SPECTRE is the 24th Bond film, and the fourth film with Daniel Craig as James Bond. This next chapter in Bond's story ("next chapter", yes!) follows Bond as he confronts this shady organization, SPECTRE, and its head, Franz Oberhauser.
Craig's first Bond film was Casino Royale, and as a kid who never really liked the older Bond films, I loved it. It's darker and more serious than most other Bond films and it takes the basic character elements of Bond and deconstructs him and all his in/famous elements, and makes a really compelling character study. It was followed by the messy but still not bad Quantum of Solace and the fun and beautiful Skyfall. With the most recent installment, SPECTRE, I'm reminded why I particularly love the Craig series in the first place.
At first glance, SPECTRE is your standard, old-fashioned Bond flick. It has exotic locations, fast cars, a big, menacing henchman, gadgetry, and most obviously, Bond being suave and deadly. At its core, however, SPECTRE deviates from the norm more than any film in the Craig quadrilogy. Yes, for the first time ever, the term "quadrilogy" is applicable to the usually-serialized Bond filmography, and that is what sets SPECTRE apart.
Bond is back, but he isn't Bond. The aftereffects of the deaths of Vesper (in Casino Royale) and M (in Skyfall) carry over into this film, and even kick-start the story (not unlike the opening of Quantum of Solace). There are some callbacks to previous films here and there, then the film takes the bold move of revealing that all the films are connected (intended or not) through the titular organization. Revealing inter-connectivity is a risky move for a franchise built on serialized, disconnected storytelling, and I definitely would've been bothered by it had it not been the centerpiece to a (mostly) fulfilling culmination of a quadrilogy.
There's two things the Craig Bond movies have been about to me; Bond maybe not needing to live this lone assassin life, and the better portrayals of "Bond girls". In Casino, Bond fell in love with Vesper (Eva Green, the best Bond girl so far) and almost left the spy life to settle down with her. However, she's killed and Bond returns to the spy life. In Quantum, Bond and Camille Montes (Olga Kurylenko) go on the same "revenge" journey, which ends with a great moment with them in a burning building. In Skyfall, Bond's relationship with M is challenged when he goes MIA for a few months due to mental and physical stress from his job and when a scorned ex-agent of M's returns. SPECTRE excels in and continues the use of both those aspects, having Dr. Madeleine Swann (the amazing Lea Seydoux) being Bond's out of the assassin life. Granted, the film doesn't execute this perfectly, as the relationship between Bond and Swann could've been developed more and the finale could've been drawn out longer to really resonate more, but for what it and was and its intention, it was a wholly satisfying fourth and final part of a larger story.
Other than Bond and Swann and their respective portrayals, there's still much to love in SPECTRE. Director Sam Mendes delivers what definitely is the best Bond opening of the Craig series, utilizing a beautifully done tracking shot for almost half the opening. Following this, the audience is treated with a variety of set pieces and locations, which cinematographer Hoyte van Hoytema captures astoundingly, and those completely different locations and set pieces all manage to remain visually coherent with each other throughout the rest of the film.
Dave Baustista enters the frame as Mr. Hinx, and his screen presence is so good. He only has one line, but he's easily the most enjoyable villain in the film. Christoph Waltz' Franz Obenhauser is just fine. Watlz is serviceable in the role, but the film does not do anything to justify keeping the character shrouded in mystery in the film's advertising. They had the opportunity to make a really compelling villain that was tied to Bond's fictional past (another fundamental of the Craig series), but they cop out at the last act and stage a reveal that is unimpactful and unnecessary. Note that I say reveal and not "twist", because it's not a twist. It doesn't change the story or the perception of the story whatsoever. The story cites an irrelevant name and leaves it at that, showing no interest in expanding upon it. It's by far the weakest aspect of the movie, but too insignificant to make a dent in my real liking for the film.
SPECTRE is many things; bold, grand, beautiful, personal, fun, but old-school Bond is not one of them. That is perhaps why I love it and the Craig series so much.