes was smart enough to know you probably worked out who the big bad was in an earlier film or as soon as he cast Waltz or you saw a trailer. There is more of a connection between hero and villain than in the past, but even that makes sense and is telegraphed very early in the film.
One thing this movie does better than any other Bond is show that it's never been "just Bond", there is a team behind him and they all are involved throughout the movie. Ben Wishaw gets lots of fun time, peril and heroics as Q, while Ralph Fiennes shows why they cast him as M. It gets close to Mission Impossible by the end, but it makes a lot of sense as they are fighting for their way of life as well as protecting the world.
By the time the end credits roll, you have seen Craig's arc complete, just as Connery's was over by the end of You Only Live Twice. If this movie has a "spiritual twin" in the series, it is that one. Craig could leave Bond here, with his quartet of movies and quite rightly be proud and considered second, if not THE best Bond. If he does go, I don't see him pulling a Connery and returning.
I can see why he might not want to continue, the only way to go now in many ways is more into the Moore era, which doesn't play to his strengths, or go more for the Brosnan style craziness like invisible cars.
Personally, I'd like to see him stay for one more movie, but a remake this time. Live & Let Die would stand a remake for sure under Craig's watch.
Is SPECTRE the BEST Bond film ever? Not quite, but it's Craig's best for sure, and at the end of the day for many he is now Bond forever. Those of us who were around for Moore, Dalton and grew up watch Sean will always pick another film but you'd do far worse than watch this one.