This film was released to smaller acclaim than usual for a James Bond film. It didn't catch the imagination of mainstream moviegoers like a new Star Wars or the first Mad Max in 2 decades. But this is one of the greatest chapters ever told in the James Bond canon and its destined to join the other unsung classics that the non-Bond fanatics simply didn't "get". And it seems that this was the intention of the filmmakers, as this film directly references a slew of generally unpopular, misunderstood but truly incredible Bond films.
Spectre is the first modern James Bond film to reintroduce Bond's arch-nemesis Ernst Stavro Blofeld. Eon Productions (the producers of the Bond films) made perfect use of this golden opportunity to tie-in the rebooted Craig Era canon with the classic canon. Craig's Bond lives in an alternate universe to the original Bond and so he is able to tie up storylines that were never properly finished in past films. Namely, the most famous Bond storyline - James Bond's quest for revenge after Blofeld killed his wife Tracy in "On Her Majesty's Secret Service". OHMSS is regarded now as one of the most high class and brilliant Bond films ever by today's standards. But in its day, it was unpopular because it featured the first Bond replacement actor and the ending was too downbeat for the major audience. The following film (Diamonds Are Forever) returned Sean Connery and did have Bond exacting revenge in a rather bored and quick way to erase the memory of OHMSS and get back to silly fun. Years later, EON produced a film that was a proper follow-up to OHMSS called For Your Eyes Only. Unfortunately, that film wasn't too good, but Bond finally killed Blofeld and the film matched the sorrowful themes that were missing in DAF. But, because of legal reasons, the villain that looks, sounds and acts like Blofeld is never properly called or identified as Blofeld. This was the closure Bond fans wanted, but it still wasn't totally closed.
Now 46 years after the events of the now-praised OHMSS, we receive Spectre. Spectre is a true return to form for the series. The best Eon film since The Spy Who Loved Me and arguably OHMSS. And this is the best Bond film since 1983's Never Say Never Again, the non-Eon James Bond story that featured the last appearance of Blofeld and barred Blofeld from appearing in later Eon films. Well, Blofeld is back in the Eon canon and since its a rebooted canon, we get a deeper and more evil version of the character. Christoph Waltz is flawless as the new Blofeld. One of the most special qualities of the film is how Waltz is cast as a combination of all the previous Blofeld incarnations, including Max Von Sydow's version from NSNA!, creating a continuity between all the Blofelds even in a new canon. Also, Spectre beautifully ties all of the preceding Craig films into this plot, creating a crescendo for the entire Craig series. No other Bond actor has that unity to their films. By using Blofeld, Spectre ties Daniel Craig's Bond to Sean Connery's by giving them the same mastermind behind all of their enemies. Its such a lucky break for the longstanding franchise and a genius pit of retcon.
The film itself, away from its magnificent story elements, stands very tall over most Bond films. This is probably the most beautifully realized and classically trained filmmaking that the series has ever seen. It remains true to what you expect from a Bond film, actually being more retro and trope-filled than any other recent films, while also going far beyond in scope and influences. There are elements of the moody, realistic John LeCarre spy thrillers, Orwell's 1984 and it borrows from real pressing anxieties and fears of world governments and private citizens as much as any Cold War era Bond novel ever did. It plays up the dry wit, drama and deep characterization that was usually lost in translation from Ian Fleming's vision to the silver screen. Skyfall brought back the classic M/Q/Moneypenny formula. But Spectre actually uses them to forward the plot and action, way more than any Bond adventure ever. Spy cars, gadget watches, deadly henchmen and all the classic ingredients are back and they don't hurt the credibility of a semi-realistic 2015 James Bond movie.
The few gripes I do have are minor. Craig is wonderful as ever, so rested in the character like he's wearing a fine suit, but you can tell that he's checking out. It never hurts his performance, but you just feel that this is his swansong. He's fully formed as James Bond here and doesn't do anything to prove himself like in his other films. But because of this, the things that identified his films are toned down. The action and stunt work is still impressive and even glorious, but its not the radical, high octane and show-stealing factor it originally was. Necessary, but I think it may have been toned down a decibel too much. The script is wry and cutting edge thriller material, but I missed the hot passion, energy and giggles that were really showcased in other Craig films. But Spectre is still the finest and most well-rounded Bond film in ages. The weaknesses it has were inevitable and necessary bullets to take.
What makes it a perfect Bond movie to me may be what turns off the casual fan in that this is a true love letter to the James Bond character. Skyfall was for the fans who loved the one-liners and cartoon villains and smile when they get the references. It was a fan celebration, a literal birthday party for the 50 year old film version of the hero and fresh new start to the series. Instead of playing it safe and retreading the waters, Spectre goes deeper into the past of the films and goes further exploring the character and his world. This is not the simplified fun that Skyfall was and needed to be. This is cold, sophisticated, Fleming-esque movie-making. Eon and Craig must have watched a lot of past films in preparation and decided to salute every obscure Bond gem they could. There are parallels, winks and lifted plot elements from fan-favorites like License to Kill, Never Say Never Again, For Your Eyes Only, Moonraker, You Only Lived Twice, From Russia With Love, Thunderball, and on and on. I don't think the same masses who loved Skyfall will recognize any of this. I wish they did, because it is truly masterful. Foremost in its respect and kindred spirit with OHMSS.
The way Spectre's ending shadows the famous ending of OHMSS is as bold and poetic as any sequel/reboot has dared to do, especially considering the elapsed time and obscurity of the reference. It shows that the people who make these Bond films truly care. They made this film to give closure to the characters, their world and its loyal fans. Its instantly a part of the great history of James Bond. Its not the greatest Bond film as a standalone movie because you really have to watch OHMSS to see the brilliance, but it is still probably the highest compliment and achievement that any of the films has made. For Bond fans, its excellent.